Jenny Page reviews Dan Holland’s two new books
Caring for New Christians
Caring for New Christians is well designed and laid out (I work in book publishing) – easy to read and to find what you’re looking for if you’re dipping in. The book is divided into four main sections that move through conversion and welcome, to integration and discipling of the new Christian.
From the off relationship is ‘front and centre’. I grew up in an old-school, non-charismatic non-conformist church (some great advantages, some setbacks). But these days it’s a ‘no-brainer’ that our approach as churches needs to be relational, if we hope to keep our new believers. Of course, as Dan teaches so fluently in the book, getting into the Word, being baptised, learning how to pray and accountability are essentials. The great gleaming jewel at the heart of the book is how the ‘must-haves’ flow along with the growing of relationships. Just as they did for Jesus with his disciples, a sometimes tricky group, yet whom went on to shake the known world – and beyond.
The chapters within the four parts of Caring teach how we approach shaping the life of the new Christian. How to bridge the culture gap; how to spot and address the ‘orphan spirit’, something so prevalent in our age; how to help the new believer coming in from that World they have until recently called home, bringing their worldly stuff with them. How and when to assign new responsibilities. Finally how not to be shocked by what we hear (and not share with others what we’ve heard, even ‘for prayer’).
Dan recognises that he is speaking into a range of church environments, too, and that none is perfect. There are a host of practical tips (how and when to do small groups; how to bring discipline; celebrating and socialising), and the whole book is threaded through with Dan’s own experiences both as a believer and as a pastor. This isn’t a dry reference book, but a guide born out of the trials and joys of becoming a true shepherd.
Growing as a New Christian
Growing as a New Christian, too, is well organised and laid out. It comprises five chapters, simply based around finding the right church; being baptised; getting a feel for grace and for truth; the perfectly imperfect Kingdom of God as demonstrated by your church; and how to make close relationships with those friends in the faith that the Lord has for you as a believer. The point of departure is the new and recent decision the person reading has made to entrust his or her life to Jesus. Dan takes time to encourage the new believer to persevere with first, finding and second, sticking with a church. This is key, as commitment to anything is so challenged and challenging in life today.
There are helpful paragraphs on how to access the Bible; it’s not just a book, you know, these days (and I love books and paper). Dan’s use of ‘pastor/vicar/priest’ allows the new believer to understand that church comes in different shapes, and that his or her possible church background is not being judged or slighted. The search for integrity in church life is highlighted. This is useful, as most people have a keen inner sense (unless it’s been very damaged) or a ‘vibe’ about whether someone in a church, as in life generally is, ahem, kosher. Again, throughout the book it’s relationship that is flowing like clear water, refreshing the reader and encouraging them to know that it’s not about joining an organisation, and that there is room for them.
And the reader is not led to believe that it will all be ‘sunshine and roses’. There will be disappointments – as believers, everyone is on a journey of faith. There is explanation of what it means to become a disciple – sketched out as understanding God, self and Satan. The book finishes with a simple and useful glossary of terms. The text is happily free of jargon, which is great as so many people coming into church won’t know any of the lingo we may take for granted.
Real spiritual life is not glossed over, though. In Chapter Four, about church life, Dan describes what it can feel like when there are times ‘when God’s glory falls. There will be a beautiful sense of God’s presence filling your heart and the space you are in. In these moments the presence of God washes away all our unimportant differences and glues us together in love again’.
Jenny Page works as a freelance editor and proofreader for a number of London publishers. She is worship leader at the Crouch End, north London congregation of Ichthus Christian Fellowship, and is passionate about evangelism and discipleship.