THE NEEDS OF THE NEW CONVERT
“As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude” (Col. 2:6-7, NASB).
Visualize a large manufacturing plant in your town or city that produces shoes. The management has invested great sums of money and many man-hours into the plant to produce the finest shoes possible. Money has been spent on salaries for the employees, machinery for shoe making, and materials from which the shoes are to be made. The plant is now in operation with hundreds of workers scurrying to and fro, Machines are running full blast, and activity is at a maximum.
One day the president asks the production manager, How many shoes have we produced so far?”
“None, the manager answers.
“None!” the president exclaims. “How long have we been in operation?”
“Two years? And still] no shoes?
“That’s right, ” the manager says, no shoes, but we are really busy. In fact, we have been so busy that we are all nearly tired out. We’ve been very active at our jobs.
A diagram of this plant that didn’t produce shoes would look something like this:
What would the management do in a case like this? Have collective coronaries? Become angry? Concerned? Fire somebody? Try to find out what the problem was? They would probably do all of these things. Because the reason for this factory s existence is to produce shoes. Management wants their investment to pay off and for the plant to look like this:
Now let’s put a cross on top of that building and transform it into the church on the corner-your church. Again, there is much activity. Men and women are working hard. The budget is higher this year than ever before. The church is very active. The objective, however, is not to produce shoes but disciples. It should look like this:
When Dawson Trotman, founder of The Navigators, was trying to recruit counselors for one of the Billy Graham Crusades in a large metropolitan city, he made numerous phone calls to the supporting churches. He would ask them, “Could we have the names of the men and women in your congregation who know their Bibles well enough to lead someone to Christ?”
The church secretary of one of the larger churches replied, “Would you repeat the qualifications again, please ?” Trotman did.
After a long pause, the secretary said rather wistfully, “You know, we did have a man like that in church once, but he moved away.”
That church was most likely an exception. But on other hand, the analysis of Jesus of His own time was, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few ” (Matt. 9:37). If were honest with ourselves, we would all sadly admit that it is still the case today. Spiritually qualified workers-disciples who labor hard to make other disciples-are rare.
The Needs of a Convert
For the sake of illustration and simplicity, let’s start with a convert. Let’s say you’ve had the joy of leading a person to Jesus Christ. Are you happy? Of course you are. You’d better be. Everybody is happy when a sinner comes to Jesus, heaven rejoices, the convert rejoices, you rejoice. But are you satisfied? No, not yet. You shouldn’t be. The commission of Christ to you was to make disciples, not just get converts. So your objective now is to help this new Christian progress to the point where he is a fruitful, mature, and dedicated disciple. You can picture it like this:
What you need to know is what goes into becoming a disciple for Jesus Christ and then how to help that person get those characteristics built into his life.
The first need a convert has is assurance. He needs to know that he has truly been born again. And if you are to help him, you need to know that too. I have seen people make decisions,” but when I tried to help them grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I discovered that they were still dead in their trespasses and sins. They had no spiritual life. I have learned the hard way that it is impossible to disciple a person who is spiritually dead.
Paul stated, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17). In order to identify a genuine convert, you must see in him a change of attitude toward Jesus Christ and a change of attitude toward sin.
This does not mean he now fully understands the doctrine of the lordship of Christ over his life, nor does it mean he has all his old problems solved. But his basic attitudes have changed. He now holds Jesus in a favorable light (see 1 John 5: 1 1-12) and he is unfavorable toward sin (see 1 John 1:9). In other words, he evidences new life,
Another need a convert has is acceptance. He needs two things communicated to him : love and acceptance. They are the two sides of the same coin. Paul set this pattern for us in his attitude toward the Thessalonians. “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us” (1 Thess. 2: 8).
No wonder these Thessalonians went on so powerfully in their Christian lives and testimonies. “And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia-your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it” (1 Thess. 1:7-8).
Paul loved them and had a deep concern for them, so they knew that they were loved and accepted. “You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children (1 Thess. 2:10-11). And when he was absent from them, they were in his thoughts and prayers.
But, brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. For we wanted to come to you-certainly I, Paul, did, again and again but Satan stopped us. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the present of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy (1 Thess. 2:17-20).
Paul looked on them as new babes just beginning their spiritual lives. Think about that for a minute. What does a new baby need? Obviously love is at the top of the list. Babies die without it. In a study conducted in a large hospital, the people working in the nursery noticed that the babies who were in the cribs near the door seemed to do better than the ones farther away. They wondered why. After careful study they discovered that the nurses were prone to give the babies near the door more attention as they went about their duties and came in and out of the room. They would pick them up and hug them and speak to them. As we translate that into the spiritual realm, we also discover that spiritual babies need love and acceptance tender loving care.
The Basic Needs of a Growing Christian
Beside assurance and acceptance, a growing Christian has four basic needs. He needs protection, fellowship, food, and training. He needs protection. Paul continued to undergo the pains of childbirth for his converts till Christ was formed in them (see Gal. 4:19). He prayed for the Corinthians that they would not do anything wrong (see 2 Cor. 13:7).
