How to Save a Life

I’ll never forget the day I saw 20 or so children go up for an altar call and become saved. I was in an urban church in Durham, NC. I was there with a group of college students who were on a mission trip in our own town. We were there to help with some sort of VBS event at this church and after some singing, dancing, and a very passionate altar call, these 20 or so kids, all between the ages of 4 and 8, went up to the altar, got down on hands and knees, and accepted Jesus.

I was standing next to a regular volunteer and he must have picked up on the stunned look on my face. Honestly, I don’t really know what I was feeling. I knew this was supposed to be an amazing thing, for this many kids to accept Jesus, it was a book of Acts kind of thing, but mostly I was just shocked. I’d never seen anything like that before. And that’s probably what he saw on my face. So he brought me back down to earth by saying,

“Oh don’t get too excited. Most of them have done this about 30 times before.”

Not knowing how to react before, his words gave me good direction. It seemed so worldly wise and cool to be above it all and just dismiss this. So I gave a knowing chuckle, a sarcastic, “Yeah, I hear ya” and went about my life.

Perhaps that was the turning point, I can’t really be sure, that I started looking down on so many faith experiences I had had up until that point. This whole notion of becoming “saved.” I clearly remember hearing FCA talks saying, “If you cannot tell me the date and time and place that you accepted Jesus, then you cannot be 100% sure you’re going to heaven.” And then we were told to open up our Bibles and write down today’s date and the time. “Here’s your chance. Do you want to be 100% sure? Not 95, or 99.5, but 100%. Then just write your name”


I listened to enough of these talks myself that I learned how to do it. At my senior year of high school church camp, during the closing worship, I used a bad car accident I had been in to make my own fervent plea for folks to shore up their eternal plans and become 100% sure. And man, did it work. 40 something people came up. I remember the rush of feeling like I could be the next Billy Graham.

But thanks to my new friend dismissing those 20 or so children at the altar, I was now armed with the proper tools of cynicism to see through all that. To understand that it’s all a farce, that nothing is really happening in people’s hearts.

Since then I have learned how hard it is to save a life. How much time you have to spend in someone’s recliner chatting or next to their hospital bed praying or on your phone texting before the message you want them to hear will have an open ear to receive it. And I have learned that it’s never a finished process. That we can never write down a date and time in our Bible of when we were completed.

As the recently passed Maya Angelou once said,

“I’m grateful to be a practicing Christian. I’m always amazed when people say, “I’m a Christian.” I think, “Already?” It’s an ongoing process. You know, you keep trying. And blowing it and trying and blowing it …”

In fact the transformative process is so hard and so drawn out that it’s much easier not to really try at all. Wouldn’t it be easier just to stand back with some people who are at about the same place in faith that we are and agree that we’re doing just fine? Wouldn’t it be easier to fold our arms and just laugh sarcastically at all the “little people” struggling to get saved?

Why, yes, it is. I know from experience.

So how do you save a life? I am an ordained minister. There are still a lot of people who view my role to be “winning souls.” The only problem is, my soul still needs a lot of winning. You know, I keep trying, and I keep blowing it and trying and blowing it…

A good friend in ministry shared some golden advice when she said,

“I realized that I had to stop trying to save the church. The church already had a Savior.”

So how do you save a life? I’m convinced that we don’t do the saving, and that the long, hard transformative process happens most beautifully and most effectively when we get saved together. When we share our saving process with each other. When we hear of another’s experience, radically different from ours, and celebrate it rather than try to dismiss it or shoehorn it into our own experience.

Listen, I’ve seen a lot of emotional manipulation to try to get people to this idea of being saved that is frankly shallow and unbiblical (in my opinion). I’ve done it myself. I’m not for that.

What I am for is all of us to experience the truly deep transformation together. What we all need to do is stop standing in the back with our arms folded, looking down on others. What we need to do is go up to the altar with those 20 or so kids. We need to fall flat on our face not just once. Not just one time that we notate on the cover page of our Bibles. We need to go up every week, every day.

I guess those kids had it right to begin with.


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