Developing a Meaningful Relationship With a New Believer
By G. W. Kuhne
Developing a close friendship with a new believer is a basic ingredient in effectively following up a new Christian, for it involves a nurturing that goes beyond merely the teaching and enforcing of rules. It also involves a loving communication of those rules and a loving communication of a life.
Early in my Christian ministry, I had a difficult time developing relationships with new Christians. The problem was my approach. I was assuming that relationships just naturally occur. In some cases they might, especially if the individual has some areas of interest in common with you. Unfortunately, in personal follow-up you will often be working with someone with whom you have little in common. In this circumstance, it will take concerted effort to build an effective relationship. Over time I discovered a variety of tools for building relationships. Along with these came a thrilling sense of spiritual victory in my own life. No longer was I limited to certain types of people for effectiveness in my ministry. I have found a similar joyous response in people I have trained in follow-up ministry. In Christ there is truly neither slave nor free, Jew nor Greek
Spiritual parenthood has many of the same characteristics as physical parenthood. How many of us could be cont merely to be a rule giver and enforcer with our children? In addition to being an authority figure, a good parent is constantly seeking to know his children better and develop a meaning relationship with them. This is also true when it comes to effectively following up a new Christian. We do need to be authority figures, i.e., spiritual leaders who communicate the how-to’s of growing in Christ. At the same time, however, we must also developing meaningful relationships with new Christians. T purpose of this chapter is to offer some practical advice developing this relationship with a new Christian.
Develop an Atmosphere of Loving Concern
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born adversity (Prov. 17:17).
One of the first ways to begin developing a meaning relationship with a new Christian is by being honestly concerned for him, really wanting to be his friend. Paul clearly teaches this as one of the important elements in his own folio up ministry. For example, examine the way Paul described I attitude toward the Philippians in Philippians 1:8: God c testify howl long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus He begins by saying, God can testify. It is important to understand why he starts this way. Paul doesn’t use this term lightly but rather uses it only when he wants to make something u questionably clear to us. When he said, God can testify, Pa knew he was calling an omniscient God to witness to the truth his statement. This was necessary because of what Paul went to claim about the way he felt toward them: God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. What statement! This describes the point I am trying to make. How much do you really care about the people you are following u Do you love them with the affection of Christ? If you do, then the relationship is bound to develop; if you don’t, the relationship will be hindered. We need to build into our lives the attitude in which we can say with Paul, God is my witness (RSV), I burdened over that new Christian.
While I was still a student, I remember working with a young married student. Although I worked hard, I seemed to be getting nowhere in my follow-up. I was unable to gain his confidence and our relationship was a shallow one. One day while thinking about the problem, it occurred to me that I really didn’t care about the fellow. I wasn’t burdened for his growth, but rather was slightly irritated at the trouble he was causing me. What a sobering and convicting discovery this was! I deter mined to begin to focus my prayers and concern on him as a person, and to seek to develop the love God desired me to have for him as an individual. It wasn’t long before there were some real breakthroughs in follow-up. That young man is now serving God effectively in full-time Christian service.
Do you genuinely want to help the new Christian grow in Christ? Do you honestly care about people? If you feel you need more love and concern to answer in the affirmative, you can pray and specifically ask God to develop that kind of attitude in your life. Through prayer God will give you this type of burden. The Bible doesn’t explain why the mechanics of prayer work this way, but there is something about interceding for a person that increases your burden for him.
Pray for specific things. If you run out of things to pray for, start reading the first part of many of Paul’s Epistles. There he makes specific prayers for spiritual growth on the part of the new believers. In your prayers insert the name of the person you are following up. If over a period of time you keep praying for him in a disciplined way, God will develop that burden within your heart. You probably won’t notice it grow, yet soon you will find yourself sincerely caring for that individual.
There is one exciting implication of this truth I want to emphasize. You can feel a burden for, and thus build a relation ship with, someone you would not naturally choose for a friend. When I was in college I had a pastor who helped me a great deal in my own Christian growth and thinking. Once he said some thing I will never forget: Before you became a Christian you picked out your friends. After you became a Christian, God began to pick out your friends and often He picks out people you never would. When you are forced into relationships with
Christians whom you would never choose to be your friends, it forces you to turn to God for the strength and love you need to develop the relationships. In personal follow-up you can’t pick and choose who is going to respond to Christ. Sooner or later you are going to find yourself in personal follow-up relationships with people you would not normally choose to spend time with. God can work around that problem. He can give you the attitude you need to develop a friendship with those people.
