I studied at the University of Michigan in the 1970’s (like, before indoor plumbing). I joined a campus ministry that emphasized community, the Holy Spirit, and outreach.
It was a great group. About one hundred and fifty of us “sacrificed”—believe me, it was a sacrifice—to live in the dorms all four years for the sake of outreach. We roomed, did laundry, and shared meals alongside nonbelievers (of which there were two or three).
Our evangelism efforts focused on leaders. We felt that if we could bring the gospel to these natural leaders, they would invite friends and become leaders in our ministry.
So we purposely befriended student in the honors program, sports team’s leaders, those in pre-med and pre-law, and significant influencers in our dormitory houses.
I’m ashamed to admit, we called our strategy, Selective Evangelism.*
What was the result?
Let’s put aside ( if we can) 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 discipline to Christianity, and they created a culture of discipline.
This discipline helped thousands of students. They created personal schedules and ordered their lives with regular prayer times, better study habits, 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 seventeenth time this month—to take a prayer time.
What was our problem?
Our leaders were innately disciplined, and they taught others to be like themselves.
But many of the students were not innately disciplined. They worked at self-control, but they lacked the inborn gift. They grew weary, ashamed, and secretive. They despaired.
Reliance on natural discipline made our leaders unable to teach new-birth spiritual discipline that comes from grace. They naturally did “it”—why couldn’t everyone else?
Native gifts lead to self-sufficiency and independence from God. Oswald Chamber says, “God is not involved in our natural life as long as we continue to [live in] it.” Our leaders lived in their natural gifting and pressured others to imitate them.
But the students who lacked inborn discipline (though they may have been naturally loving or generous) needed spiritual rebirth, grace-based change, not external pressure.
Star athletes are often the worst coaches.
But wasn’t Paul naturally … ?
The Apostle Paul was naturally disciplined. He exceled at academics and morality. Did God choose him—just perhaps—because of God’s own strategic Selective Evangelism?
Not a chance.
In Philippians 3, Paul regales us with his former (and incredible) discipline and morality. Then in verse 7 he says, “But whatever gain I had, I count as a disadvantage.” (Disadvantage is often translated loss, but the original Greek meant disadvantage.)
Paul is saying, “I used to be hyper disciplined and moral; and now I think all that natural gifting worked against me. It’s just dung.” What brought Paul to this unguarded self-disclosure? It’s called conversion.
In Romans 7, Paul claims that he studied all the commandments—one through nine—and he disciplined himself to obey every single one. And he felt great about himself. Then he read the tenth commandment, “Thou shalt not covet.” He says it slew him.
Paul realized that he coveted the praise of others; he coveted self-esteem; he coveted feeling good about himself. The driving force beneath his discipline was coveting.
He wasn’t disciplined because of innate goodness. He was disciplined because of self-centeredness. His discipline wasn’t grace-based; it was natural man, flesh-based.
Let’s all become super-natural leaders
Not all native talents come from coveting. 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 they find their own gifting, their abilities that bring life to others. They may be more loving or generous than us; let’s encourage and value those traits in them (and, who knows, maybe even learn from them!).
Finally, let’s teach gospel-changed hearts, how the cross made the naturally timid to be bold, and how grace made the naturally direct to be gracious.
Let’s Selectively Evangelize each other daily by selecting (and teaching) the inner-traits that God super-naturally birthed in our hearts.
Check out my book on natural moralism and supernatural grace: Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids?, available in paperback or Kindle formats, at Amazon.