Mark Wilson’s new book Purple Fish, written on the topic of evangelism, was just released last month. I had the chance to read it early, and here is my endorsement of the book.
“Are you reluctant to share your faith? Do you lack motivation to lead people to Christ? Prescription: Read Purple Fish. Mark Wilson takes us on a fishing trip and treasure hunt that will motivate you to re-engage in God’s mission with a new sense of vigor. This book is witty, engaging, down to earth, and transformative.”
It’s a real pleasure to be able to interview Mark about his new book, so let’s do that.
Woodward: Tell me a little about yourself, what you do, some of your passions and hobbies.
Wilson: I’ve served as senior pastor of Hayward Wesleyan Church in Wisconsin’s northwoods for over 23 years. Besides pastoring the church, God has given me a ministry of encouragement for pastors in small communities. Also, I am involved in Native American ministry and ministerial education (adjunct prof at Wesley Seminary and teaching non-traditional Wesleyan ministry classes.) I do bit of speaking at retreats, conferences, colleges and camps.
My wife Cathy and I have 5 kids–four grown sons, and a 17-year old-daughter, who is my fishing buddy.
My hobbies include nature, guitar, historical research, finding antique Bibles and reuniting them with their families, and fishing, of course.
I’ve written two books: Filled Up, Poured Out (2012) and Purple Fish (2014).
Woodward: Why did you decide to write Purple Fish?
Wilson: Too many Christians feel uptight and anxious about evangelism. For many, the whole concept is more of a dreaded duty than delight. So, they remain passive, feel guilty about their evangelism avoidance, and break into hives whenever the subject comes up. “Evangelism training” is often unhelpful, and only re-enforces the idea that if you are not the “salesman type”, you can’t be effective in sharing your faith. I felt like that too until I discovered a different way.
Woodward: How did you land on the title Purple Fish?
Wilson: There are two great metaphors for sharing the gospel: fishing and treasure hunting. Purple Fish combines both. I found it accidently in Gail Godwin’s novel, Evensong, where I stumbled upon the Greek word, “Kalchaino” which literally means “in search of the purple fish.” Ancient fishermen braved the seas and cast their nets for the purple murex shellfish, which was highly prized for its purple dye. The fish was the treasure and the treasure was the fish!
So, in my book, Purple Fish means something of tremendous value worth seeking that, when discovered, brings great delight.
Woodward: How would you summarize the message of the book in a few sentences?
Wilson: Jesus is the ultimate Purple Fish–the greatest treasure the world has ever seen. He is definitely worth treasuring. If we treasure Jesus, we should treasure what he treasures.
His greatest treasure is people–lost, broken and hurting people. Jesus seeks us to save us and mends us to send us. He sends us on a redemption mission to seek his lost treasures.
Purple Fish brings a fresh perspective, with fun and engaging stories, and some practical suggestions for fishin’ with a mission.
Woodward: What do you feel are people’s greatest misconceptions or misperceptions in regard to evangelism?
a) Pushing people into conversion. (Nobody likes being pushed or pressured.)
b) Believing irreligious people are uninterested in spiritual matters. (They definitely are – but they don’t want to feel manipulated.)
c) Thinking evangelism is about memorizing Bible verses for shootouts with pagans.
d) Assuming that sharing the gospel is salesmanship. (It’s friendship.)
Woodward: What have you found to be people’s greatest fears when it comes to sharing their faith with those who live apart from Christ?
Wilson: Many Christians are afraid of being seen as obnoxious and pushy–being “one of them.” They also fear failure and rejection. But 1 John 4:18 says, “perfect love casts out fear.” When we make it a loving spiritual friendship rather than a confrontation, it takes the fear away.
Also, if we are prayerful, we will be guided to those who need us. The Holy Spirit goes ahead of us, opening the way and our job is to simply follow along.
Led by the Spirit, there is no such thing as “cold turkey” evangelism.
Woodward: I appreciate how you make sharing our faith very natural and down to earth. Could you highlight some of the advice you give on how to best share our faith?
a) See people who have lost their way as lost treasures rather than lost causes.
b) Get your role in the courthouse right. You are a witness–not the judge or prosecutor.
c) Respect boundaries. Meet them at the relational level where they are comfortable and willing to engage.
d) Honor the process. Most people come to faith via a journey and it takes several encounters and experiences before they commit themselves to Christ. It’s important to be patient and meet them where they are rather than where you wish they would be.
e) Follow the nudge. If you have a prompting, go for it. There are some amazing stories in the book of people who heard the little voice inside and followed it.
Woodward: What is the biggest thing that you want people to walk away with after reading your book?
Wilson: I want them to walk away with a deeper love for Jesus, and for the lost, broken, hurting people he treasures. I want them to see life as a mission trip – bringing blessing and encouragement everywhere, and say “I can do that!”
Woodward: What words of advice would you have for church planters in particular, when it comes to evangelism and church planting?
Wilson: Genuinely love people and look for opportunities every day to be a blessing. Respect the people you encounter. Nobody wants to be a project. Be ready and God will send them to you. Be open and God will send you to them. Be willing and God will use you in mighty ways.
JR Woodward is a church planter, activist, missiologist and author of Creating a Missional Culture (IVP, 2012). He co-founded the Ecclesia Network and Missio Alliance. He currently serves as the National Director for the V3 Church Planting Movement and is pursuing a PhD at the University of Manchester (UK).