When seeking to build friendships with new Christians it is important to have an accepting kind of love. Jesus applied this principle of accepting love as He worked with His disciples. His love and concern for those disciples were basic tools in their spiritual growth. They knew He loved them and there was never any doubt in their minds. Even when they failed the atmosphere was one of concerned acceptance. The Lord rebuked them when they failed, but He still loved them and continued to work with them, helping them to learn from their mistakes. In spite of their failures, they knew Christ’s love was unconditional.
An important question to ponder is whether you are creating or will create this kind of environment or atmosphere of unconditional acceptance and love for a person. Please don’t misunderstand. This doesn’t imply overlooking their sinful ness, but rather, it means accepting them in the face of their failings and showing them how to deal with any problems they have. You can love them and help them discover God’s way out of it. It is possible to accept the person and at the same time not accept the sinful shortcomings in his life. As you work with people, do you create that kind of accepting atmosphere?
A good way to test yourself is to check out why the new Christian does what you assign him. Is it the result of his motivation to grow in Christ or is he afraid that if he slips up, you will reject him? Is he performing for your sake, or the Lord’s? When pleasing you is the exclusive motivation in a new believer’s life, there is something seriously wrong. It’s going to be extremely difficult to develop in that person the proper kind of motivation. Are you creating the kind of an atmosphere of love which is helping to motivate the new Christian to grow?
Develop Your Relationship Around Christ
A second major truth in building relationships is to develop your relationship around Christ. It is important to realize that this will take real effort, because the natural thing is to try to develop a relationship around something else. You develop a relationship with one person because he likes basketball, with another because he likes art. Having things in common is a good aid in developing a relationship, but when it becomes the center or focus of your relationship, you become limited in your circle of friends. In 1 John 1:3 John gives us the correct focus for lasting relationships: We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
John gives Christ as the focal point of true fellowship. He claims that relationships should be developed around knowing Christ. This does not mean it is wrong to have other things in common with a person you are following up. What it does mean is that often you are going to be put in a follow-up relationship with someone with whom you have little in common. This should not prevent you from having a meaningful relationship and friendship if Christ is at the center.
How do you make Christ the focus? From the very beginning of follow-up with a new Christian, spend the bulk of your time on spiritual things. This doesn’t mean lecturing that per son, but it does mean devoting most of your time to spiritual communication, creating an atmosphere of spiritual sharing. Make it a natural thing to share with one another what God is doing and what God is teaching you through His Word. This develops naturally only when it is the way you act in the initial stages of that relationship. If you develop your relationship around something else, you will have to force Christ-centered discussion, and it becomes an awkward, unnatural thing. If you develop your relationship from the beginning around Christ and spiritual things, the pattern is set for future openness.
There is another important factor in developing your relationship around Christ. Whenever you are with a new Christian, strive, formally or informally, to share something spiritual. Since formal sharing and teaching occurs naturally when you meet to go over a follow-up appointment, there is no need to elaborate on the formal aspect of this truth. But let me give you a few examples of what I mean by informal sharing:
One tool you might use to develop a relationship with a new Christian is a common interest in baseball. I am talking in terms of youth work here, but the application will be obvious for those working with all age groups. Going to a ball game is a secular activity used for developing relationships. Even in the midst of a game you can be teaching, however. I know one person who has thus shared one of the ways God made a distinct change in his life in the area of attitudes. When he played baseball in school he was aggressively involved in the game. This attitude carried over when he became a spectator. His aggressiveness would express itself beyond yelling and cheering. He also verbally assaulted various referees he didn’t think were doing a good job. His attitude was sinful. But God changed him and gave him victory over the problem. By sharing this with the new Christian, he was able to show in a practical way how God makes a difference in the Christian’s life. This is a good example of communicating a spiritual truth informally. It may not have been an ideal teaching environment, yet informally he was communicating a deep spiritual truth to that new Christian.
Another example of this informal teaching might involve two women who go shopping together as a tool for developing their relationship. Perhaps there are many people around, and it is hectic. This is a perfect opportunity to share how you used to get frustrated and uptight in this kind of situation, but God has given you patience and peace to keep a good witness for Him in the face of adverse circumstances (Phil. 4:10-13). If God hasn’t done that work in you yet, it will be impossible to share in this way and you shouldn’t lie about it. However, this example should make the point clear to you that even in secular situations, you can have an informal time of sharing. You ought to be communicating something positive continually.
