The Awkward Language of Conversion

Have you noticed how language has become increasingly more awkward when we are speaking about salvation? Even just today I was talking with a well respected leader in the Free Methodist church and he seemed to find trouble coming up with the words to ask us how many “new converts” we’ve had at theStory. He started by saying, “I don’t know how to put this any other way, but have you had many people come who have not been churched before?” I’ve noticed this when I speak of the subject also. I don’t use language anymore about when I was “saved” or asking other people when they were saved. I don’t ask about how many people are being saved or if someone is now a Christian. For some reason, the language I’ve grown up using to speak about a conversion to Christianity as a worldview is failing me and I feel the need to come up with a new way to say it.

I’m actually kind of happy that people are having a hard time defining what they mean when they ask questions like “is he saved?” Normally this would mean does he go to Church on Sundays and profess Christianity to be his main belief system. However, this no longer does justice to the term ‘saved’, nor does it really get to the bottom of what we really want to know or mean. People are finding it awkward to talk about people and salvation as if that’s the only thing that matters in their life. Their theology of salvation is growing to mean more than it used to. Afterall we all have very different ideas of what the term ‘saved’ means. Some of us are asking if they go to church and say the right things, others are asking if they are going to heaven when they die and still others are just curious if they have made Jesus the Lord of their lives. The term isn’t working like it used to anymore. In my youth, it was a black and white question. Did they ask Jesus to be their personal Saviour….answer the question and I knew if they were saved or not. Now, well now, it’s not that simple. We are caring less about how many salvation cards were thrown in the offering plate and more about the lives of people starting to look more like Jesus.

We don’t want to reduce people’s destiny down to a phrase that we made up. Finally we are starting to see the failure of language here and it’s not making complete sense with what we actually believe about being saved. After all, Jesus did proclaim salvation to different people for different reasons (ie. your faith has saved you, he who stands firm to the end will be saved, he who believes and us baptized will be saved, whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved etc). The term ‘saved’ does not mean striclty going to heaven when you die. It takes on new meaning and as a result, filling out an excel sheet of how many people have been saved at your church no longer works. When someone asks us how many people have been saved, we start telling stories.

Well there was this guy who went to Bible College, and he got disenfranchised with the church, then he had a kid with an athiest and now lives across the street from our space. Now he’s back into the swing of things, finding a new community of believers and trying to follow Jesus. Or there is this guy who shows up on Sunday mornings and to our philosophy nights who is a professed athiest who comes because he is fascinated how so many intelligent people can believe in something like we do. Or there is the storeowner across the street who said that before he met us at theStory, church and religion was just something that occupied people’s mind so they didn’t have to care about serious things.  There is this guy who wanted to get baptized because he believed, but he didn’t even live here or really come to the services, he just got connected to us through another person who came who also wasn’t a believer.  There is single mom who has never had any previous church experience who has been part of the community now for two years.  There is another single mom who despite not coming to Sunday services still calls theStory her church and tells people about how much she loves it and the people there.

Salvation looks very different for each of these people, but I assure you that it’s there. These people are meeting Jesus where they need to meet him.  I don’t know who is going to heaven when they die, I don’t full know how it works.  I do know though, the salvation has comes to each of these people’s houses differently then I expected or it did for me.  I don’t know if our job is to convert these people.  I think our job is to love them and introduce them to Jesus.  I think our job is to help people who want to become more like Jesus, to help them do just that.  If we were asked to fill out a form of how many people were saved in the last year I would have to attach paragraphs, not numbers.

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