The Almost True Story of Ryan Fisher - Rob Stennent
Ryan Fisher is a born salesman looking for fame and fortune. After watching his sales double when he places an ad with his picture by an icthus symbol (the Jesus fish) in the Christian Business Directory, Ryan comes up with a new plan. He decides to use his business savvy to plant a church and build an empire. There is only one problem: Ryan does not believe in God.
This is an interesting book on many levels. It is well-written and fun to read. It playfully pokes fun at many Christian conventions. It challenges pastors (and all Christians) to think about why they are doing ministry in the first place.
As the story progresses, Ryan runs through every major leadership fad in the past few decades. He puts together a church that is fun, relevant, and seeker-friendly. He then moves on to a more Late Night talk-show format interviewing people in crisis, choosing Leno's style over Letterman's. He then decides to imitate Oprah's model of new-age, self-help (yet relatively godless) spirituality.
At first his wife Katherine is excited by all the attention, but she eventually sees the error of her ways and calls Ryan's bluff. In her confrontation with Ryan, she finds out that there is a more diabolical edge to his actions. When she tells him, "You're not God!" Ryan counters by saying, "I'm better than God. God can't help them... But I can actually help them. I can change their lives." Katherine realizes that Ryan's "problem wasn't that he didn't believe in God. The problem was that he believed he was God (281). As the scriptures teach, Pride goes before a fall. Ryan's ruse is exposed and his empire collapses.
Though an enjoyable read, it is hard to determine the moral of the story. Ryan's church explodes in numbers through business techniques and gimmicks in spite of his unbelief. Does this mean that these techniques and gimmicks work on their own - apart from faith? If so, what does this say about faithfulness? Is faith really necessary to build a church? Or is it simply a matter or implementing the right techiques?
What does this imply about the kind of church that is created by these fads and gimmicks? In the story, it is clear that people's lives are truly changed by Ryan's church. Is this an affirmation of the fads and gimmicks? Or does it simply demonstrate God's amazing mercy and grace in using poor means and broken (even bad) people to bring about God's good ends?
Maybe the book is like a modern day story of Joseph or Esther - a story where God is hardly mentioned, but God is at work the entire time, through strange events and unintentional actions. Or perhaps the book is simply a challenge to pastors to be real rather than phony. Regardless, its a fun ride!