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Book Review: An Unlikely Story

In his recent book Unlikely, Kevin Palau tells a vivid and compelling story of partnership, loving a city and how God moves in ways that are often thought implausible in both Christian and secular circles. While it might sound like the beginning of a bad joke- an openly gay mayor of a notoriously progressive city and an evangelist set aside differences to serve the city they love- Palau joyfully tells the story of how the friendship changed his perspective on loving those outside of the Christian faith through the lens of the Gospel.

Palau begins the story about the city he loves- Portland, Oregon. Portland is considered one of the most un-churched cities in the U.S., a term that we hear often about the Seattle region, as well. He drifts back to his personal history, growing up as the son of a major evangelist to finding his calling to network and strengthen pastors and churches. He decided to do this in a most unlikely place- his hometown of Portland.

Kevin Palau

The story proceeds with Palau’s approach to loving and serving his city. He and other church leaders met with someone who knew the city’s needs well- the mayor of Portland, Sam Adams. Adams happens to be openly gay, but Palau recognized the genuine love that Adams had for Portland and after cultivating a friendship found they had more in common than not.

“This didn’t mean we had to leave our convictions at the door. We never hid our motivation….There was no bait and switch. We were authentically ourselves, and so was Sam.”

The Portland story doesn’t end there, Palau expounds on the gospel movement that began with an unlikely partnership: hundreds of pastors supporting CityServe (a community effort to tackle top issues of needs alongside city government, non-profits and churches), a suburban church that partners with an underprivileged high school, young adults who open a tutoring program in a low-income apartment complex and the list goes on. Palau points out that a sense of humility and service modeled by the life of Jesus Christ was a common thread in each story. “Deep transformation lasts because it listens first…And, above all, this kind of dynamic transformation is humble and Christ-like.”

Unlikely tells a story that only God could have written: people joining together from opposite sides to serve the city, which is the work that Christ called his Church to do. It casts a wide net with a vision of “the whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole city.” God chose an unlikely tribe to bless the nations, an unlikely carpenter to die for the sins of many and raise from the dead and an unlikely wretch like me, to bless and love people the way that Christ loves me. Imagine what unlikely stories you might discover in your city.

– Nathan Ryan

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