Imagine that you're about to be a parent; in 9 months you'll have a child.
You're excited and scared and want to learn everything possible about parenthood. So you read books, decorate the nursery, ask people for advice and prepare for the big day.
When that day finally comes, you go to the hospital, and after many hours, the baby is born. High fives. Cheers. You call your family.
And then you decide to leave the baby at the hospital.
If you did this, everyone would think you were crazy and a bad parent. Yet spiritually, we often have the same approach to new believers in Christ. We put so much energy into bringing them to Christ (praying for them, bringing them to evangelistic events, helping answer their questions), and then we stop. In a sense, we leave them at the nursery.
But when a person accepts Christ, our work is only just beginning. The first few years – and even the first 24 hours – are vital in establishing a new believer's walk with the Lord.
The process of helping a new believer grow in his faith is often called "follow-up." During this time, new believers can begin to grow in maturity and learn to become multiplying disciples – Christians who help others come to Christ and grow in their new faith.
Here are a few essential elements to guide you in helping new believers grow.
In the first chapter of 1 Thessalonians, Paul prayed for his disciples, confident that God was going to complete the work He started in them. Throughout the gospels, Jesus also prayed for His disciples.
In the same way, it is important for us to pray for new believers, trusting God to work in their lives. Praying with them shows that we care for them. It also gives them an example of what it looks like to communicate with God.
In the second chapter of 1 Thessalonians, Paul mentions that he shared the Word of God with them. It is essential for new believers to learn how to read the Bible and listen to God from His Word. We know from experience that we grow in our faith by consistently studying the Bible and spending time with Him. God's Word is our spiritual food, and we can't live without it.
Last year I saw a couple of girls pray and receive Christ in a college dorm I was working in. I consistently met with a girl named Gretchen, and I encouraged her to read the Gospel of John. Each week she came with different questions, including some insightful questions -- things I wouldn't have thought to bring up. She was curious and I helped her to understand what she was reading.
In addition to teaching spiritual things, we must also share our lives with new believers, being open and honest about the good and bad as well as what God is teaching us. Get together and do fun things. Go shopping, play video games or go out to lunch. When you become someone's friend, you show who you are and that it can be fun to be a Christian.
I met 5 times with a college student, Kristi, to go over the basics of Christianity. But our weekly meetings were difficult because she was so shy. When Kristi still hadn't gotten involved with a Bible study that I was leading, I took her out to lunch to reconnect with her. This was the best time we had all semester. She saw that I cared about her and wanted more than just to share spiritual things. The second semester, Kristi came to the Bible study almost every week.
Paul mentions that he is like a spiritual parent to the new believers: "But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children" (1 Thessalonians 2:7). We, too, can be like caring parents for new believers -- watching over them, nurturing them, encouraging them, correcting them and keeping them accountable.
Another part of follow-up is introducing new believers to other Christians who can encourage them and support them in this new phase of life. Invite new believers to come to your Bible study or church. If you are meeting with them to go through follow-up materials, ask some of your Christian friends to come too. This way they can make new friends, hear different perspectives and learn from others.
It's never too early to encourage new believers to talk to others about how God has changed their lives. This will help to solidify their faith and show how God is working. When you share your faith with others, take them along and train them in how to share the gospel. Then they can be multiplying disciples and see God touch others' lives like He has touched their lives.
The Holy Spirit's role is essential. Help new believers understand who the Holy Spirit is and what it means to walk in the Spirit's power, not their own power. If we try to live the Christian life on our own, we will just fall away.
As soon as possible, make a transition from sharing the gospel to initiating follow-up. New believers might have questions and doubts, and it's important to support and encourage them right away. Offer a specific meeting time and make it easy for them to say "yes."
In follow-up, we can play an important part, but ultimately it is God who is doing the work. Don't be offended if people aren't interested. God is the one who is pursing them and He will bring about fruit. He has promised in His Word to bring about the good work that He has begun in us.
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