New babies need protection. In a hospital nursery the nurses sterilize everything; they wear masks to protect the new little lives from germs. New life is tender and fragile, and must be protected from disease. So it is with new babes in Christ. They need protection from false cults and a variety of attacks by the enemy. People spreading the disease of false religion will show up at their door. The convert’s old cronies will try to entice him back into the old paths. A former girlfriend will want to renew the relationship. Satan, as a roaring lion, will try to destroy him. So he must be protected and immunized with the Word of God.
He needs fellowship. He has been born into a family and he needs the fellowship of his brothers and sisters in Christ.
When my wife and I came to Christ, a woman in the church we attended took special pains to make sure we met Christian couples our age. She took time to look up passages in the Bible for us in answer to the many questions we had. She would introduce us to others in the congregation who would invite us to their homes for fellowship during the week. A farmer, a banker, a barber-they extended their lives to us and made us feel at home and welcome in the Sunday school and church.
I would still go out with some of my old ex-Marine buddies occasionally, but these people from church stuck with Virginia and me like a peel on an orange. I know our language and lifestyle must have caused them some concern and no doubt even offended some of them, but they overlooked it. Babies occasionally make messes, do foolish things, and may be somewhat of a bother. So are babies in the spiritual realm. Our new friends from church didn’t let it bother them, and after some months I noticed something. I felt more at home with these new friends than I did with the people I had known most of my life.
The Spirit of God, who had made us part of the body of Christ, was beginning to make us feel part of the body.
When I was in high school, I worked in a bakery. Frequently we would make batches of frosting for cakes and chocolate donuts. I would take great lumps of broken chocolate, put them in a pan, and warm them over a low fire. The chocolate lumps would begin to melt, stick together, and finally blend into one pan full of melted chocolate.
That’s what Christian fellowship is all about. Not a group of people in one building like marbles in a bag, but like lumps of chocolate that have blended together and become part of one another. This only happens through the ministry of the Holy Spirit as He slowly warms our hearts together in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (see Gal. 5:22-23).
He needs food. Natural babies need to be fed regularly. Spiritual babies need the same regularity on their feeding. And their spiritual food is the Word of God. “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2-3)
You give the new believer food in two ways. One is to teach him the Word. When my wife and I would visit in the homes of our new Christian friends, the conversation would invariably turn to spiritual things. We would ask questions, and they would get out their Bibles and share the answers with us. I soon became convinced that every answer to every question was in that Book. When they didn’t have an answer to a question I asked, they would go to other leaders in the church who would help them with it and they in turn would share that answer with us. I was also learning the Scriptures in Sunday school and church.
But it wasn’t till I met Waldron Scott that I learned the second way of feeding on the Word. My friends fed me from the Bible, but Scotty taught me to feed myself. He took Virginia and me through some basic question and answer Bible studies where we had to dig out the answers ourselves. He taught us to memorize Scripture for ourselves. He showed us how we could feed ourselves from the Bible.
So, in order to help a new Christian grow, you must teach him the Word, share it with him, but also teach him how to dig in for himself. Do your best to get him off the spiritual milk bottle. Do your best to help him pass the stage where you have to spoon feed him his spiritual pabulum. Teach him to feed himself.
Unless you teach him that vital habit, he will be dependent on others for the rest of his life. God wants him to grow and develop into a strong disciple of Jesus Christ who can, in turn, meet the needs of others and eventually teach them to repeat the process.
He needs training. Again Paul left us an example, “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children (1 Thess. 2:11). His example of a father is interesting.
A father does not teach his child everything. He does not teach him world history or geometry, but he sees to it that his child goes to school. He may turn him over to a swimming instructor to teach him how to swim; he may take him to a soccer coach to teach him to play that sport. Someone else may teach him the art of photography or the techniques of skiing, but the father is responsible for the overall development of the child.
In your training of the new believer, you should focus on the “how to of things. The answers to “why?” will come later, but at first the new Christian needs to learn how. Paul told the Thessalonians, Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more (1 Thess. 4:1).
The growing believer needs to learn how to have a time of morning prayer and Bible reading, how to memorize the Word of God, how to do Bible study, how to share the gospel in a simple and clear manner. These things will take time, but it is your responsibility to teach them to him.
All of this presupposes that you are doing these things yourself. When Waldron Scott started me on Scripture memory, he told me, “Here’s something that has been a great help to me.” And he gave me a small packet of verses, the Beginning with Christ pack.
What if he had said, “Here’s something that will probably be of some help to you. Personally, I have never done it myself’? How would that have impressed me? Not too well.
Being an example is one of the best ways to teach another person. Paul stated, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you ” (Phil. 4:9).
Don Rosenberger was an admiral’s writer at Pearl Harbor during World War II. Kenny Watters was a Christian who worked in his same office with Don. After Kenny had led Don to Christ, Don noticed that Kenny came to the office a half hour early, took his Bible out of his desk, and read it before beginning his day s work.
Don assumed that this was what Christians did, so he started coming in half an hour early and reading his Bible. Then Don noticed that after work Kenny would go out on a hillside, lie down, and pray. So Don began going to the other side of the hill, lying down, and praying as well.
