Search and Rescue by @Neil_Cole [Book Review]

What should I do to follow Jesus?

For most of my life, I would have said a daily quiet time, weekly church attendance and volunteering, and occasional evangelism were some of the most critical components to following Jesus.

Lately, I’ve been rethinking the importance of those activities. It’s not that any of those things are bad. They just don’t seem to result in real, lasting life change.

In the book Search and Rescue, Neil Cole suggests a far simpler to-do list for any person who is desperate for Jesus: confess your sins to another believer, read large quantities of the Bible together, and pray for people you know that don’t follow Jesus.

To drive home the vital nature of these practices, Cole draws an analogy to breathing: through confession, we exhale our old selves; through reading the Bible, we inhale God’s life. Both should be practiced with one or two other believers on a weekly basis. Neil Cole calls these accountability pairings Life Transformation Groups, and while they are simple (Cole’s organization fits the whole plan into a tri-fold brochure), they are not simplistic. The practice of spiritual breathing is only the first transformative step that prepares and equips desperate believers to obey God and carry out his direction, as revealed in the Bible. The next step is surprisingly simple: make new disciples by inviting them to join in a life transformation group.

Previously, evangelism was a discrete spiritual activity that I practiced only when I felt especially compelled. Otherwise, my general feeling toward evangelism was guilt: I felt guilty when I didn’t share my faith with others, and I felt guilty when I did, because I was certain that no one wanted to hear about it. Neil Cole suggests that making new disciples is as simple as inviting them to share in the activities that are transforming your life. Of course, this requires sticking with the system to ensure that God is calling the shots. As Cole unfolds this strategy, he outlines some key tips to sustainable success, as well as some potential pitfalls. Each hint is born out of Cole’s field work as a church-planter and discipler-maker. This is not the stuff of theory. These strategies are working as we speak.

Cole isn’t content to write a how-to book on spiritual disciplines and evangelism. He throws in a healthy dose of vision-casting that really stretched my imagination. One question is especially big: What if one million people in your town trusted in Jesus in a month? Immediately, I recognized where he was going: there is no church building big enough, there are not enough pastors, there is no sermon series engaging enough to sustain that kind of explosion of faith. This kind of exponential growth could only be sustained by a wide-spread grassroots movement driven by non-paid Christians applying exactly the kinds of strategies that Cole outlines. My second thought was more introspective: Do I really believe God wants to do something this big? Do I really believe he can save that many people and prevent them from falling away?

If I answer no, then I have some issues with God that I need to deal with. If I answer yes, then I have to answer another question: What would God have me do now?

This question gets to a key goal of Neil Cole’s writing: empower everyday Christians to take their cues and commands directly from God, rather than relying exclusively on professional Christians. Cole suggests that our dependence on pastors, authors, speakers, musicians, and others has undermined our ability to listen to God and follow his commands. We don’t need more education or inspiration; we need more God and more obedience.

Cole uses anecdotes from his days as a Southern California lifeguard to illustrate the principals of effective discipleship and disciple-making. The stories are amusing and effective, if not entirely gripping. Cole’s experiences patrolling the beaches and saving endangered swimmers serve as on-ramps to Cole’s main points, much like a preacher would employ a sermon illustration. Make no mistake, however. Neil Cole is not content to deliver a message of self-help and personal fulfillment. He’s not even aiming to increase your evangelism skills. His case for multiplying disciples rather than adding church members shows that Cole is aiming to fan the flames of a revolution of obedience to God through faith in Jesus Christ. This whole book is ultimately about God advancing his kingdom, which does not necessarily include helping Christians to have more comfortable lives.

If your comfort or your livelihood depend on standard strategies for ministry that deliver dependable results, this book isn’t for you. If you’re desperate for Jesus, check out this book.

The paperback version of Search and Rescue will be released under the title Ordinary Hero. It’s the same content in a soft cover form, perfect for passing along to other desperate disciples of Jesus.