We were launching a new ministry project in Mongolia. During a board meeting we wrestled with the issue of why our TV ministry was limited only to a single city while all of our competitors were broadcasting on satellite nationwide.
It was then that the Lord gave us a strategy to take a series of character-driven Bible movies into the Mongolian countryside to do Bible story telling and win communities to Christ. Called, Steppe-by-Steppe, the project is a resounding success.
At the time of this writing more than 95,000 were touched in hundreds of countryside communities with more than 50 new church groups planted—in just seven short years. But when we began putting the project together I wondered if we could even find the right people to carry it out.
We interviewed more than 50 Mongolian men looking to fill six slots for Mongolian missionaries. These men would need a strong knowledge and reliance on scripture. They would need a clear sense of calling. Most importantly they would need a firm understanding of the Gospel message. Candidates went through multiple interviews, but the first interview was the most important.
“Tell me,” I said to each person being interviewed, “What did God save you from?” How would you answer that question. Go ahead, give it a stab right now; then read on.
A simple enough question. But the overwhelming majority of people had a host of answers that boiled down to one thing. “He saved me so I could have a good life.”
I was greatly troubled by these responses. In some cases I tried leading questions to even steer the applicant into the answers I was looking for, but it always came down to, “God saved me so I could have a good life.” That’s the prosperity gospel answer, not a biblical answer. I was looking for a certain response—a response that if anyone knows the Bible should be the first thing to pass our lips. Sadly, very few people could give the right answer: “He saved me from my sin.”
There were even a few occasions when I gave the answer away. I remember one candidate saying, “Oh yes, that too,” as if being saved from sin was something that happened in passing instead of an essential element of the Gospel message.
In my observation, when our eyes are focused on “my life,” or the “good life,” or being saved, as some told me, from a “bad life,” then we get our eyes off the cross and Jesus’ suffering. Without a deep sense of our own sin we treat the Bible and Jesus like the magic genie in the bottle—perhaps even without realizing it. We forget the weightier things of the scripture like that which German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted when he said, “When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
In some people’s theology the central focus is upon us instead of Jesus, it is upon what he can give us now rather than what he gave at the cross, it is about prosperity in this life rather than sacrificing this life for what God has in store for us in the next—the life which will last for eternity.
How did you answer?