The Four Faces of New Convert Follow-Up

The Four Faces of New Convert Follow-Up
By Sue Kline

What does new convert follow-up look like? You may as well ask, What do people look like? For when you enter into the adventure of helping a new believer grow in faith, you enter into an experience that will be totally unique just as you are unique, just as the person you’re about to disciple is unique.

For almost 20 years, I’ve been involved with helping new converts grow in Christ. With some new believers, I’ve been very structured, operating from a follow-up notebook that I created with the help of my first discipler. With others, I’ve thrown the notebook out the window and concentrated on pressing needs and sheer survival. I once started to follow up a new Christian entirely by letters until I could link her with someone in her city. (I was in Singapore, she was in New York. To this day, we’ve never met face to face.) In a few cases, I’ve invited a new Christian to move in with me for very intensive life-on-life involvement. And as you’ll read later, I’ve drawn new believers into a small group and discipled them en masse.

Geography, your relational style and personality, your schedule, your family situation these factors and more may determine what follow-up will “look like” for you. The profiles that follow will show you some of the possible variations when you commit yourself to helping a young Christian grow.
The following four short articles present different methods of reaching the same result: helping new converts grow into strong Christians.
Sue Kline

Structured for Growth
By Tom Yeakley

Steve had recently put his trust in Christ as his Savior and now was eager to grow in his newfound faith. He came to me for help. We agreed to meet at a local restaurant for breakfast once a week.

During the period that Steve and I got together, our 60- to 90-minute meetings followed a similar format.

Before seeing Steve at the restaurant, I would pray for our time together, asking God to use me to encourage and strengthen him, and to help me be sensitive to his needs.

After a warm greeting (I always wanted Steve to know I was happy to be meeting with him), I would ask Steve how life was treating him. I’d ask about work, studies, his family, and so on. I wanted to hear about all areas of his life, not just the spiritual.

Next, I would share something that had encouraged me recently from the Bible from my devotionals, Scripture memory, study, or reading. As the weeks passed and Steve learned to dig into Scripture in these ways, I asked him to share his discoveries as well.

We would then talk about how we were doing with our daily disciplines, such as prayer, quiet time, Scripture memory, Bible reading, and sharing our faith. Steve didn’t begin practicing all of these disciplines at once, of course, but as he grew in his new faith, I introduced more and more ways to develop his relationship with God.

Next we would cover the topic for the week. Just as a builder comes to the building site with a plan, I, too, planned beforehand what I would share with Steve at each meeting. These follow-up plans consisted of short Bible lessons related to an appropriate topic. I would have previously studied passages on the topic and summarized this study into a short lesson so I could pass on the main truths to Steve. Each lesson consisted of a motivational section (a verse, quote, example) to help build anticipation for the topic, and then the lesson, which consisted of a few verses related to the given topic. Whenever possible I tried to share from one central passage rather than multiple verses in different Bible books. I covered topics such as servanthood John 13, love 1 Corinthians 13, faith Hebrews 11, and the lordship of Christ Lk. 14:25-35.

I collected these follow-up plans in a notebook so I could use them with other people the Lord might bring into my life. I encouraged Steve to take notes and to mark key verses in his Bible. I hoped that someday these would give him the framework he needed to follow up another new Christian.

Steve and I studied such foundational topics as assurance of salvation, quiet time, prayer, Scripture memory, meditation, obedience, witnessing, fellowship, and the importance of God’s Word. After being assured that the foundation was solid, I began to help Steve in other areas of his life, seeking to build on top of this solid foundation.

When appropriate, I would give Steve an assignment to complete before our next meeting perhaps memorizing a verse, writing out his testimony, or reading a chapter from a book I gave him. We always ended our time with prayer, usually a brief sentence or two at first, then more as Steve grew comfortable with praying aloud. Before we left the restaurant, I’d confirm the date and time of our next meeting.

A structured approach like this one has the advantage of thoroughness. I knew I was building “the basics” into Steve’s life. A danger of this much structure can be an “assembly-line mentality” in which you march each person you disciple through the exact same regime without thought to his or her uniqueness. Remember to fit your follow-up plan to the person, not the person to the program.

