I have often noticed that when someone comes to Christ, God’s people initially rejoice, but as a whole neglect the long-haul “dirty work” of coming alongside the new believer to help them mature in the faith. It seems as though we’ve almost become content to simply pat the new convert on the back, congratulate them, and hope they eventually join the church and figure things out. Apart from some of the church leaders or a few zealous individuals, many don’t feel compelled to personally invest themselves into the lives of new converts. Maybe we know that someone is “discipling” them, so we don’t feel personally responsible for their spiritual well-being or growth in maturity.
Sadly, we often think of discipleship almost exclusively in terms of a 13 week class or one-on-one Bible study. This kind of thinking, however, is a huge mistake. New believers need a whole lot more than a personal instructor or mentor. They need a family of believers that embraces them, welcomes them into their lives, and works together to help them “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). In other words, they need the gifts, experience, friendship, exhortation, and care of the entire church family. So how do we do this? Here are a few suggestions…
1. Embrace your heightened responsibility towards a new convert.
Conversion is the beginning, not the culmination, of the Great Commission. When a person professes faith in Christ, everyone in the church is now responsible before God to teach, love, and help the new convert become incorporated into the life of the church and equipped to become a mature, reproducible follower of Christ. This is not simply the work of the specialists or zealots! It’s the work of everyone. Think about all of the “one another” passages of the Scriptures… The Bible makes it clear that we are all called to love, serve, bless, instruct, and help one another as we labor together for the advance of the gospel. Thankfully, God not only calls us to this work, but uniquely equips each of us with gifts to minister to and bless the new believer.
2. Weave new believers into the fabric of your ordinary life so that they can see Christianity in action.
When Jesus initially called His first disciples, He simply invited them to come and be with Him. They were with Him while He taught, watched Him perform miracles, “hung out” with Him when the multitudes went away… they basically shared life together with Him for three years. As the master Teacher, Jesus knew that people generally do what they see. He knew His disciples would learn far more through intimate, personal, life-on-life interaction than by simply attending a few well-crafted lectures on how to follow Him!
Similarly, new believers desperately need to see Christianity in action through up-close-and-personal, life-sharing-life relationships if they are going to do what Jesus commands. Yes, they need to receive Biblical instruction. They need to study the Bible together with other believers. They need to consistently sit under the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. But they also need to see how the Word proclaimed actually influences and changes our lives! They can hear about the importance of glorifying God… but they also need to see how that truth impacts our families, free time, responses to trials, etc. They need the Word proclaimed and modeled. Granted, we won’t model the Christian life perfectly… but in our sin and weakness, they can see us turn to the Savior. As we do so, they also learn how to respond to sin in their own lives.
One of the great joys of being around a new believer is to see their inquisitive spirit. New believers have all kinds of cool questions. What do Christians do in their free time? What do they do for fun (Are they even allowed to have fun)? What does a “gospel-centered” life actually look like? Most of these questions can only be answered as we share ordinary life together.
Before I move on to the third point, I think it would be helpful to remember that it is not uncommon for a new convert to lose many of their friends when they begin following Christ. I Peter 4:3-4 reminds us that former companions in sin will be both surprised and offended when someone’s life is changed by the gospel. In God’s wisdom, however, the gospel not only ushers us into a new relationship with God, but also with God’s people as well. This is where the church collectively must fully embrace and carry out her role as a family for the abandoned convert.
3. Practice the disciplines of grace together
Thinking back on my Christian experience, I’m sure I’ve heard hundreds of sermons on prayer, Bible reading, evangelism, etc. etc. The cumulative impact of these messages has definitely influenced me considerably. But how did I actually learned how to pray, study the Bible, reach out, etc.? By practicing these disciplines with other believers! For example, I learned how to study the Bible from my mom. We would spend hours together studying different passages of Scripture. I didn’t know all the hermeneutical terms at that time, but I sure knew how to apply them! A church planter named Steve Fleck taught me how to initiate gospel conversations with unbelievers. I remember spending hours in inner-city Baltimore watching Steve take ordinary conversations and turn them into powerful gospel conversations. Afterwards, we would grab a lunch together at Wendy’s and discuss what had happened. I also remember praying with various men in our church. What a powerful thing for God’s people to pray together! Seeing and hearing their humble earnestness taught me so much about the nature of worship, petition, and intercession.
The apostle John once noted that, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children [new converts] are walking in the truth” (3 Jn.4). What an incredible privilege (and responsibility) we have as a church to invest in the lives of new converts. May God grants us grace to welcome new believers into our lives and practice the disciples of grace together.
Article By: Micah Colbert
One Reply to “Community Discipleship: How the Whole Church Disciples New Believers”
Good word! Thanks for sharing.