I attended the University of Michigan in the 1970’s (like, before indoor plumbing). I joined a campus ministry that emphasized community, worship, and outreach.
It was a great group. About one hundred and fifty of us sacrificed to live in the dorms all four years for the sake of outreach—and believe me, living in those dorms was a sacrifice. We roomed with, did laundry with, and shared meals alongside nonbelievers.
Our outreach efforts focused on evangelizing leaders in our dormitory halls. We thought that if these naturally-born leaders accepted the gospel, they would invite friends and become leaders in our ministry.
So we purposely befriended honors students, sports team’s leaders, those in pre-med and pre-law, or any natural influencers we met in classes and the cafeteria.
I’m ashamed to admit, we called our strategy, Selective Evangelism.*
What was the result?
Let’s put aside the obvious Biblical flaws with our strategy (man looks on the outside while God looks on the inside). What culture did Selective Evangelism create?
The leaders we cultivated were innately disciplined: it takes self-will to excel at academics and sports. When these leaders joined us, they brought their native self-control to Christianity, and they created a culture of discipline.
This discipline helped thousands of students over the years. They ordered their lives with better study habits, regular prayer times, and personal integrity. Prayer, grades, and morality improved across the board. Who could argue with that?
But it also created a culture of compliance, a peer pressure of willpower. Little by little, tips and techniques for personal discipline became rules and regulations for conduct.
And the culture of compliance birthed a society of secrecy. Our leaders were so good in their personal order that it was a little embarrassing for us to admit neglecting—for the eleventh time this month—to take a prayer time.
Letting God Be the Sun
In our spiritually immature, surface-level insight, we wouldn’t have selected runt-of-the litter David to befriend, we would have chosen his strapping brothers; we wouldn’t have chosen cowardly Gideon, or beauty-queen Esther, or tax-collector Matthew.
Perhaps we would have chosen Paul (if we had the guts to face imprisonment and stoning). But Paul himself criticizes his incredible self-discipline and morality. He says, “Whatever gain I had, I count as a disadvantage.”
Paul is saying, “I used to be hyper-orderly and manically-moral; and now I think all that natural aptitude worked against me. It’s just dung.” What brought Paul to his disregard for natural gifting? It’s called supernatural conversion.
Paul knew that star athletes are often the worst coaches. God chooses people his divine glory can shine through, unobstructed by their flesh.
Let’s all become super-natural leaders
It is fine—good even—to bless others with our innate gifts. If you were born with perfect pitch, make beautiful music, but let’s not force others to write a symphony. Though perhaps we can help them harmonize.
Their best harmonies, though, will come when God exhibits himself in their lives, and his life brings life to others, including to us.
If we are born smart, people will want our brains in their lives. If we are born timid, and God gives us supernatural courage, people will want more of God.
Let’s choose a life God shines through, not one that glorifies our natural selves.
* But God was at work in this ministry. Selective Evangelism was discontinued, and the organization publicly repented. That humility takes super-natural heart change.