Tom Yeakley is director of U.S. campus ministries for The Navigators.

Backward Discipling
By Kevin Grenier

My wife and I work in the inner city. For us, discipleship often starts with helping people get sober or find a job. While these tasks don’t at first seem very spiritual, they are essential if a person is going to grow in other areas of his walk with God.

I am meeting with a man named Tom. Tom is 35 and has used drugs and alcohol for more than half his life. Now that he has given his life to the Lord, I am ignoring most of the basic issues that discipleship books tell us to cover. Instead, Tom and I are talking about how to be a better dad to his two kids. Tom is learning what the Bible says about being a father, and he is learning about his heavenly Father in the process. Some day I’m sure Tom will be interested in the role of Scripture, how to be a witness, and so on. For now, though, he just needs to know how to keep reading his Bible, praying, and seeing God at work in his areas of most intense struggle.

As I work with Tom, I have not forgotten what I’ve learned from books about discipling new believers. However, in what I’ve come to call “backward discipleship,” I am able to apply what I have learned in ways and at times that suit Tom best, not simply in the order that the book chapters were written.

In a sense, Jesus practiced this sort of discipleship. Matthew 19:16-26 describes how Jesus was approached by a rich young ruler who was seeking salvation. After getting to know the young man, Jesus was able to pinpoint the key issue in his life valuing money more than a right relationship with God. Addressing this key issue became the focus of Jesus’ attention. Rather than let the young man follow Him until chapter 10 in the book said to discuss finances, Jesus moved right in on the man’s most pressing personal need.

I have discovered three advantages of backward discipleship. They are intimacy, immediacy, and importance.

Intimacy. In order to disciple someone based on his needs, I really have to get to know him. This intimacy communicates that I love the person and think he is significant. Such love provides fertile soil for the person to grow in the Lord.

Immediacy. In a discipleship process based on immediate needs, the lessons learned will have an immediate effect in the disciple’s daily life. People quickly see that following Jesus is a real-life thing. It is not a matter of creating a Christian corner in our life, but of putting God’s Word into practice in all the nitty-gritty details of life.

Importance. Unless we feel a need to learn something, we don’t consider it very important. The greater our need, however, the more important the lesson and the more likely we will remember it.

This combination of intimacy, immediacy, and importance results in one thing impact. We see God’s truth presented not as an academic thing, but rather as a life-giving balm placed exactly where it is needed.

Kevin Grenier and his wife, Lisa, served for the past five years as the live-in directors of the Providence House in Denver, an inner-city discipleship home. Now Kevin is stationed in Colorado Springs as a chaplain in the air force.

Crisis, Coffee, and Caring
By Clark Cothern

“Holly who?” I asked in shock. Bill couldn’t be talking about the Holly we knew.

“Holly Onisko,” Bill repeated, cutting through my grief-induced fog. “Our Holly. She’s gone. She died this morning soon after Dave left for work.”

Dave and Holly had moved into the house across the street from us. My wife, Joy, and I were hitting it off with them. They had recently begun attending our church.

Now Joy and I were in shock at the news of 31-year-old Holly’s death. How would Dave handle being a single dad to a four-year-old daughter? Dear Father, how are we going to get through this?

In a crisis like this, Dave needed more than the discipleship programs a church could offer. He needed personal attention and a lot of it. I proposed that we get together over coffee and talk. That first get-together turned into two years of discipling, usually at our house or at a nearby restaurant.

For the first few weeks, I mostly listened, without attempting easy answers. Dave, normally tough and fearless, was so frightened to sleep in the room where Holly had died that I spent several nights in the guest bedroom.

As Dave grew past the initial shock and worked his way into the painful “why” questions, the content of our discussions shifted from the why of cause to the why of purpose: “We may never know exactly why Holly died so young, but we do know that God’s purposes are being revealed and that He can bring purpose out of the deepest pain.”

