PASTOR and his wife invited a young couple to their home for Sabbath dinner after the morning service that had featured their baptism. Shortly after dinner the couple politely excused themselves with the remark, "We had better go on home. There probably will be folks from the church stopping by this afternoon." Needless to say, the pastor did what most others would have done he called several of the members of the church suggesting they go by and call on the new members. As it turned out, the young couple reported later that it was one of the most wonderful afternoons they had ever spent--so many of their new friends had stopped by to say Hello and let them know how happy they were to have them in the church.
How different the story might have been. What if none had stopped by?
A Difficult Period
The time of baptism is a difficult period for many people. In the case of Jesus, His most severe temptations came immediately after His baptism. This trial is often repeated in the experience of new members.
At this time there are many adjustments to be made. Frequently the new member has had close and loving ties with a former church. His separation from these dear ones with whom he has worshiped and prayed for many years leaves a vacuum that must be filled. He must be made to realize at once that there are new friendships and associations even more dear.
The baptism may cause severe home problems if others of the family are unsympathetic to this development. Although newly baptized people must lean heavily on the Lord, they also need human support and encouragement.
New members may have been won from the depths of sin. Perhaps they have had bad habits to overcome, vices that long held them in bondage. Now they have found freedom in Christ. It is wonderful! Unfortunately, however, old cravings may not be entirely gone. The battle against sin is not one in which one major victory disposes of the enemy. Rather, Satan will be ever near. He will capitalize on every human weakness. He will try to bring doubt and discouragement. He will tempt the new member to question whether the new experience is genuine; whether the whole thing was not a mistake; whether the standards and expectations of him are not higher than he can maintain.
At such times it is exceedingly important for the regular members of the church to stay close by with every kind of support and encouragement. Many of the apostasies that occur come during the first few weeks or months after baptism. What a lesson this fact should teach as to the importance of these early days of the new experience.
Some members will argue that those who fall away so rapidly probably were not properly instructed, they were brought in too rapidly, they were never converted in the first place. This thinking is sometimes true, and it ought not to be. However, even when this happens it is possible that with proper love and care such persons can still be led into a wonderful experience with the Lord and the church. Under all circumstances the members of the church should stand by to help, not to discourage. How important encouragement is during this crucial period following baptism!
Just suppose the new member falls back into an old vice or fails to show up for two or three Sabbath mornings for Sabbath school and the worship service. How easy to criticize, not even knowing the vexing circumstances. How much better to make a personal call, seeking an opportunity to offer encouragement.
Pastors should, of course, be first to stand by to help. However, when a pastor has a district of several churches and gets to some of them only once or twice a month, it may be impossible for him to know of the current circumstances of each member. How important, then, that the local elder as the undershepherd of the church be alert to these needs. Let him see that the new members have the assurance that they have united with a Christian family that really cares.
The Spiritual-Guardianship Plan
One excellent plan used by a growing number of churches to assure proper care for new members is what is called the spiritual-guardianship plan. Under this plan every newly baptized member is assigned a spiritual guardian. Often this guardian is invited to stand in the front of the church with the new member at the time the new member is welcomed into membership. With a few words of explanation the new member is given a beautiful folder entitled "A Charge to the Newly Baptized." Inside are words of welcome and suggestions for maintaining a loving relationship with the church and the Lord.
After this the guardian is handed a companion folder entitled "A Charge to the Spiritual Guardian for _____." The blank line is filled in with the name of the new member. Inside this folder are a few words indicating the importance of the work of a spiritual guardian, and on the opposite page are listed specific responsibilities toward the new member. Although forms may vary, the one I have before me is as follows:
1. In kindness and love, be a friend to your charge.
2. Spend time in prayer, in your own private devotions for your charge.
3. Take time to visit often with the one in your charge, inviting him to your home for a meal, when possible.
4. Watch for him at the services of the church. Sit with him and make him feel welcome.
5. When he is absent from a meeting, inquire as to the reason immediately, either by telephone or a visit, letting him know that he was missed.
6. Always show genuine interest in him, being careful never to pry into personal matters.
7. Ever be an example to him and by precept encourage him to look to Jesus as the example in the Christian walk.
8. Introduce him to other church members. Make sure that he is incorporated into the functions of our church life.
9. Help him when you can with his problems, being careful to counsel with your pastor on matters of great importance.
10. Should you move within the next twelve months, contact the pastor, who will then arrange for someone else to take your place.
The commission of the guardian is for one year. We can readily see how effective this plan can be in integrating new members into the church family. If your church is not following this plan and you wish to enter into it, write directly to the Georgia-Cumberland Conference, where the inexpensive folders may be secured for $4 per one hundred.
Whether you use this plan or another, please do what you can to see that every new member is made to feel as welcome and as happy as possible in the fellow ship of your church.
MY PRAYER: Dear Father, we thank Thee for every new child added to the kingdom of God. We pray that as new members come into our fellowship we may have that tender concern so vital at such an important period in their experience. May they ever find within our membership that inspiration and blessing they so earnestly seek. In Jesus' name. Amen.