Each soul has eternal value; it can be saved or lost. Jesus puts the value of the soul above “the whole world”. Yet, this simple fact has been deemphasized in evangelical Christianity. It is rare to come across a church or an individual believer who considers winning souls to be of supreme importance. Though lip service is paid to the task of evangelism, in practical terms buildings, musical instruments, programs for believers, feeding programs and a host of other activities get priority treatment way ahead of salvation of souls. We claim to believe in the value of souls, but not much of our offerings or people resources are committed to the cause of winning people to Christ. Yet, believers and unbelievers have one thing in common; God has put eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We are soul- and eternity-conscious. Why then does the question of eternal souls take a back seat?
Believers are irresistibly drawn to pictures of starving children, wounded bodies and victims of natural disasters. Meanwhile the Psalmist’s cry “who cares for my soul” (Psalm 142:4) remains unnoticed and unanswered. Easily 95 % of today’s missions work is exclusively humanitarian and social. If Jesus’ perspective, that a soul is worth more than the whole world means anything, we have put the cart before the horse. Our programs call for distribution of bread first, and only then, maybe the Bread of Life. Jesus and the Apostles pursued a different pattern; giving the Bread of Life first, and then address the concern for material needs.
Merely meeting people’s physical needs do not solve the problem. Look at Africa! Not only billions, but possibly trillions of dollars have been given in the last few decades to solve the AIDS –problem, starvation etc. Has it brought a solution? No, in fact, in many areas the problems seem to be increasing. Outward solutions without inward change bring little or no result.
The Gospels tell us that Jesus fed the hungry on two occasions. Meanwhile He continually told people in every town and village to “believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). Just before the feeding the 5000 Jesus sent His disciples to preach the Gospel and heal the sick. Notice, He gave the Gospel first and then He fed the hungry. Paul followed the same pattern. He first preached the Gospel and then later, in a situation of special need, Paul collected finances for the social needs of the churches that were living in famine. Once local churches were established those churches exhibited a concern for people’s physical needs. As the Word of God was taught, people learned to look to God as their source and special needs were met. The inevitable result of the proclaimed Gospel was that the social standard was raised.
United Nations, the governments of United States, Canada and European nations spend billions annually on meeting social needs but they do nothing to share the Gospel. Huge secular NGOs (non-governmental organization) such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation spend additional billions of dollars. On top of these there are numerous NGOs that operate under the banner of Christianity, but their focus is also on the social and material needs of people. There is a flurry of multi-billion dollar activities to relieve poverty and feed the hungry, while 7000 people groups remain without any witness of the Gospel, and their cry “who cares for my soul” goes unnoticed. The term “outreach” has become associated with feedings, car-washes, and events where the Gospel presentation is minimal at best. Who cares for the soul? Who cares that some are born, live and die without a single opportunity to hear the Gospel? Untouched! Unreached! Forgotten!
I feel this is a personal failure of myself and others who have a similar conviction. Yes, we have many wonderful, caring, loving partners. Thank God for each one! Yes, we have obviously failed to convince millions of fellow believers of the importance of a soul. In the 1920’s the average evangelical church in the western world committed 20 % of its income to world missions. That was at a time when missions were about winning people to Christ. The value of the soul was in focus. Today the average church allows just over 1 % to missions, and most of that money has little to do with winning people to Christ. It seems when the concern for souls is reduced, the entire focus of mission also goes downhill. There is much more to be said. I’ll make additional comments over the next few weeks. How do you see it?