Pastor's Pastor

Pastor's Pastor: Beware of spiritual child abuse

Pastor's Pastor: Beware of spiritual child abuse

The importance of caring for new believers

James A. Cress is the General Conference Ministerial Association Secretary.

"Much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary; and those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour" (1 Cor. 12:22, 23).

As a PK (preacher's kid), I moved several times during a school term. I feel sorry for students who must transfer in the middle of the year. Being the "new kid" on the block in a classroom full of "regulars" is not always easy. Sometimes it's downright painful.

Transferees must face new situations that other students seem easily able to navigate. In addition to learning new names, they must learn new rules and pay proper respect to the "pecking order." Furthermore, unwritten codes and expectations are often more vital and more difficult to comprehend than published procedures.

A similar fate awaits new members. As you struggle with the pastoral challenges that converts bring when they are added to your church, please remember that they are forced to face even greater problems and often must cope with these challenging en counters in full view of suspicious members who appear just to be waiting for these "new kids" to fail.

It should not surprise us that new members usually face a spiritual crisis immediately after they come to the Saviour. Our Lord's own example is instructive. Immediately following His baptism in Jordan, Jesus was led into the wilderness temptation experience. Perhaps this example of severe temptations immediately following baptism is more than coincidental. Perhaps we should begin helping our new members prepare for Satan's onslaughts as well as the suspicions of other members even as we prepare them for baptism into the family.

At the same time, there is an urgent work for us to accomplish in teaching our members how to deal with newborns and what to expect of those feeble ones who have just grasped the faith. It is helpful to remember that Jesus chose "new birth" as the terminology to describe the experience of new believers.

Expectations for newborns

Expectations for newborns should be different than expectations of those who are more mature. New family members rightfully demand much more attention, nurture, and training than those who have grown and been around for a while. Just as an infant needs a special diet, constant monitoring, and extra loving care, so new members need repeated doses of basic biblical messages, ongoing attention from more mature members, and lots of love and affection from family members.

To explore this analogy further, I find it useful to point out the extra care that hospitals give premature babies. Medical institutions invest large sums of money to save a premature birth, and all possible resources are centered on res cuing just one problem birth.

Church members too often discard a new member with problems just after birth. Concluding that this is another convert turned bad or unprepared for life in the church family, we discard those who most urgently require our concern and support. Such attitudes are nothing less than child abuse!

Encouraging their zeal

Then there is the challenge of helping new members utilize their zealous enthusiasm for witnessing at the very time that their lifestyle might not yet demonstrate the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Al- though justification has done its marvelous regenerative work, sanctification involves a process of time. Rather than stifling the instinct to revel in God's love and share His abundant mercies, we should provide training, encouragement, and a safe place to experiment with witnessing techniques that will both impress those who are contacted and strengthen the new member who reaches out to others.

Our pastoral privilege is also our responsibility. We must care for new believers, enlist the assistance of all active laity, protect them from predatory elements that would discourage or destroy, and train them for service in our Saviour's global mission. Anything less is neglectful child abuse.

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James A. Cress is the General Conference Ministerial Association Secretary.

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