Reading Group Guide
About the Author John Avant
I know God is real, because He takes care of crazy people like me:
• I feed sharks with no cage and bring my son. (My wife says if they eat Trey, just stay down there!)
• I may be the only preacher still alive to pick up a green mamba in Africa. (Long story, but I thought it was a grass snake.)
• I dive in underwater caves in Mexico where the Mayans sacrificed humans. (Seriously, this is cool!)
• I like to hang out in the Middle East. (Some of the best people and the best food in the world are there!)
• I de-stress by climbing twenty feet up a tree with a stick and a string and sit there completely still for hours. (If you know what this means, you will rejoice with me that I have my fi rst Pope and Young!)
• To keep from being a fat preacher, I run–a lot. In the Atlanta half marathon, I was once passed by a woman. Pushing her baby in a stroller! (I sucked it up and passed her at the finish line for one of my great sports achievements.)
• If they had ADD when I was a kid, I would have been the dictionary definition. Even now, I like to work out by running on a treadmill while watching TV, listening to my iPod, and reading from my kindle. (That’s not quite enough multi-tasking for me, but there’s no more room for anything else on the treadmill.)
• For fun, I took my son bear hunting with a bow and arrow, sitting behind a bush fi fteen yards away. (He shot a monster. I got a new pair of pants.)
• I have dragged my wife to deserts and jungles, mountains and villages, and to some of the real hell-holes of this world–just for the awesome privilege of seeing a little heaven born there. (And not only has she stayed around–I think she likes it!)
About the Book If God Were Real
What was the creative spark that motivated you to write this book?
I spent a few years at a mission agency where I was in churches all across North America. I began to be really concerned that I just didn’t see a lot of evidence that most Christians and churches actually believed in God–at least not the God we have said we believed in. It just seemed to me that we had become so different from the first followers of Jesus, it was hard to argue we actually were His followers. My friendships with atheists and other non-believers confirmed that they didn’t see much in us that drew them to faith. But New Testament faith was contagious! I began to yearn to live like God is real–and to find fellow travelers to journey with.
What is the key thought you want readers to take away from this book?
I want non-believers to take a fresh look at the possibility of God in a nonthreatening way. I hope that Jesus followers will revolt against what we have called Christianity and instead pursue the awesome, passionate, scary-but worth-it-all journey of living like God is really real.
Why did you choose to approach this topic, even though it may be somewhat controversial?
The church is worth it. Unlike some, I haven’t given up on the church. I just don’t think we have tried it yet! Most of our churches look so different from the biblical picture of the church, it is hard to make a case that they are churches at all. I love the churches I have served. I want my grandchildren to experience the vibrancy of a community of Jesus followers. If a lot of us don’t raise the alarm right now, we are going down the same deadly road as the church in Western Europe. So maybe what I write about is controversial. But it won’t be for long. Either we will change and live like God is real, or there won’t be enough of us left in a generation or so to have a good controversy!
So are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of the Church?
Oh, I am an optimist! There are signs all around us of churches of many different styles and sizes who are beginning to live like God is real–and are having a blast! They are following Jesus into the real needs of lives and communities. They are not content just to show up on Sunday and get “charged up” to make it through the next week. They believe the mission of the early church is still theirs–to join Jesus in the advance of the Kingdom and the transformation of whole cities. What a kick it is to be a part of that! I believe these kinds of churches will stand the test of time and will send seeds into the wind that will bear fruit everywhere. Just read someone like Francis Chan and try to be pessimistic about the future! I am a huge optimist about the church that lives like God is real. I am a complete pessimist about religious clubs that pass themselves off as churches.
What’s the most important thing the church has to do right now to begin living like God is real?
I asked that question of Billy Graham in December. I had the privilege of visiting with him in his home. His answer was very short and very simple–“Tell the people to pray.” Dr. Graham said that prayer was the whole secret of his life and he didn’t think Christians really understood its power at all. Think about it–how would we pray if we believed God were real? We’d have to sell tickets to our prayer meetings, wouldn’t we? To have a personal meeting with the Creator of the universe where He unleashes His power? I want to share life with Jesus followers who want to really live this way!
About the Conversation
1. Meditate on this for a moment: what evidence would non-believers see in your life that suggest you truly believe that God is real?
2. Ask someone to honestly evaluate your life: what about you indicates that you believe God is real? What about you could cause someone to doubt that you really believe God is real?
3. What would happen in your community if your church vanished from the earth today? Does your church live like God is real, making such an impact in the community that they could not carry on without you?
4. Are you really willing to change your own life and your church in order to live like God is real? What if that change was uncomfortable? What if you didn’t like the music or preaching anymore? Are you really interested in following Jesus–or just enjoying church?
5. How does your family life impact others? Do you isolate your family from non-believers, or do you pursue relationships with those who are different from you like Jesus did? What makes this so hard to do, and what can you do to make changes?
6. Define a Christian. How does that word change when you add “ity” to it? How would you say the Christianity you see around you is like the movement Jesus founded? How is it different? What can you do about it?
7. How many non-believers do you know well? When is the last time you had dinner with a non-believer, had a non-believer to your house or went to theirs like Jesus did with Zacchaeus or Matthew? What makes that so hard, and how can you overcome it?
8. How do you join Jesus in His pursuit of the “lost sheep” without living like you are lost yourself? What safeguards do you need when really engaging non-believers?
9. What does it mean to you to live a missioner’s life? Would you say your life is defined by mission? Or is mission just a part of your life? Is your church defined by its mission? What is the evidence of that? How could you change to live a truly missioner life?
10. Have you or your church been involved in disputes and controversies? What have they been about? Fulfilling the Great Commission? Giving yourselves away for the sake of the cross? If they have been about lesser things, what will you do to avoid being distracted in the future from living like God is real?
11. How do you pray? Does your prayer life indicate that you actually believe God is real? What are your church prayer meetings like? How are they attended? Do you see evidence that your church believes that if you will meet together to pray, the real God will move in transformational power? If not, how would you begin to change?
12. Are there things in your life that you crave more than God? Is that evidence that you may be living like God is not real? How can your church help those who are struggling with addictions that serve as replacement idols for the real God?
13. What does it mean to you to take eternity seriously? Do you evaluate the real wealth of your life by the measures of this world or the next?
14. What might a movement of God look like in your community? How could you be a part of it? What is the one thing you most need to change to live like God is real and be ready to be used by Him? What is the one thing your church most needs to change?