How do we care and help people on the journey to fully developing as followers of Jesus? I don’t believe there is a silver bullet answer but perhaps a combination of several factors.
Recognize Spiritual Birthing is a process
- Seed (1 Pet 1:23, John 3:9)
- Formed Inside (Gal 4:19)
- Birthed (Colossians 1:27, Colossians 3:4, 1 John 3:2)
The birthing process is a picture the Bible uses to help us understand what is happening to us. The Bible teaches us that at the point of conversion God’s seed abides in us (1 Peter 1:23, 1 John 3:9). God’s grace for us is the seed (sperm) that finds its place in our faith (egg). As our faith rests in God’s grace – Christ is formed in us (Galatians 4:19). The Bible teaches us that we are on our way to “birthing Christ”. We are on our way to being like Him. We are on our way to being shaped to be like Him. We are on our way to looking like Him (Colossians 1:27, Colossians 3:4, 1 John 3:2).
Even as parents we want our kids to grow up quick, we need to realize that it takes time. There are messes, sacrifice, and work to see a helpless infant grow into a fully functioning contributing member of society.
The lesson to learn is that it takes a good 2-3 years for a new believer to feed themselves, become able to self-feed, and contribute. It doesn’t matter if they have grown up in a religious environment or an irreligious one.
Reflection: What has been my experience with new believers… How do I approach a new believer?
Allow ANY question
You cannot approach new believers with your own agenda. They will be most ready to grow and learn when you approach them with a listening ear and be ready to help answer their question. It’s not effective to use the whole “just believe” line. You must be ok with questions that take you out of your comfort zone and challenge you personally. Approach humbly and without judgement. Approach without any assumptions. Most new followers of Jesus have had zero understanding of Bible stories and Biblical ethics. Be ready to spend extra time with new believers, especially the first few years of their new spiritual life.
New believers have questions that range from science and logic to philosophy and physics. There will be questions that try to connect faith to science and logic. Is that belief reasonable? How does it all connect?
You will hear questions about something that they heard in culture that isn’t true but they believe are found in the Bible.
You will also hear questions that ask “why”? Why did this happen in the Bible? Why is there evil and pain? Why do I need to?
You will hear questions about how one should live. There will be assumptions that one can still live the same way after Jesus as before Jesus. Individuals from an eastern background may have trouble with exclusivity. As an example, there is often the idea that one can be Hindu and Christian at the same time. Or the opposite – that everything is black and white and there are no gray areas.
You will hear questions about who to trust. Many will believe that all Bible teachers teach the same and have the same interpretation. There is a naivety that every Christian leader is a good person with no agenda. The challenge that you will find is the many voices that speak into their life (online, radio, other local pastors, friends, etc). You don’t have the luxury of being the only voice – which is good and ok, however, be aware that it creates questions.
Some of these questions will stretch you, startle you or make you uncomfortable. In the process of helping them understand the answers to their questions, you’ll grow as well.
Reflection: What questions bother me the most?
Prepare for Emotions
When fostering an environment for new believers to grow, you also need to also be prepared for various emotions.
Rejection – Emotions may arise because leaving ones previous religion means that one is rejected by one’s family, culture and sense of security.
Regret – Emotions could arise from processing the past. Did I waste time? Why did I live this way for so long?
Resentment – Emotions might be directed to a previous religion or oneself for believing something different for so long. You might see anger directed either outward or inward.
Utopian Expectation – This expectation sounds like coming to Jesus means that all my darkness, addictions, and problems will ultimately go away. I will become un-addicted, my relationships will all be better, my financial problems will be better, I will get healed, and my loved one won’t die.
Urgency – This feels like everyone should do what I have done because hell and heaven are immediate realities that people need to deal with. There is often a sense of radical focus.
Reflection: What emotions do I have a hard time accepting?
When a new believer becomes all about learning they tend to get legalistic or full of license. They either believe their behaviour shapes God’s love for them or it doesn’t matter.
In one extreme Christian life becomes all about knowledge acquisition. Due to an unstructured upbringing, they turn to structure and black and white answers. There is the tendency to look for practical teaching, latch on to a favourite Bible teacher and become co-dependant to hear what that Bible teacher teaches. They end up having an unbalanced home or church life.
In the other extreme, a person doesn’t feel like they need to change and can always be who they were and have no desire to grow. They live with license believing God’s grace is so great that we can keep sinning and it doesn’t matter. Often these individuals have grown up in a rigorously structured environment and want total freedom. They create their own theology based on their experience or the revelation of others. They go to church when they want and only go so far.
The challenge is to move people to a balanced position. To help them navigate their expectations on the church and others.
- How do you navigate extremes in people and bring them back to a balanced view…
- How do you care for people along the way – be ok with people as they are there…
The purpose of parenting is to release responsibility to my children as they can handle it so that they can become fully independent. While I like that they want to be close to me, I realize the need that their health is related to how much they can and want to do on their own.
As new believers get in the grove and habits grow you need to give them more and more responsibility to find their own answers by doing the digging themselves. The key is to get them to a place where they can get an application from scripture and prayer. To move them from codependent to interdependent. To move them from forced habits to natural rhythms. To change beliefs and behaviour.
- Where to start, how it works, approaches interpretation
- Making personal application
- Scripted Prayers, Listening & Conversation.
- Living with myself, growing with others
- God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit)
- The Big Picture (Creation & Fall, Israel, Jesus, Church, Future)
- Humanity (Purpose, Relationships, Stewardship)
- Realms / Worlds (Natural & Spiritual)
Reflection: What areas do I see have best helped me as a new believer?
For further support in how to foster an environment for new believers in your life, remember, you can always contact your Area Pastor. They can help you find answers or support in the questions and answers that you find challenging.