Why Christians Need to Stop Saving People

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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.

7 thoughts on “Why Christians Need to Stop Saving People

  1. I really enjoyed your article and appreciate you sharing your thoughts. I do believe you’ve presented an accurate vision of the reality of Christian life that so many are missing. A good friend & pastor’s wife told me once, “A tree doesn’t concentrate on putting out fruit. A tree concentrates on taking nutrients from the ground. If the tree is healthy, fruit is inevitable.”

    My perspective is somewhat different, since I wasn’t brought up attending church. My people in general —and Dad in particular— had/have little use for religion. Our family never darkened the doors of a church together until one Sunday (Thanksgiving?) when I was about 22 and Dad consented to come. Once.

    However, Mom did quietly believe, and packed me off to Bible Camp every summer. There’s where I “got saved” when I was eight — I thought it would be a good thing to do. I determined from then on to be a good Christian, read my Bible, and maybe save some souls. “A for effort.”

    But nothing really changed inside me until I actually did give my life to God and was “born again” at age 21. At that point I had to lose Him completely — or He had to lose me. I dumped that “trying to be a Christian” mode that you write about — and abandoned ship. But once I knew I was lost, He could find me again and set me on the right foundation.

    Some children may give their hearts to the Lord, and really do understand what they’re doing at that age. Yet I fear too many people in too many churches are being convinced they’re saved because they made some dim commitment or experience way back in childhood. Like I was for some years, they are living in the “A for effort” mode. Until they chuck it all. Then Evangelicals wonder why the survival rate of Christian teens, by their mid-twenties, is only about 7%.

    Been there; done that. Very thankful the light finally dawned. No matter where we are, God is able to bring us to our knees if we’ll just quit waving our good works report card at him and pointing out all the As.

    But even for those truly born again, the idea of rushing out and saving the world — or even the locals — is often misguided. by current religious thought. As you say, we can’t “win souls”; all He asks is that we be obedient to the Spirit’s promptings. He calls us to be ambassadors, to represent our heavenly kingdom in a welcoming light, to point out the Way. It’s not for us to drag souls, kicking and screaming, across the border — nor try to force the governments of this world to live by his rules.

  2. Jennifer, Great post! I agree, we are called to follow Christ and the example he set for us to follow was to love others unconditionally. Judgement, condemnation or pushing religion on hurting people will only push them further away from the truth. Only Christ can work in the heart of a person to transform them.

  3. I relate very much to your post. The approach of focusing on loving others as God loves us will shape our ministry and the way we impact people in a powerful way.

  4. This a good reminder for me and something I try to live out. Yet, the question I have is “how do we love when someone is being selfish, hurtful, or self-destructive? I mean, how do we discern ways to show the person love? I don’t think it is by appeasing in an “I’m okay, you’re okay” way. I think sometimes loving others is to speak the “truth” – to discipline. Thoughts? I’m dealing with a difficult person in my life whom I love dearly but is very difficult to love. I can use some feedback is anyone has some to offer.

    1. Laura, Thank you for taking the time to write this comment. You know, I think there’s a reason why the work (the only work) we were given by Jesus was to love God, others and ourselves, because that in and of itself is the biggest job we can do. I do think we get to speak “truth” but we have to be careful and do it in relationship and truly discern this “truth” is what this person needs. And sometimes love means we step out of the relationship. I have no answers for you, only hope. Please keep me posted!

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