As a student at Penn State I made it a rule never to meet with someone for follow-up or discipleship unless I had something fresh to give him. I wanted to share something new God had taught me or reinforced in my mind during my personal study of the Word. As God has given me strength, I have never since that time failed to communicate a fresh spiritual truth when I met someone for follow-up. You don’t have to keep reaching back into your memory. If you are in the Word, the Lord gives you something constructive every time. It might not be a brand-new insight, but it can be a reinforcement of a truth you already knew. And you can always communicate this kind of truth. This is the best way to get the new Christian to the point where he will begin to share with you, too.
A question at this point might be how to motivate people to study the Word. Although I will deal with this in detail later, a preview might be helpful. The best way to motivate a new Christian toward Bible study is to use the Bible when you deal with his problems and share how you use it when you are solving your own problems. Jesus motivated His followers to use the Word mainly because He used it. In answer to their questions and problems Jesus quoted the Old Testament 160 times in the presence of His disciples. And that is how you motivate men to use the Word.
The next important factor in developing relationships with new believers involves the ingredient of stick-to-it-ness, or patience. It takes time to build relationships. You will not develop a lasting, meaningful relationship with a new Christian in three follow-up appointments. In your first few meetings you can lay the groundwork for a good relationship and set the basic pre conditions for it to occur; but the relationship itself will not develop that soon.
The reason for this is obvious. How long does it take you naturally to develop a close relationship with someone? The spiritual realm is no different. The new Christian’s relationship with God is going to take time to develop, and it is also going to take time for that new Christian’s relationship with you to grow. Friendships will not always grow smoothly, or even at the same rate. Sometimes a new Christian might not seem to be responding at all, yet you need to stick with him.
The fact that a person isn’t growing at a certain rate or always being victorious over sin should not discourage you. A person may stumble one week and the next week be renewed from the Word, getting back on the right track once more. Al though discouraging, these periods of defeat are not disastrous for one’s overall Christian life. This is especially true if one learns from his failures. Learn to have patience in the face of failures. Everyone falls down once in a while and the new Christian you are following up is no exception.
Do not take it personally when the new Christian stumbles. This is a problem I find often arises among those doing personal follow-up. In other words, you will sometimes be tempted to take the new Christian’s stumbling as a reflection on your follow-up expertise. How dare he fail after you did such a good job communicating how not to fail? Of course, sometimes we need to become upset. This motivates us to help our young Christian friend deal with his problems. But when we become upset because our feelings are hurt and our pride is trampled upon, then we are sinning. Our main concern should be that the sin is hurting the new Christian’s growth.
Patience is also required to discern the new Christian’s attitude in the midst of the failure. Is he repentant, wanting to learn from his mistake, or is he rebellious? It is important that you have discernment at this point. Attitudes at times are not clearly reflected by actions. This is true because actions, in many cases, are controlled by both the past and the present environments in which the person lives. It takes patience and discernment to discover the inner attitude of the new Christian. But you can find it because God reveals it to you. It is difficult to detect attitude problems if you don’t really know what is happening inside an individual. Although you won’t totally understand a person’s problems and attitudes, you do have the leading of the Spirit to give you a sensitivity others lack.
In his encounter with Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, Peter gives us a perfect example of this sensitivity. He was able to see beneath the surface of the problem by detecting wrong attitudes. This example also shows there may be sinful attitudes present even in the right kind of actions. Only in Christ is it possible to gain this type of insight.
Another important element of stick-to-it-ness is being willing to reprove the new Christian when he needs reproof. Whenever he stumbles, it is important that he deal with his problem. In other words, confront him with his sin and then show him how to solve the problem and get back into a right relationship with God. The idea here is to use both the corrective and rebuking aspects of the Word of God as they are revealed in 2 Timothy 3:16, 17. More will be said on this point in chapter 5. Stick-to-it-ness is essential in personal follow-up.
Spend Quality Time Together
There are friends who pretend to be friends, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Prov. 18:24).
The next factor to consider in developing relationships is the role of association. By association I mean spending time with the new Christian. In youth work it is somewhat easier for the association to take place than with adult work, since an adults time is much more rigidly structured by family responsibilities and similar restrictions. Yet, in spite of the difficulty involved in finding time to spend with an adult who is a new believer, it is still necessary that we do so. For instance, housewives might meet over mid-morning coffee, those in business over lunch. Choose an optimal time for both of you.
