Monday, May 16, 2005

Naturally Supernatural

Some people are quick to question my zeal for evangelism because I don't write much about it, I don't speak much of it, and I generally don't buy into a recognized method. I grew up in a church (affiliated with Church of God, Cleveland, Tenn.) that was overzealous for evangelism. Each Sunday morning was a 2-hour long altar call. While many were "saved" over and over again, there wasn't much focus on maturity or growing up spiritually. People seemed to spin their wheels at heaven's starting gate, and lived in constant fear of losing their salvation because they could never get beyond the conviction of sin that first led them to Christ to begin with.

It was odd, considering that church which my dad pastored clearly believed in a powerful God actively working in our world today. We were not given the onus of a cessationist, who I can only imagine bear a terrible burden of evangelizing without also being able to offer a tangible, fully realized God. What we believed and what we offered to the world appeared to be two different things. I didn't know many people in that congregation who ever felt relief from being convicted. We'd sing "Blessed Assurance," but not many people seemed assure. On the whole, we were a timid, terrified bunch.

I guess I became desensitized to the conscious activity of proselytizing the non-believing public. I do have a method, though, and it's borne out of a simple slogan passed on to me from my time in the Vineyard Christian Fellowship: Naturally Supernatural.

The phrase was John Wimber's attempt to strip away the undesirable package commonly associated with charismatics in the late 70s and early 80s. In other words, Keep It Real. God doesn't need us to "spice up" the effects of an experience with the spirit for God's power to be realized in us. As Andrae Crouch once sang, "Don't have to run down no aisles ..."

The idea of being Naturally Supernatural was appealing to me, someone who grew up in a charismatic church, but was fleeing the excesses I had clearly seen as derivative of man. It was also reinforced by the wisdom of my local leaders. My father's mentor, Pastor Don Price, put it this way, while explaining why he refused to use "catchers" for people who are "slain in the spirit" during the after-service ministry time:

If you fall down (during prayer) and it's God, you won't get hurt. If you fall down and it's not God, you should get hurt.

Pastor Price simply wanted to remove the expectation and encourage his congregation to be real before God. If you don't shake, if you don't fall, if you experience nothing in the flesh, it is not a sign of the absence of the presence of God. We believe what we believe, and we do not need the experience to vindicate that belief. He does not need to blast you into convulsions to do whatever He needs to do inside of you.

All of this extrabiblical wisdom has affected my worldview, as well as how I go about talking about Jesus to unbelievers (or not-yet believers, as Steve Sjogren would say). I realize it is not my job to conjure something unique. In fact, I have nothing to offer the world. It is God's job to shine through me, I merely have to be submissive to God and allow Him to speak and act through me (admittedly a challenge in my very depraved state).

If you're looking for a methodology, I suppose it might be organized in this order:

1. Submit to the Cross daily, with nakedness and humility.
2. Be comfortable with Your own faith, know what you believe and why.
3. Show up.
4. Speak up.
5. Respond accordingly, with the same kind of love and patience you were shown before you knew Christ (and I required a lot of both!).

That's it. I realize this is not the outline to a best-seller on evangelism, but it has worked for me. Instead of constantly looking for windows of opportunity to hammer home the essential message of the Gospel, I find myself constantly speaking of my own faith at work (in the newsroom!) and in the public. I do not think about it, it just comes out of my mouth because it is naturally integrated into part of my life. I don't give speeches or sermons or testimonials. I just talk about my faith as it relates to the topic of conversation. I talk about it in very real terms, including my own fallability and the fallability of others in the church. Because I am comfortable in what I believe, and I am only dogmatic about the "main and plain" things of my faith, most people are comfortable talking with me about it. I earn a trust because they know I do not have an aggressive agenda.

Has it been successful? Well, I'm not Billy Graham. The number of people I've led to Christ I could count on my fingers. The amazing thing is, in all cases, I cannot appraise my words as profound. In some cases I feared I had totally blown it. However, it is clear to me that each case it was God's time for them. I was just willing to not get in the way of what God was already doing. So in reality I haven't led anyone to Christ, but I got to be a conduit for Christ calling people to Him.

Two of these encounters happened over the Internet, and I got to watch them grow up in Christ over a 12-month period. One of them, a 21-year-old woman in Houston, died of cancer within 14 mos. of her conversion. If I've ever seen the reasoning for God's graceful timing, that was it. She was in a very dark place before we met, and she hadn't even learned of her cancer or was aware she was ill. She wasn't ready to hear what God had to say until the moment we met. I suspect it was a very small window. Another phrase from the Vineyard: If you can't minister healing, you can always minister love. I'd like to believe I was a part of that kind of ministry to that woman at a most crucial time.

Whatever method you choose, consider how much of the method is man's machine and how much God can actually use for His designs.

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