I have had the privilege of working in a profession where I get to interview “ministry workers”. As part of a conversation to ensure that the individuals and company core values are in alignment, I ask a simple question:
“If a 1st grader came up to you and asked, ‘Ms. or Mr. [fill in name here]. How do I know that I’m going to heaven?’ or ‘How can I have a relationship with Jesus?’, what would you tell them?”
The responses are enlightening.
- “Follow what your parents tell you. They tell you right from wrong. Try to do right.”
- “Do a lot of good things, because the Lord will bless you.”
- “Do enough good. Everybody knows right from wrong and good from bad. You have to do a lot of good, right?”
- “I’ve been baptized. I do a lot of stuff with my church, and we hold a lot of carnivals for the kids.”
And my favorite caveat to all of these is, “Well, this is a child, so I’d keep it really simple.”
Now, if you have a Bible degree or a deep theological background, you’re probably thinking, “Of course not. It’s all about relationship. You can never do enough good. Oh these individuals have probably not been in church very long.” But the reality is – I am not hearing these responses from people I approached in the street and asked if they wanted to be a ministry worker. Their resumes include:
- Trained evangelist at [insert church name here].
- 30 year attender of [church name].
- Youth group minister.
- Bible study leader.
And even if you were blessed enough to go to a Moody or a Taylor, and you were equipped with the knowledge of what I get to share with them. Your lifestyle still may reflect that you sort of believe what they do. Do you live with more of an awareness of His grace and what He did for you or of your personal performance plan and growth goals in Christianity?
So I explain to them:
“Can I share with you what we tell our kids and see if you stand in agreement with it?
- Heaven is a free gift. It’s not something you work for or earn.
- Man is sinful and separated from God.
- God is holy and must punish sin.
- Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins.
- By receiving that FREE gift that He took care of our sins, we know we have relationship with Him.
- Then we grow in Him, but growth didn’t give us relationship with Him, His grace did. So we always want kids to know relationship starts with and is sustained by the Cross of Jesus Christ.
Does that sound like something you’ve ever heard before?”
- “Oh yeah, my church told me that.”
- “Oh. That’s a really good way to put it.”
- “Nope. I’ve never heard it like that before.”
Listen, whether you can recite the Gospel or not, there is a damaging reality in the church right now that we still have to earn God’s pleasure by being really good. The amount of shame you receive a day regarding where you fall short makes you living proof that somewhere, GRACE was not properly defined or maintained.
In that job, I once had a conversation with someone who desired a type of position, but was fine communicating that they did not desire Jesus.
“I’m not a Christian, but I’ll raise my kids with Christian values. They’re good and they make sense. I have a God, but it’s not my parents God, and they don’t understand that. I found my God through a program that encouraged me to go through something very difficult and they knew it was impossible to accomplish without believing in, and surrendering your life to, a higher power. I knew I needed Him. I gave my life to my God. I feel bad for people who don’t have that. My best friends are ones who believe in a God, and they point me back to mine when things are hard or when I start to think I have to figure it out on my own. I have a personal relationship with my God. He talks to me, I talk to Him.”
Then with much confidence at the end of that part of our conversation, as if to prove the difference between the Christian God and hers, she continued,
“My God is loving. My God is always kind. He loves homosexuals. He loves the addicts. He loves alcoholics. He loves everyone!”
I get to have enlightening conversations in my job.