A couple months ago, I sat in a youth service about a summer mission trip. The guest speaker talked about missions, and he went on to say, “If you’re a Christian, your sole purpose in life is to win souls for the sake of Jesus Christ.” He then told us that there was no greater purpose than that. And, it makes me incredibly sad to think that anyone believes their ultimate purpose is to simply “win souls.”
This may sound shocking coming from the girl who wants to live in Africa, but the idea of being a missionary makes me sick to my stomach. Missions tends to turn compassion into evangelism, and they aren’t the same thing. You shouldn’t be kind to people because you’re trying to win a soul. You shouldn’t help someone so that you have an excuse to tell him or her about your religion. You should simply exercise compassion for the sake of compassion. Kindness motivated by anything but a desire to love another person isn’t genuine. Motivating love with an invitation to church, a call for salvation, or an opportunity to spread your own beliefs diminishes the whole point of love.
You can’t motivate kindness with evangelism and call it love. When I was a CHILL leader, I was in charge of the love team, and somehow, every act of love became an advertisement. We handed out Dum-Dums at lunch one day, and instead of mentioning CHILL, I decided I just wanted to offer the candy. I asked one girl if she would like one, and it broke my heart that her first response was, “What do I have to do?”
It has become such a habit of ours to only express kindness in an effort to achieve something for ourselves. I was talking to my sweet boyfriend last night, and I asked if he could remember the last time his church did something nice in the community without mentioning Jesus, the church, or anything associated with religion. He said he couldn’t remember.
When you’re told your purpose is to win souls, kindness just for the sake of being kind no longer exists. Kindness becomes an advertising tool, the most effective form of propaganda modern society has ever utilized. We become kind in an effort to produce a desired outcome, which in Christianity’s case, is a won soul.
It’s a common belief that the most loving thing you can do for someone is introduce them to the cross, help them gain eternal life, and all those other church cliches. But, I think that love and furthering a religion are two completely different things. Both can exist without the other. It’s not loving to categorize people into saved and lost. It’s not loving to assume you know what others need. It’s not loving to want people to be more like you instead of accepting them and their beliefs exactly the way they are.
There is so much more to life than winning souls. It bothers me to think about all the Christians who have settled for a purpose far smaller than they are capable. I have to believe that we are capable of far greater things than conversions, salvations, and won souls. Maybe, your purpose is to create art-art that spreads joy or facilitates human connection. Maybe, your purpose is to coach little league or defend the wrongly accused. Maybe, it’s to teach history, sell clothes, or raise children… Maybe, inside each of these pursuits is the opportunity for greatness-an opportunity to spark passion and make life a more enjoyable experience for someone else.
We shouldn’t allow religion to make us less than we were created to be. If we diminish our purpose to something as small as winning souls, what’s the point in compassion and love? That purpose can be accomplished through force, violence, and dehumanization. I think that there are far greater things than accepting Christ and coercing others to do the same.
If we, as Christians, are loving for the sake of Christ, that would imply that Christ loved for the sake of whom? Himself? I can’t believe that Jesus was that arrogant and selfish. I think He loved for the sake of the person in front of him. And, I think that if I love for the sake of anything other than the human being in front of me, I’m not really loving at all. I find infinitely more beauty in loving for the sake of love than loving for the sake of Jesus.
Whether we like it or not, not all people really need Jesus specifically. I think there are certain things we all need, but I think we all experience those things differently. I happen to find all of those things in Christ and my relationship with Him- rest, peace, acceptance, grace, and love. But, the form Jesus takes in my life doesn’t have to be the form He takes in the lives of others. Deciding to recognize those elements as something other than Christ doesn’t make them any less of what I know as Jesus. It doesn’t work that way. Names are just names, and if you find rest in a cup of coffee, I’m so glad that you have found rest. If you find peace in silence, I’m so glad you know how to find your peace. If you find acceptance in your best friend, I’m so glad someone has let you feel accepted. If you find grace in each new day beginning, I am overjoyed that you have experienced grace. If you find love in the game of football, I’m so happy you know what love feels like.
You see, it doesn’t matter that I think whatever peace you feel in silence is the presence of God. It’s not my job to win your soul for my side of semantics. It doesn’t matter what I call it, and it doesn’t matter what you call it. But, it does matter that we strive to help one another experience it. We have to find a way to believe what we have in common is far more important than the ways we differ. I think that my purpose is to spread love, not Jesus, but love, in whatever form the person in front of me needs.
I hope you start to live for whatever you’re passionate about. I hope you let go of any need you have to win souls and spread the love of Christ, replacing it with the desire to use your passion to make the world a better place and spread love. Just love, with the understanding that not everyone believes as you. I hope you learn to accept other beliefs without any underlying desire to change those beliefs. I hope you show and experience compassion that only exists for the sake of love. I hope you stop settling for smaller, and I hope you never forget that you are greater. I hope that you find what I know as Jesus, whether we call it the same thing or not. And, I hope, as always, that you are welcomed at new tables and find more room for others at your own.
1 Corinthians 16:23-24,