Monday, February 26, 2007

Who will save your soul?

In a previous ministry setting, I heard that a minister who had served in my position had organized a mission trip to Mexico. On this particular mission trip, a house was constructed and participants took part in a Vacation Bible School. Also included in this mission trip was a nightly contest where the participants from the church where I now served would gather together and tally how many “souls they had saved” that day. A prize was given each night to the person who reported the highest number of “souls saved” by inviting the Mexicans to “accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.” I must confess that hearing this story made me want to run to the bathroom and throw up.
This kind of contest provoked such a visceral reaction from me because I believe that it confuses God’s action with our own, and in so doing it amounts to idolatry. We are used to thinking of idolatry as bowing down to worship little figurines of Greek and Roman gods, as Paul encountered and wrote about in his ministry. However, we are in a much more subtle and deeper danger of idolatry. We are subject to a new cultural false deity—the Self. Any time we are engaged in mission, our work is to be a conduit for God’s action. It is impossible for humans to save their own soul, much less anyone else’s soul. That is instead God’s gift of grace. When we share the life changing power of the Gospel through work or word or song or prayer, the Spirit moves through us and creates the opportunity to open eyes to God’s grace. Far from being a “tally” that we can name and claim, our action on behalf of God should only be attributed to God, never to ourselves. If we confuse this issue, we risk idolatry.
This is one reason I am glad our church’s mission committee has planned a mission trip to Camp Egan this month. On March 22-24, we are going to be engaged in refurbishment and construction around the camp where so many district and conference activities take place. Participants in that mission trip mentioned above would, I suppose, need to find some other evening entertainments since there aren’t going to be any other people there at the camp to “witness to” besides ourselves—there wouldn’t be any souls to “save” and then tally in order to win a prize. But, this is probably a good thing. It allows us to learn a little bit about how we are used by God in mission.
The following weekend, Camp Egan will host the District Confirmation Retreat, when young people from all over the Muskogee District will gather to learn about God, the church, discipleship, grace, and their decision to follow Christ. The work that we will do the previous weekend will contribute to and enhance the ability for those kids to gather and learn. Who knows, a 13 year old kid may make the decision at that retreat to give their life to Christ and follow him, and our work will have contributed in some way to that kid’s experience—in short, Christ will turn our water into wine. This is no different than having an in depth conversation with someone who doesn’t know Christ and at the end of that conversation “convincing” that person that a life of faith is essential and life giving. In both examples of mission, God allows us to be conduits of His Grace.
I understand why the people on the mission trip to Mexico had such pride and sense of ownership involved in their experience of “saving souls.” It is an exciting and energizing experience to be used by God. If we refuse the temptation to put ourselves on a pedestal while involved in mission, we may see that God is saving our own soul through our work in mission as well as others.

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