Q & R: Getting saved

Here’s the Q:

Thanks so much for the courageous, compassionate way you challenge us to keep growing! Over the past decade, thanks to your work and others, I have really undergone a lot of change. I am definitely unfinished, but hopefully on the path to becoming more and more generous in my thinking and acting. My question centers on how I, as a pastor, can respond when someone says they want to “be saved.” My view of this term is not the same as it was. The goal isn’t being saved from something [hell] but for something [participation in the Kingdom–now!]. So, I feel like simply praying the “Sinner’s prayer” somehow cheapens what people are experiencing. Can you share your thoughts on this? By the way, you have a standing invitation for a free meal in Kentucky anytime!

Here’s the R:
Thanks for your note. In Kentucky, if someone asks this, they’ve likely been given some context that makes “saved” have a certain meaning that you and I think is a bit askew. But I think we can find lots of good in their understanding of “saved” to work from.
For a lot of people, it means, “I know I’ve lost my way. I know I’ve gotten far away from the kind of life God wants for me. I know I need forgiveness and a new start.” So I’d work with that. I’d assure them of God’s love and grace. I’d ask them if they trust that love and grace of God … rather than trusting in their own efforts and ability to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. I’d invite them to pray and ask for God’s power … the power of God’s Spirit … to enter them, fill them, and begin a lifelong process of transforming them. I’d invite them to prepare for baptism and I’d use the time of preparation for some “catechesis” – teaching them the ways of discipleship. I’d help them understand how important it is to be part of a community that will help them continue in a lifelong pursuit of Christ-likeness, so they can join in God’s mission … which is, just as you say, what God is saving them for.
If they want or need to talk about hell, I’d talk about hell as waste – since Gehenna was a garbage dump. I’d encourage them to think about how they could waste their life – and think about how they could, with God’s help, make their life full, fruitful, and significant for good instead. I’d help them understand saved as meaning “being saved from wasting my life.” Lots of folks would be better off if they “got saved” in this way!