I was raised the pastor’s kid of a pastor’s kid. I had the answers, knowing the ins and outs, having a firm handle on the rights and the wrongs. I believed in Jesus, that if He was invited into my heart every single summer at camp my chances of going to Hell were lessened. I knew how to be afraid. I knew what it meant to earn and strive. I memorized Bible verses like a champ, earning me a regional bid for Bible Quizzing as an 8th grader. My guilt and desire to be worthy led me to start Bible studies in high school. Church was the family business, our second home on Wednesday nights and Sundays, morning and evening.
Not only did I have all the answers, I assumed it was my responsibility to share these answers, to save the “lost”.
The quest to earn my way into God’s favor meant I was required to lead people along the path of salvation. I relished the moments where I could insert a God or a Jesus and an I’ll pray for you. I believed my heart was in the right place for this was the peak of God’s call. My righteousness flamed, peace held remote, grace invisible. An overactive conscience revealed consistent shortcoming, and heaps of guilt.
In retrospect, having a penchant toward shyness and a severe lack of confidence protected me. Loud and obnoxious debate and Biblical defense did not fit my personality. Shame was aroused by my zero converted-to-Jesus rate. I attended conferences in stadiums filled to the brim with “on fire for Jesus” youngsters. With the energy and aspiration to rescue our worlds, we were commissioned and charged to save our wayward friends and family.
The notion that humans have the power to save other humans has been an ongoing reality for my lifetime, and continues today. I am not sure where this idea arose, for the process we have come to accept is not delineated in Scripture. Many Evangelical churches base their success upon the number of conversions – those who accept Jesus into their lives and experience baptism. While I don’t disagree with this practice, for I have benefitted from a life surrendered to Christ, I find the idea of racking up numbers and statistics and reports while also building relationships around this commission, manipulative. This call to “save the lost” means we have the power, we have the sole responsibility to change hearts, to sell Jesus, to somehow meld grace and truth. Whose truth?
Our job is not to sell Jesus. He can do that for Himself.
Our job is not to play judge and jury, calling out what we believe to be sin.
Our job is not to withhold compassion, kindness, generosity because someone holds different beliefs and values.
Our job is not to proclaim that Christians have all the answers and know best.
Our job is to let go of our control, determining who can participate in receiving God’s love, and how this love is manifested.
Relationships must be built on a foundation of trust and earned respect. We wield misplaced influence when we make friends and family our Jesus winning projects. The Christian-ese words and expressions of faith are not useful nor helpful. In loving people we learn them, we discover them. Salvation is not our work, nor can it motivate our actions toward another. Our work is to be authentic, honest. Our work is to serve, through presence and empathy while seeking to understand. In doing this we discern how best to love, growing our compassion while engaging with attentive hearts and ears.
We accomplish our work of love when we see no other, when we understand there is no Muslim or Buddhist or Christian or Catholic or LGBT or black or Latino or male or female or young or old. There is us, together, people getting through the day, with life and problems and joys and suffering. Parents with children and jobs and questions and health issues. People with financial concerns and fears and success and goals.
We participate best in the life of another when we recognize our only work is love. Loving God, loving others, loving ourselves.
We are not qualified, nor commissioned for any other work.