In the May/June issue of Outreach magazine, pastor/author and Outreach columnist Dan Kimball writes about the importance of teaching about hell, especially to young adults. The idea for the article was first suggested by Dan at our first Editorial Advisory Board meeting. Little did he or I know that six years later, he’d be the one writing it. I love how things work.
But I have to admit, I kind of bristled when he first brought up the topic.
As an ‘80s teenager growing up in Texas in the middle of the Bible Belt, I often found myself sitting through turn-or-burn sermons, scared speechless and literally on the edge of my seat ready to jump up and “walk the aisle” one more time. It wasn’t until my junior year of high school—somewhere between “wages of sin” and “gnashing of teeth”—that I finally felt “saved.” And manipulated.
Thanks to a mom and youth leader who patiently prayed for and read the Bible with a questioning teenager, I realized that all this time I hadn’t been running to God—but away from hell. Ultimately, I faced the truth that I didn’t know God, even though I had walked that aisle so many times I’d memorized the carpet pattern.
For the next two decades, I learned (still learning) what it means to run to and follow Jesus (yes, I’m one of those ‘80s Christians who can still sing all the lyrics to Benny Hester’s one-hit wonder, “When God Ran”). Part of my spiritual recovery and discovery process was avoiding any talk of hell, focusing on scriptures and teaching that revealed the compassion of Jesus and His concern for people.
I realized that all this time I hadn’t been running to God—but away from hell.
It wasn’t until Dan suggested the article about hell and laid out his reasons that I understood talking about hell in church and in the magazine is not the issue. Rather, it’s how and why we talk about it. Dan says it best in his recent article:
“I want people to understand we’re talking about hell out of love for others, not out of condemnation, manipulation or with anything less than a broken heart.”
The sermons I listened to growing up were all about personal fire insurance—filled with scare tactics that left no room for compassion for others who don’t know God.
That day, I learned hell is not a subject to be avoided—or manipulated. And six years later, as I edited Dan’s article for publication, I prayed over it, asking God to instill a sense of urgency and compassion in church leaders who are either neglecting the topic or abusing it.
I wonder how many people have felt so manipulated by a fire-and-brimstone approach to evangelism that they gave up on the church and faith. And how many people need to hear from someone who loves them that Jesus loves you and died for you so that you would not experience hell but have abundant life here and be with Him for all eternity?
What are your thoughts? Do you have a similar story or know people who do? Does your church teach about hell? If so, how and why?
Editor’s note: Dan Kimball will be talking about how he teaches on hell at the 2010 National Outreach Convention presented by Outreach magazine in November.