When seeking to find activities that aid association, look for something you are already doing to which you could invite the new Christian. This is the key to finding time to do effective personal follow-up. By doing two things at once, you squeeze forty-eight hours into twenty-four. It is possible to piggy-back your time to aid you in association.
One example of how to accomplish this would be to take the new Christian with you when you go to church. The reason you take him with you is not simply to get him to go to church, although that is one reason. It is also for that twenty minutes driving home when you can discuss the sermon. The import thing is just spending time talking together and fellowshipping. Not everything I do for association is feasible for everyone, but we can each find some way to spend time with a new Christian. It might take some effort, but the real problem is one of burden, not time.
Robert Coleman in his book, Master Plan of Evangelism, has a good discussion of the role of personal association when it comes to effective follow-up. He states that spending time with the new believer is the essence of a truly effective follow-up program. I tend to agree with him on this point. The following is a list of examples of activities that are easily piggy-backed with association. I hope it will stimulate your own thinking.
1. Going to church 6. Camping
2. Attending church activities 7. Picnics
3. Shopping 8. Holiday activities
4. Going to sporting events 9. Short trips
5. Washing your car 10. Etc.
A new Christian often becomes most open and honest about his victories, defeats, problems, etc., in the informal times. Do all you can to create these all-important times of informal fellow ship with a new believer.
Be Interested in More Than Just His Spiritual Life
The next factor conditioning the development of effective relationships with new Christians concerns the problem of viewing our role from too limited a perspective. We can some times become overly concerned about the spiritual side of a persons life and neglect other aspects involved. Each individual is made up of many parts which form a single whole with all of the parts interrelated. The spiritual affects the social and the social can also affect the spiritual. This interrelatedness is found in every area of a persons life, and because of this you have to deal with more than the spiritual needs of a new Christian.
For example, let’s consider the possible relationship between a social problem and a spiritual need in a new believer. An important aspect of personal follow-up is getting the new believer into good Christian fellowship. What will happen if the person you are following up has some social problems that limit his ability to develop good relationships with other Christians? It is obvious that his social problems will cause some spiritual problems as time goes by. It is therefore important that you are able to detect and deal with social problems as one step to seeing real growth in the spiritual side of a persons life.
Let’s pursue this example further. The new Christian with whom you are working has a problem which is socially restricting. Your purpose in helping him with this problem is not so much to develop a well-polished individual, but rather to help him develop qualities to aid him in having fellowship with other Christians. There are various ways to help someone who is shy. If you have had this problem, show the new Christian what God has revealed to you from His Word to help you deal with it. Just to sit down with him in a follow-up visit and tell him he must get to know people and that God doesn’t want him to be shy won’t usually solve the problem. It is much more effective to show the new Christian how to do something about his problem and help him actually encounter other people.
Perhaps the person you are following up is blunt, loud, or turns others off. The best thing to do is to sit down with him and tell him his behavior offends other people. Often a person doesn’t realize the reaction of others toward his behavior. He has developed a manner of social behavior which he practices, never realizing how it bothers other people. You might also work out some prearranged signal to tell the person when he is becoming offensive, or when he is saying something that should not be said. You do not need to be an expert on social graces to help the new Christian relate to the group.
Perhaps the new Christian needs counseling on family problems. I remember the home situation of one teen-ager I was following up. The father came home drunk every night and beat up the family. Obviously you need to do more than just go over follow-up appointments with such a person. This fellow needed help to face his problems. To really begin to help a new Christian you must get to know more about the circumstances he faces. In this case the new Christian had neglected his devotions. It turned out he wanted to take time for them, but because of the family situation at home he was unable to do so. If I had kept urging him to have devotions without seeking to help this complicating problem, I would only have succeeded in creating frustration and wide communication gaps.
Perhaps the person you are working with has hygiene problems. Who is going to tell him if you don’t? You should work toward developing the type of relationship with him where you will be able to give guidance in areas which might prove embarrassing. Your purpose is not to pry, but rather to help him grow in Christ. You are trying to help him become a confident individual. I’m not advocating that you inquire into areas where you are not wanted. Don’t force a person to tell you everything. Just be open and receptive. All of this will contribute to developing an attitude of acceptance and mutual confidence, which will greatly aid you in the area of spiritual follow-up. As the new Christian develops confidence in you, he is going to believe more and more of what you say and accept it as authority. This is especially true when it comes to solving problems.
