Michael Frost has written a practical little book to ignite your imagination on how you can share the Lord with those who don’t know Him. It’s called Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People.
Here’s my interview with Michael about the book.
Why did you write Surprise the World?
Michael Frost: My own faith community has been practicing the BELLS rhythm for years now and I have been referring to it in talks and presentations around the world, as has my buddy Alan Hirsch. In fact, I think he talks about it even more than I do. I’ve heard of churches literally all over the world who practice BELLS because they heard Alan or I teach on it. Anyway, the guys at the Exponential conference asked me to write it up and we posted it online as a free e-book. It was hugely successful, so NavPress stepped up and suggested I expand it into a paper-and-ink version with them.
What were the experiences in your own personal life that shaped the insights in the book?
Michael Frost: Our church had become good at volunteering for neighborhood projects. We hung out incarnationally in local places, and were building friendships with lots of our neighbors. We opened an art gallery and performance space and launched art classes, kids dance classes, and a roots-and-blues musicians’ network. We started the Make Poverty History campaign in our town. We established Street Pastors to respond to the high number of incidents of alcohol-related violence on our streets on a Saturday night. In other words, we were getting out there. We were busy doing lots of stuff, but something was missing. Something wasn’t quite gelling. We were seen as good neighbors, but not much more. That’s when we started to take a look at ourselves to find what what was missing.
We began by looking at our values. The values we had identified when we got started were that we wanted to be generous, hospitable, Spirit-led, Christ-like and sent. Our values were fine. But what was missing was a lifestyle that moved neighborliness into mission. The solution we came up with was to find weekly habits that would support those values. So, over time, we came up with five weekly habits we would all cycle our lives around together. That’s BELLS. Blessing, Eating, Listening, learning, and Sentness.
How is your book different from the many other books on the subjects of evangelism and being a witness for Christ in the world?
Michael Frost: Lots of evangelism books tell you to learn a gospel presentation and go out there and recite it to people. Or alternately, to go perform acts of service for others and then leverage the relationships to share Christ. Both of these approaches seem forced, inorganic, non-relational. I think that’s because the people who write evangelism books tend to be evangelists, and evangelists are wired for bold proclamation. They can put their foot in the door and “turn” a conversation toward spiritual things. So when they write evangelism guides they often assume their own experience is normative. It’s not. Most of us aren’t gifted that way. Surprise the World makes the case that while evangelists need to be free to do what God wired them to do, the rest of us have a different role to play. The calling God places on our lives isn’t to bold proclamation. It’s to answering our friends’ questions.
Talk about the concept of Jesus-followers living lives that provoke questions from non-believers.
Michael Frost: I think it’s pretty clear in Scripture that both Peter and Paul insist that the evangelistic trigger for most of us will be the questions unbelievers ask us. So if no one is asking you any questions about your faith maybe you’re doing your faith wrong. The Christian faith is meant to be “questionable”. It should be intriguing. It should arouse curiosity. This is certainly the way it was perceived in the first few centuries of its existence. One of my points in this book is that living a life no different from your fine, upstanding, middle-class neighbors is not particularly intriguing. It looks normal and everyday. We need an alternative set of rhythms in our lives, rhythms or habits that make us a surprising people.
So what is the BELLS model?
Michael Frost: Five habits: (1) You bless three people each week, one of whom is a member of your church, one of whom isn’t a Christian, and the third of which is from either category; (2) You eat with three people each week, one of whom is a member of your church, etc.; (3) You spend one session each week listening for the voice of God the Holy Spirit; (4) You spend at least one period of time each week learning about Jesus; (5) You journal all the ways were have been sent into your world to mirror the work of God. Bless. Eat, Listen. Learn. Sent. BELLS.
These five habits have the effect of binding us together as Christians (because we’re blessing and eating with each other), propelling us outward into the lives of others (because we’re blessing and eating with others, and seeing ourselves as sent persons), as well as deepening our connection to God (by listening for the Holy Spirit, and learning Christ). It’s the whole in-out-up thing that Mike Breen from 3dm talks about.
You can work the habits around your lifestyle. You don’t have to eat with someone every Wednesday night, for example. And the longer you practice these habits the more they unleash the values I mentioned earlier. If you’re going to bless three people every week you’re going to become an increasingly and surprisingly generous person. Listening to the Spirit will make you increasingly Spirit-led. Learning Christ weekly should shape you as a more Christ-like person.
When you suggest eating with three people during the week, what do you say to those Christian couples in their 20s and 30s who have small children and respond with, “I can’t keep up with my own family, let alone carving out time to eat with other people on a regular basis.”
Michael Frost: Everyone eats three times a day. That’s 21 meals a week. All I’m asking you to do is bring three people to your table. It doesn’t have to be a huge dinner party. It could be lunch with a work colleague. It could be coffee and a donut. It could be a beer and snacks after work. You could host a meal for all three people at the same time or see one at a time. The idea is that these habits are fluid and organic enough to be shaped for your stage of life and your current lifestyle.
Related to the above, countless Christians today are swamped with busyiness. So much so that they say – by their own testimonies – that they don’t even have time to read short books like yours. What would you say to them?
Michael Frost: Repent. Seriously, I’m not insensitive to the needs and pressures of contemporary life. But one of the ways we can surprise the world is by living an alternative lifestyle that makes room for things like hospitality and contemplation with the Spirit. If we’re developing a life rhythm that includes hosting dinner parties and barbecues, and giving people gifts and words of affirmation; if we’re deeply spiritual people who hear God’s voice and have made Jesus the object of our devoted study; and if we’re identifying ourselves as primarily sent into our world to alert others to God’s beautiful, just, reconciling, healing reign on earth, we will be seen as intriguing people. They will ask you who you are and why you live as you do. And then you can talk to them about the King Jesus you’ve been studying each week.
Look, it’s not rocket science. I just think our society’s values of materialism, consumerism and individuality have a stranglehold on us. They are shaping us into the kinds of people we don’t want to be. We shop for entertainment. We eat alone, even when we’re not hungry. We’re rushed, stressed, and burdened with a nagging sense that we’re not keeping up. We need that alternative set of habits that can countermand our impulse for consumption and industry, and shape us into the intriguing, interesting, attractive people God intended us to be all along. I’m not asking my readers to become Amish or join a monastery. A lot of people have found BELLS helpful because, as I said earlier, it fits around their current commitments. I hope some of your readers find it useful too, Frank.