Daniel Holland considers the church’s responsibility towards new believers
Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labour pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives. (Gal 4v 19)
There is nothing more exhilarating and life-affirming for a Christian than to bring someone to the Lord in a salvation prayer, maybe at the end of a mission or evangelistic enterprise. As I travel the UK visiting churches in my role as an evangelistI see that often there haven’t been ‘conversions’ for some time. Sadly churches are shrinking as elderly faithful members are going to be with the Lord and are not being replaced by younger families and new converts. There are obviously glorious exceptions, but this is the general trend.
For churches that genuinely care about growth, and want to fulfill the great commission, getting new converts is a major focus of prayer and activity. This is admirable, and encouraging. But the same attention and planning is not always given to discipling new converts – when they do come in. We are called to make disciples, NOT converts, although of course conversion is necessary for discipleship to happen.
This diagram suggests some stages of faith, from the beginnings to the journey of faith. This is unashamedly an ‘ideal scenario’.
Not tooled up
New conversion is so joyful, if we can’t celebrate this there’s something badly wrong with us. However, this is where the hard work of discipleship begins, not ends (re. the above diagram)! You could be forgiven for thinking otherwise if you look at some Christian resources. If we are not tooled up practically and working in a joined up prayerful way with other Christians. It’s naïve to assume new converts will happily end up embedded in a local church and growing in leaps and bounds. We all need help, and need someone to be anticipating our spiritual needs ahead of time. Much in the epistles is focused on this reality.
Often the local church mindset seems to be “well, when the time comes we’ll run an Alpha or similar”. There is great value to these courses, their huge success is testament to this. But there is often a gap inbetween expressed interest and/or conversion and a course like this. In this space many people disappear into the ether, other commitments crowd in and/or there are fundamental misunderstandings of what expectations there are, if at all. The devil of course will exploit any blind-spots we might have.
A fish may nibble some ‘gospel bait’ and twitch on the line, but if we don’t reel it in, the fish will end up back in the sea. It may be a long time before we see it again, if at all. Some gaps intuitive Christians will fill, Holy Spirit will be very involved giving guidance and direction. However, resources specifically aimed at this delicate stage of new birth can offer possibilities that Holy Spirit can illuminate as He leads us in the crucial business of discipleship.
This diagram from CARING for New Christians illustrates the need for deep roots of discipleship. We can’t grow bigger than our roots for very long! Our roots need to go deeper yet ……
Our two new books GROWING and CARING speak practical wisdom and guidance into this delicate stage of new birth, both for the new convert and for ‘old hands’ seeking to support. (Link to earlier article here: https://christiancomment.org/2022/06/01/caring-for-new-christians-and-growing-as-a-new-christian/ ). Often there is much goodwill from the local Church towards a new Christian, and vice versa. But too often there is a bottleneck because there is not always clear understanding ofhow to express this, or what expectations there should be on both sides, from the new Christian and from the new ‘home church’. As mature Christians are we can sometimes be guilty of seeking for the inner workings of things, whilst missing the blindingly obvious need right in front of us!
God will help us in this work which is so close to His beating heart, for all people to be saved. If, as many suggest, a revival may be coming, let us be in readiness to bring in a mighty harvest!
Daniel Holland is a UK missionary with Through Faith Missions. He wrote “Through The Tunnel – Free at Last” published by PUSH Publishing, as his personal testimony. His second book “Prophetic Evangelism – Kingdom Exploits in the Risk Zone” was published last year via Christian Publications International: https://christian-publications-int.com/PropheticEvangelism.html
Daniel has also written two booklets on “Caring For New Christians” And “Growing as a New Christian”. Details via theChristian Publications International website.