Overflow

Michael Green is an Anglican Priest who has written extensively about the church’s ministry of evangelism.   I was fortunate to have stumbled across his writings when I was a young minister in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, and would now include several of his books as being numbered among my very favorites – Evangelism Now and Then (1979) and  The Day Death Died (1982).  I find Michael Green to be a thoughtful and engaging author whose passion for the Gospel and the Church’s Great Commission to proclaim that Gospel to the whole world to be absolutely compelling.

In his 1989 book Evangelism Through the Local Church Michael Green explored some definitions of evangelism that he has found helpful, the first one of which was “overflow.”  He wrote – “It gives the right nuance, of someone who is so full of joy about Jesus Christ that it overflows as sure as a bath that is filled to overflowing with water” (8). 

This is an echo of what another Anglican Priest who lived a generation before Michael Green believed as well.  Roland Allen believed in what he called “the spontaneous expansion of the church.”  Having served as a missionary for the Church of England to China from 1895 to 1903, Roland Allen learned mostly about how not to do evangelism.  In a very Stone/Campbell sort of way, Roland Allen gradually came to the conclusion that the ineffectiveness of the church in mission in his day could largely be traced to its failure to follow the directions.  The Church was not following the Apostolic pattern for the ministry of evangelism.  As the title of one of his books asked – Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?  Roland Allen was a passionate about the authority of the Word and the leading of the Holy Spirit.  He thought that we should trust both of them so much more than we do; certainly more than we trust ourselves – our own strategies and efforts.  And when we pay closer attention to how the Apostolic Church in the New Testament went about fulfilling the Great Commission, Roland Allen was struck by the fact that the New Testament authors are never heard cajoling, scolding or urging Christians to get on with the work of evangelism.  There are no evangelism programs enjoined by the New Testament, no witnessing techniques taught and no outreach strategies offered.  Roland Allen observed that the Gospel spread and the church expanded in the book of Acts spontaneously, as the Spirit prompted ordinary Christians to share their great passion for Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, a passion that was nourished and nurtured by their common life of worship, instruction and community.  It was part of the “overflow.”  Roland Allen wrote –

This instinct is admirably expressed in a saying of Archytas of Tarentum quoted by Cicero–

“If a man ascended to Heaven and saw the beautiful nature of the world and of the stars his feeling of wonder, in itself most delightful, would lose its sweetness if he had not someone to whom  he could tell it.”

 This is the instinctive force which drives men even at the risk of life itself to impart to others a new-found joy: that is why it is proverbially difficult to keep a secret.  It is not surprising then that when Christians are scattered (Acts 8:4) and feel solitary this craving for fellowship should demand an outlet, especially when the hope of the Gospel and the experience of its power is something new and wonderful.   But in Christians there is more than this natural instinct.  The Spirit of Christ is a Spirit who longs for, and strives after the salvation of the souls of men, and that Spirit dwells in them.  That Spirit converts the natural instinct into a longing for the conversion of others which is indeed Divine in its source and character. (9)

 I really like this image of “overflow.”   I think it perfectly describes the effect that our life together in worship, Bible study and fellowship as a church is supposed to have when we scatter as salt and light back into the world.  What happens in church is supposed to make a difference in who we are and in how we are in the world.  The best measure of a church is not found in its attendance statistics, but rather, in how those who attend its services and participate in its life are transformed by those involvements to be more transparent in their love for God and neighbor when they are not at church.  What we do on Monday needs to be the overflow of what’s happened to us and in us on Sunday.  This is how the church reaches the world.  Not by “come-to” strategies in which the people who aren’t here are somehow persuaded to pass through our doors and onto our turf where we can tell them all about what we believe, but rather by “go to” strategies in which we go to where the people who aren’t here live, and play, and work, where we can show them what we believe by how we live, and play, and work while we are standing right beside them. 

As I said, I really like this image of “overflow.” With Roland Allen and Michael Green, I think its how church is supposed to work.  But in order for it to work, there have to be two conversions.  Broadly speaking, it can be argued that the spiritual life that the Bible describes hinges on two pivotal conversion moments.  The first decision of faith that we are asked to make Biblically has to do with what we are going to do with God and His great love for us? Will we receive this love?  Will we accept this embrace of God?  Will we allow ourselves to be drawn into the very heart of God?  Will we permit this to be the defining fact of our existence?  Biblically, this is where the spiritual life begins, with the acceptance of the fact that God loves us.d it has always been God’s plan that those of us who have received His love would then in turn become channels of His love for others.  We who experience the first conversion, this turning to God’s great love for us, are confronted almost immediately with a second conversion, a conscious turning to others to make this offer of God’s love available to them too.

The conversion to the love of God that gets us to church on Sunday mornings where we are strengthened and comforted by God’s great care and constant concern for us in Jesus Christ, always leads to another conversion on Monday mornings when we head back out into the world and God asks us to make this great gift that we enjoy available to those who don’t know that it is for them too. This is how “overflow” works – we who know ourselves to be loved by God are in turn asked to let others know that God loves them too.  Our life together in worship, Bible study and fellowship is what fills the tubs of our lives, and the worlds in which we live, and work, and play are where that fullness is supposed to spill over.  And when we catch the rhythm of this, we will become a people of “irresistible influence” as was the church in the book of Acts.  DBS+

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