After a time, our daily get-togethers became weekly and eventually monthly. Then, we revved up the schedule just a bit after the second anniversary of Holly’s death, when Dave told us, “I’m surprised how fresh these wounds feel. I thought it wouldn’t be as bad this year.”

As we watched Dave struggle with his grief, we also watched him become an avid Bible reader. Over the next few months, his discussions with Cliff Blackford, a friend at work, resulted in Cliff coming to know Christ as Savior. Dave had been a faithful witness to his faith, even in the midst of severe pain.

He once told Cliff, “I can see how God has brought me closer to Him since Holly’s been gone. For that I can be thankful.”

Cliff began talking with his fiance about Christ, and Dori, now Cliff’s wife and a new believer, is talking with her friends about Christ.

Dave now speaks with conviction about how God provides strength and accomplishes His purposes through the toughest circumstances. After three years, our coffee breaks together are sweetened with laughter.

Discipleship with Dave wasn’t neatly boxed into one-hour sessions once a week. His crisis created our opportunity for caring, and in return, God filled our cups to overflowing with joy unspeakable.

Clark Cothern is senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Adrian, Michigan. He and his wife, Joy, frequently speak together at marriage and family seminars. Clark is author of At the Heart of Every Great Father (Multnomah).

Group Power
By Sue Kline

“There are some women I want you to meet,” said Dave, my ministry colleague in a Philippine mountain town. “Ron and I just led this entire family to the Lord, and I need you to take the women under your wing.”

Entire family indeed parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws even a few outlaws, for the family-run business was an illegal gambling parlor.

Dave introduced me to the family of new believers.

“How often would you like me to come see you?” I asked the women.

“Every day,” was the unexpected reply.

For months after that, we would gather in a tiny bedroom at the back of the house and study the Bible. Our background noise was the clicking of mah-jongg tiles. On any given day, I might meet with ten women, or I might meet with three. It was follow-up at its loosest!

Purchased Bible studies were out of the question. These people were poor. Besides, I didn’t want them to grow up believing they could only learn from the Bible if they had a fancy study guide to help them. So we opened the Gospel of Luke, and each time we met, we looked at a few verses and talked about their meaning. “What does this tell us about Jesus?” we asked ourselves. “According to these verses, what does it mean to follow Him?”

At first the women huddled around two immense family Bibles. Soon I obtained free Bibles for each of them through another mission organization.

When we came across a verse in Luke that we really liked, we memorized it. Basically, these new converts dictated our Scripture memory program. It worked. Amid frequent giggles, we’d review in unison the verses we were learning. Sometimes we reviewed them loud enough to drown out the din of the adjacent gambling parlor.

We also spent a lot of time in prayer. These women faced almost daily, miracle-caliber crises. At first, they just told me their problems and expected me to pray. Soon, however, one of the women began to voice her prayers out loud with simple, conversational language. The others soon followed.

Our prayer experience points to one of the big benefits of small-group follow-up. Before this experience, I had thought of follow-up strictly as a one-on-one relationship. I taught, I modeled, and the new Christian followed my example and my instruction. In this small group, however, the new converts began to model the Christian life for one another.

Lucia was the one who took the lead in praying aloud in the group and inspired the others to do likewise. Rosa had the greatest hunger for Scripture. She invariably read ahead of the rest of the group or strayed from Luke to find out what books such as Philippians or 1 John had to say. Before I ever got around to telling the women that they could read the Bible on their own, Rosa modeled it.

Beth had the tender heart. Though only 16, the sin in her life often moved her to tears. She was quick to respond to conviction. The early changes in her demeanor and behavior were obvious to everyone in our group and spoke volumes about the power of Christ to make us new people.

Over time, I began meeting one on one with those women who wanted it. One of them eventually lived with me for a year. Yet I believe the greatest growth and the most fun came from those daily small-group gatherings in the back room of the gambling parlor. There we learned the essence of spurring one another on to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24).

Sue Kline, managing editor of Discipleship Journal, spent six years in Asia with The Navigators