Perhaps the new Christian has a financial difficulty. Maybe his problem is an unworkable budget, since many people just don’t know how to make one. Bitter experience taught me how to budget. Perhaps he is going through all kinds of struggle and worry as a result of this problem. To sit down and talk to him about worry will not help him if you can’t get to the root of his problem. Again the point here is the need to see each individual as a total person and not just address yourself to one segment of his life.
Remember What He Tells You
Another factor in developing relationships is to remember what the new Christian shares with you. Both as a student and as a full-time Christian worker, I had some bitter experiences in this area. I had a habit of forgetting what people told me. When I was working as a staff member with Campus Crusade for Christ, there were times when I met with someone and would forget what his major was in college, or what courses he was taking. This can really become embarrassing. People begin to think you don’t really care.
After being embarrassed several times, I developed an easy method of storing information that really helped me with this problem. I began to carry a 3 x 5 card to fill out after I finished meeting with a person. I would jot down all the important information he had told me. Before the next time we met I reviewed the 3 x 5 card. In the initial stages of working with a person it is extremely important to have that information. I mention this problem because it has happened to me and it may well happen to you. If you have a bad memory, start writing things down. People don’t usually get turned off by this. It even reassures them that you are concerned enough about them to want to remember what they say.
Be a Leader As Well As a Friend
The next factor in developing a relationship with a new Christian is the need to strike the right balance between being both spiritual leader and friend. In the midst of all this emphasis on friendship and relationship, it is easy to sidestep being a leader. None of us really wants the responsibility of being a leader. We would much rather avoid having to help a new Christian grow in Christ. We prefer to sidestep our responsibility to confront a new believer involved in a sin; we try to put all the responsibility on the Lord to reprove and convict him. This takes the pressure away from us. It is much easier, but much less effective, to remain non-authoritative in our relationship.
This is one side of the coin. It is also important to realize that it is possible to become too authoritative or problem-oriented. It is best to deal with only one problem at a time, which is quite enough to keep a person busy. Be careful not to make your whole relationship one of constantly telling the new Christian what he is doing wrong. It is much better to have a healthy balance in your relationship of mutual encouragement, sharing of spiritual truths, and counseling. If you keep it balanced you won’t create a negative atmosphere of defeat and legalism.
You won’t always get positive response from the new Christian as you attempt to be his spiritual leader. There will be negative reactions to deal with as well. You must show him that negative reactions are sinful. If you have been presenting the Word of God to him to point out a particular problem, and he rebels against it, his rebellion is not against you but against God’s will. If, however, you have been obnoxious or tried to push too many things on him at one time, then his reaction is your fault. Achieving a good balance is essential.
Another important element in being an effective leader is to deal with problems when they arise and in the order of their priority. There may be more than one obvious problem at a particular time. Deal with the one most crucial to his spiritual growth. If you will deal with problems when they first arise, you keep them from becoming major. This honest dealing with problems helps the new Christian develop good habits of Christian living. If, however, you wait too long to deal with a problem, the new Christian will have developed a bad habit. When this hap pens, it becomes harder to deal with and gain victory over. I am convinced problem-solving is a crucial part of follow-up and discipleship. Thus this book will focus more on problem- solving in chapter 5. I hope you will begin to see that it does play an important role and that you are called to be a spiritual leader who gives direction to people in solving their problems. Ask God to help you be an effective friend and leader to the new Christian He has entrusted into your care.
Having spent this time discussing the role of relationship in effective personal follow-up, we are ready to move on to the more practical how-tos of this work. My big fear is that readers are looking, or might begin to look, upon personal follow-up as merely a process of transferring spiritual truth, rather than the communication of a life. I hope this chapter prevents such a misconception. It is important to develop a meaningful total relationship with a new Christian before effective personal follow-up can take place.
To summarize, when developing relationships make sure you are creating an atmosphere of concern and accepting love. Develop your relationship so that discussing spiritual things is the natural, not awkward, thing to do. Be patient and stick to it when seeking to build this relationship. It will take time and all relationships will not grow at the same rate. Be disciplined in spending quality time with the new Christian. Time is an important ingredient in the developing of an effective relationship. Make sure that you’re aware of and dealing with problems in all aspects of a new Christians life. Guard against becoming too narrow in your perspective on what is involved in real growth.
Develop an effective way of remembering what the new Christian tells you. Finally, strike a good balance between friendship and leadership. If these things are true in your relationship with a new Christian, it will not be long before you will see true effectiveness developing in your personal follow-up ministry.
For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up (Eccl. 4:10).
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.