McManus: God reveals himself in people¹s stories
Nora Randall has a passion for people and the Lord. Her eyes well up when discussing the more challenging nuances of sharing Jesus Christ.
It was no wonder that she found such comfort and inspiration in pastor, author and speaker Erwin Raphael McManus.
Randall, a sophomore at Scripps Ranch High School, was one of hundreds who attended McManus¹ lectures at Bethel Seminary in April. The audiences found in McManus a refreshing and uncommon perspective: Evangelism is not about forcing something on people, but softly listening to find God within them.
³In all my talks,² says McManus, ³in all my conversations, how do I find a way to bring the conversation inside the other person¹s soul rather than inside my brain?
³Look, all the material you need to bring someone to faith already exists within them. You don¹t have to come in and shove something down their throat. You don¹t have to come in and bring stuff in. If you¹ll listen very carefully and watch very carefully you¹ll discover things in their story that will be all the material you need to bring them to Jesus. But it takes more of a nuanced understanding of people to do that. And we Christians are really much better at speaking than we are at listening.²
Randall put McManus¹ wisdom to immediate use. She bought his latest book, Soul Cravings, and promptly gave it to a classmate.
³The friend I helped was already Christian, but dealing with doubts,² said Randall. ³We experience Œspiritual OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder),¹ as Erwin put it. Meaning is lost through meaningless actions. I was able to give her a tool to find the true meaning of trust and faith, which had been lost. I did help her subtly and allowed her to come to her own conclusion.²
The subtlety of McManus¹ approach is what distinguishes him from other evangelists.
³He really has made me re-think how I do things,² said Caleb Hummel, administrative assistant to the dean at Bethel. ³It is more about the other person¹s life than what I might force them into thinking.²
Victoria Thomas, a Bethel student, said of McManus: ³His view of evangelism is not about what he can get from someone who doesn¹t know Jesus, but more about how he can give Jesus at the expense of his own life.²
³Christian evangelism,² said McManus in discussing the common practice, ³is about trying to force-feed an anorexic. We just try to shove the gospel down people¹s throats. And when I listen and read Jesus, it¹s a very different thing. Jesus tantalizes. He creates appetite. And so with the woman at the well, he just asks the right questions. He has the right intonation in his voice. He carefully doesn¹t say just enough. He says just enough to keep her pulling forward. And she¹s the one inviting him into a deeper conversation.²
Conversation was the mode of the Bethel lectures. McManus spoke in dialogue, without notes. Attendees were indoctrinated by the mind that shapes Mosaic, an eclectic, young and ethnically diverse church that McManus pastors across several sites in Los Angeles.
McManus is sometimes seen as liberal, or even heretical. Mosaic enthusiasts understand this to be a byproduct of McManus¹ dialogue on the margins. He uses everyday language and begins his messages in everyday places—ultimately to land with what he calls ³ultra-conservative² conclusions and a high view of Scripture.
He engages religious others. He speaks to corporations about leadership. He develops friendships with people of alternative lifestyles. This is Christ-like behavior (Jesus dined with tax collectors and prostitutes)—but uncommon enough to make McManus, an adjunct professor, Bethel¹s resident visionary.
³When I started at Bethel,² said New Testament Professor Mark Strauss, ³they brought Erwin in and they said, ŒHe¹s going to be our futurist.¹ And I thought, ŒFuturist, crystal ball—he¹s going to tell us, ŒWhat¹s tuition going to be next year?¹
³But then I realized that a futurist does predict in some ways where the church is going. But even more so—and you¹ll see this in his heart as it comes out—he tells us where the church needs to go in the future.²
Laughing at the idea of being a ³futurist for a living,² McManus said: ³It¹s not hard being a futurist. Š You don¹t really have to predict or even look in the future. For most people, they¹re living in the past and all you have to do is paint a clear picture of the present, and it¹s the future to them. It¹s not only true for the church. It¹s true for companies, for institutions, for educational organizations.
³In a sense you¹re trying to save a leg that has gangrene and you¹re trying to cut out the part that¹s dead. Š Of course many times we don¹t have the stomach to go in and do the surgery. Or we only take out the dead part but we leave the infected part because we¹re afraid to touch the healthy. We don¹t realize if you don¹t deal with the infection the healthy will get worse. And then everything begins to become corrupted.²
Soul Cravings, published in 2006, guided McManus¹ first evening lecture, attended mostly by young seminarians and Bethel staff and alumni.
McManus¹ second lecture was a luncheon for pastors and church leaders. McManus conveyed and updated some of the ideas from his 2001 book, An Unstoppable Force: Daring to Become the Church God Had in Mind—a treatise on church ethos.
³You can¹t make a person spiritual. It¹s a personal choice,² said McManus. ³Eventually I had to come to the conclusion it didn¹t matter what I taught, it mattered the texture of the person¹s heart. A teachable person can learn something from anyone. And when a person comes with humility it¹s amazing how they have the ability to extract a part that actually helps you.²
The third lecture culled from 2003¹s Uprising: A Revolution of the Soul. McManus noted that the church promotes noticeable activities like evangelism and the use of gifts, such as musical performance or speaking. But the exceedingly important work attracts less fanfare and requires greater resolve—humbly caring for people in need.
For Randall, that meant sharing conversation and a book with a friend, Kaitlin Smith. The result was that Smith drew closer to God amidst a perpetual cloud of uncertainty.
³Religion is all about faith,² said Smith. ³If everyone knew God 100% existed then what would be the point of religion? If you believe in God you need to trust in Him. You need to trust that He is there, and you need to trust that He loves you.²
Smith and others experienced a breakthrough with McManus: God¹s love is not a rational idea resonating from the outside. It is intrinsic evidence inside every person.