New Members Need...
James A. Cress
The new birth produces spiritual infants. Even at baptism, members are not spiritually mature, nor should we expect them to behave as if they were. Sanctification develops through discipleship. Accept new believers the way Jesus does--loving them both for what they are and for what they will become by His Spirit.
Nurture of newborns is essential. New believers, like newborn babies, demand lots of time, energy, and care. Failure to provide for their needs is spiritual child abuse. Assign all new members a caring spiritual guardian who will patiently nurture their growth.
Although a new believer has mentally embraced the doctrines of the church and made a deep spiritual commitment, he or she may not know the jargon of our culture. Certain terms that we might take for granted seem foreign and confusing. Excellent resource materials are available to initiate new members and acquaint them with Adventist culture.
An initial hearing and even acceptance of biblical doctrine are not sufficient to establish it firmly in the mind, much less in the daily life. New believers need ongoing instruction from the Scriptures in the essentials of belief and practice. Review the great themes of Scripture until they are able to articulate them for themselves. Preach the messages that brought them to conversion. Rehearse often the wonderful works of God. Exhort new members in righteousness.
Leaving the world and becoming a believer often means leaving friends and relationships or even suffering abandonment from former friends. Friendship and fellowship are important elements of binding new believers to the church family. Small groups that include established members as well as new members are an excellent way to build new friendships.
No one enjoys feeling useless. Most new believers assume that they will become active and productive members of the congregation. Far too many are left on the sidelines to watch as others who are already too busy attempt to meet all the needs in the congregation. The energy and commitment of new believers often exceeds that of longer-term parishioners. Their personal experience of God' s grace provides a powerful witness in sharing what Jesus has done for them. Determine that you will engage each new member in meaningful work for Jesus Christ.
Sanctification is a lifelong, ongoing journey toward Christlikeness. Obedience must be learned by young believers just as it must be learned by young children. This is not salvation by works. It is, indeed, experiencing the Lordship of Jesus in the personal life. If a believer's life has not matured and obedience has not grown over the course of time, discipleship is not occurring. Ask new members periodically to evaluate themselves regarding their personal obedience to God's requirements.
New members need to look beyond their own needs to the wider arena of unselfish ministry. They need to develop an eye for church growth, a vision for reaching the world. Global mission must thrill and challenge the whole church, and personal and world mission should be kept especially before new believers. Repeatedly focus on the gospel commission as the objective for the church and ask new members to discover their own role in proclaiming the good news.
Baptism and church membership is not the final goal; discipleship is. New believers are disciples only when functioning as ministers for Jesus. Don't let them become pew warmers. Determine that all new members will develop their full potential for service.