Pastor's Pastor

Pastor's Pastor: What new believers need

Pastor's Pastor: What new believers need

Often we neglect the sobering work of discipling in favor of going back to the much more exciting process of gathering new converts. The dazzle of public preaching, coupled with the joy of witnessing thousands baptized, makes disciple-building seem mundane and, thus, easy to neglect. However, we neglect follow-up at our own peril and at risk to the kingdom we hope to advance.

James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

Often we neglect the sobering work of discipling in favor of going back to the much more exciting process of gathering new converts. The dazzle of public preaching, coupled with the joy of witnessing thousands baptized, makes disciple-building seem mundane and, thus, easy to neglect.

However, we neglect follow-up at our own peril and at risk to the kingdom we hope to advance. Jesus' great commission intends that new born believers will be on-goingly preserved, nurtured, and built into His body as strong disciples. All of this is evangelism the whole process. As Peter Wagner so eloquently reminded his church growth classes, "any scheme which separates evangelism and followup into distinct functions has already built into the system its own defeat."

So what do new members need? In a word, "everything." Just as a newborn totally depends upon its parents for survival, so newly-born believers are totally dependent upon the church's parental role in everything necessary for their survival.

Jesus intentionally chose familiar imagery of love, family, conception, gestation, birth, development, and maturity to describe the process (evangelism must always be understood as process, not event) by which individuals are brought to belief and matured into discipleship. If we wonder what new believers need, we can simply apply what newborns need to the spiritual development of new believers.

Total care. Loving nurture, tender care, acceptance, affirmation, companionship, conversation, admiration, high-touch bonding, appreciation, security, simple food, cleaning, copious companionship, and consistent attention are vital for the survival of either babies or believers.

Discipline. Long before reasoning allows an infant to comprehend dangerous situations, a firmly-worded "No!" command is essential to protect the baby from placing their hand in a fire. Such protection is essential to learning the authority of both Cod's word and the responsible parent. Discipline is not harshly punitive, but protective. Abandoning a baby to its own conclusions would be destructive abuse.

Instruction. The milk of the Word is repetitive assurance of God's love, acceptance, and forgiveness; freighted not so much with information as with reassurance; taught by mentoring example, not by reasoned logic. Infants learn to walk, not by a discourse on the dynamics of locomotion, but by a patterning of "walking with them" until, eventually, they take their first steps.

Education. Next believer must be taught to think for themselves. Education is not assimilating information only. Education is learning to reason for one's self rather than merely reflecting the thoughts of others. Why questions are essential in the educational steps.

Discernment. Youngsters must learn to distinguish between the genuine and clever counterfeits. When my brother, John was a toddler, he drank a glass of gasoline thinking it was ginger ale. Deadly consequences were averted only by immediate intervention. Believers must be taught to test the "winds of doctrine" that are swept their way by all manner of well-meaning and ill-intentioned individuals.

Deployment. Every believer must receive a ministry assignment. Other wise, they cannot mature and will remain perpetually immature dependent. The work of the pastor is to "work" the members." Partnership. Those being deployed must also be partnered with experienced leaders who teach by associative example what they have experienced themselves. From the very beginning, Jesus designed a partnership role for the most effective pursuit of any good venture. It is dangerous to work alone.

Supervision. The deployed must also be closely supervised to assure their success and to correct mistakes from becoming habits. When Jesus sent his disciples two-by-two, he also brought them back together after a short time to evaluate their performance, rejoice in their successes, and instruct them for even greater achievements.

Accountability. Maturing disciples must embrace accountability both to leadership and to their fellow members.

Independence in belief or action indicates immaturity. Unwillingness to accept the counsel of the wider body disqualifies anyone.

Responsibility. As disciples mature, they will value the things that their Saviour values. His priorities will be their priorities. His mission will become their mission. They will earnestly pray and diligently work to build up His church and to hasten His coming.

Reduplication. Only when the disciple is reproducing other new believers and assisting them into become disciples do you have maturity. Only then is the church's evangelistic process complete as these disciples, themselves, are effectively engaged in birthing new believers.


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James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

May 2005

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