“The Revolving Door”
He Was Baptized, But Never Matured
I have a plaque in my office which has always resonated in my mind. It reads, “True leaders focus on building great people, not just great organizations.” While we understand that the Lord has built His church, it is imperative for us to understand as well that His church is His people! The ultimate goal of everything we do as Christians is to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ so as to develop into mature servants of God (Ephesians 4:13; 2 Peter 3:18). God ordained the local church to serve as a means of such spiritual growth and yet in many local congregations this is not being experienced (Ephesians 4:11-16). There seems to be a “revolving door” of new converts who never realize their potential in Christ and sadly fall from the Lord. While one must himself want to grow before he will truly flourish in his relationship with the Lord, issue and their role in raising the probability for true spiritual development of new Christians is vital to the work of the Lord. I would like to consider with you some of the factors that contribute to the growth of new converts.
Biblical Presentation of Real Conversion
The true and thorough presentation of the gospel will positively contribute to helping the listener understand the commitment associated with authentic discipleship and the nature of true conversion to Christ. A superficial view of the gospel in order to rush people into the baptistery often insures later failure on the part of those who did not count the cost of a relationship with Christ. Jesus never diluted discipleship in order to swell numbers. Our Lord demands the highest allegiance of heart: “If anyone come to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple…For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it” (Luke 14:26, 28). Jesus teaches us that there is to be such a chasm between the love we have for God and the love we have for those we cherish in our human relationships that the only way for such to be described is in the terms of “love” and “hate.” Biblically expounding on the true nature of saving faith, the impact of genuine repentance, the commitment of confession of faith and the surrender of baptism into Christ will prepare the heart for union with the Savior (Hebrews 11:6; Acts 2:38; Romans 10:9-10; Romans 6:1-7). Our life in Jesus is not a snapshot event — it is the journey of a lifetime.
Substantive Spiritual Feeding
In a faithful local fellowship there must be a discerning evaluation of where someone is in their understanding of the word of God. Only then will their greatest needs be addressed in a relevant and practical way. The individual’s past may dictate the wisest course to take in nurturing their faith. Peter wrote, “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (I Peter 2:2). The “milk of the word” refers to the foundational truths which lead one to faith in Christ (Hebrews 5:13; 6:1).
However, it is critical that both private and public teaching and preaching is committed to in-depth expositional study of the scriptures. Some brethren attempt to use the new convert as an excuse for superficial teaching, but he should be fed with God’s word in a way that stimulates growth and challenges him to press on in his dedication to the Lord. The Hebrew writer reproved his readers for not growing and thus missing out on profound truths regarding the priesthood of Christ. He wrote, “Concerning him we have much to say and it is hard to explain since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5:11-14). Notice that not only were these Hebrew Christians not progressing, but they were going backwards and were in need of being re-taught.
Elders who understand their role as servant-shepherds in knowing, guarding and feeding the flock will greatly help the new convert by striving to provide teaching that will encourage him to grow in Christ (Acts 20:28; I Thessalonians 5:14; Hebrews 13:17). Pastors who are distanced and remote from those under their oversight contribute to the problem of babes in Christ falling away.
Due to lack of teaching some new converts fall right back into past sinful behaviors and are not convicted of their need to pursue holiness. Congregations which refuse to practice church discipline are not helping new Christians – they are debilitating and discouraging them through negligence. Such contamination of the fellowship actually provides gateways back into sin and leads to the downfall of those young in the faith. Discipline refers to a process which includes instruction and edification, not merely the withdrawal of fellowship from those who have departed from the truth. The more loving our fellowship is, the more effective our corrective instruction.
Fellowship: The Family Dynamic
There has been much abuse of the biblical term “fellowship,” but scripturally we understand that it refers to joint-participation among believers in the gospel and communion with God (I John 1:3; Philippians 1:5). In order to appreciate the fellowship principle in the Bible the Holy Spirit uses the imagery of the family. God is presented as our father, Christ as our brother, fellow-believers as our brothers and sisters in Christ and we are described as being members of the family and household of God (Ephesians 2:19; 3:15). Sadly, in our culture there will be more and more new converts who have never truly had the family experience. Sons and daughters who have never had a father who cared for them and lovingly instructed them. Divorce has plagued our country with the destruction of the home and even when divorce has not taken place the dysfunction of many families due to sin is abundant. We must realize the great value of the spiritual family of God and how crucial it is in the spiritual growth of the new Christian.
The family perspective of our fellowship will naturally express itself in offering love and mercy, but also demanding transparency, honesty and accountability. In fact, these are the very qualities that lead to spiritual growth. Why are we so afraid to help someone do better? We do so with tenderness for the new convert, but it must be done (Jude 22, 23). This is not only the responsibility of the elders and preacher, but of every Christian. When the environment in our spiritual family is characterized by the engagement of the membership as a whole the influence on new Christians will be evident. Rather than members feeling that they are spectators, they must come to view themselves as active participants in the fellowship and work. Building deep relationships will have a long-term effect on those who obey the gospel of Christ. The mentoring of new Christians by sharing not just our worship times together, but our lives together will have a tremendous effect on the growth of the body of Christ. Paul wrote, “Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers, the older women as mothers and the younger women as sisters in all purity” (I Timothy 5:1, 2). Paul described Timothy as his “son in the faith” (I Timothy 1:2). The counsel and teaching of mature believers will enrich the faith of the new Christian and what a great opportunity for us to encourage others to serve God!
Perhaps if we invest ourselves into the people of God we will see the growth, rather than the demise of new converts. We all have made mistakes and fallen short of the Lord’s expectations, but we have enjoyed his grace and forgiveness. John Mark had Barnabas and Timothy had Paul, but the question is who will you encourage in the work of the Lord?
By Bruce Reeves, February 3, 2013