One evening Kenny took him into the mess hall and showed him some charts on the wall. (The chaplain had allowed Kenny to use the mess hall for this purpose. ) There were men’s names on these charts with X’s and numbers on the lines between the names.
Kenny explained that these represented the progress each Christian sailor had made in his Bible study and Scripture memory. He then asked if Don wanted his name on the wall with the others.
You bet!” Don replied.
When Don saw what these other men were doing, he wanted to do it too. He was motivated by their example and what they were doing, for he knew that these things could be done by others as well. They showed him how to get started, and he was off and running to become the Christian leader he later became.
The Prime Qualities of Growth
If you are to help the new believer grow, you must help him develop two prime qualities in his life. They are a deep desire for fellowship with Jesus Christ and consistency.
Fellowship with Christ. The great hallmark of men and women of God through the ages has been their close walk and intimacy with Jesus Christ. Centuries before Christ, Job declared, “I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12). You must help build that kind of an attitude into the new Christian s Life, so pray that he will long for the Word of God and enjoy it.
You begin by praying for him through verses of Scripture, that their truths might be built into his life. For example: Monday: “O how I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day” (Ps. 119:97). Pray, “0 Lord, may he love Your law and meditate in it daily.
Tuesday: Thy testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul observes them(Ps. 119: 129). Pray, Lord, may he consider Your Word wonderful and obey it fully.
Wednesday: I opened my mouth wide and panted, for I longed for Thy commandments” (Ps. 119:131). Pray, “May he have this kind of a desire for Your Word.”
Thursday: Thy Word is very pure, therefore Thy servant loves it” (Ps. 119:140). Pray, “Lord, may he have a great love for Your Word. ”
Friday: My eyes anticipate the night watches, that I may meditate on Thy Word” (Ps. 119:148). Pray, “May he look forward to nighttime so that he can meditate on Your Word as he goes to sleep.
Saturday: I rejoice at Thy Word, as one who finds great spoil” (Ps. 119:162). Pray, “O Lord, help him rejoice in Your Word constantly.
You can help him develop this desire for fellowship with Jesus Christ in four ways.
1. Tell him why you yourself have fellowship with Christ daily. Don’t major on it as though you have already arrived, but basically tell him why you have it, the benefits you have found from this time for your own life, why it has become important to you, and why you have made it a practice to have regular morning Bible reading and prayer. This sharing will take it out of the theoretical realm and put it into the practical. The new Christian will be able to identify with you in these things and see the need for them in his own life.
2. Share some blessings you have gotten from your own time with the Lord. As you meet with the new Christian, share with him some precious truth God has given you from the Word.
Share a tasty little morsel that the Lord gave you and pray that his own appetite will be whetted. Share answers to prayer and verses from the Bible that have been a blessing to you.
3. Get him into fellowship with others who are spending daily time with the Lord. Let him meet people who also have a regularity in their fellowship with the Lord. Often a person can be greatly motivated in a group situation when he sees other people who are living the life of discipleship.
I remember the first Navigator rally I attended with Waldron Scott at the Hotel Radisson in Minneapolis. As I walked into the room where the meeting was being held, I was warmly greeted by one of the men on the discipleship team. He took my coat, shook my hand, and pointed me to an usher who took me to a seat.
The meeting began with some lively singing. But there was a difference from the usual song service. If we would sing a song that spoke of the grace of God, the song leader would ask, “Who can quote some verses on the grace of God?” Immediately men and women would be on their feet quoting verses of Scripture, giving references before and after the quotation. The process was repeated for songs on love or God’s faithfulness or Christ at Calvary.
I was amazed. I thought, The room is full of minor prophets! But then I took a closer look and found most of the people to be college students and working people-folks who were just like me. The speaker then shared with us the need to feed on God’s Word and pray. It was a stimulating evening, and God used it to create in me a great desire for fellowship with Himself.
4. Pray for him. The importance of intercessory prayer cannot be overemphasized. The apostle Paul wrote:
For this reason , since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God (Col. 1:9-10).
Waldron Scott had met regularly with me my first two years as a Christian. After I left Minnesota for Seattle to attend the University of Washington, he sent me an old prayer page out of his notebook. (A prayer page is a sheet of paper on which you record specific requests that you have and the answers God sends in answer to the prayers.) For two years my name had been at the top of his daily prayer list.
J.O. Fraser was a missionary in Southwest China, ministering to tribal people living in that very mountainous region. After some years on the field, he noticed a strange thing. The churches which were miles away from the city in which he was living seemed to do better than the church in his own town. He would visit the distant churches occasionally and discovered that they were healthy, active, dedicated, and growing, much more so than the church in which he ministered regularly. Why was that so? Finally the Lord showed him. He found out that he prayed far more diligently for people who were miles away than for those with whom he fellowshipped regularly.
From this discovery he concluded that there were four basic elements in developing disciples and churches : prayer, prayer, prayer, and the Word of God. In thinking through on this, it seems that the thing which does the most good we do least of. It is much easier to talk to men about God than to talk to God about men. Listen to the testimony of Samuel.
“Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you; but I will instruct you in the good and right way. Only fear the Lord and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for considerwhat great things He has done for you (1 Sam. 12:23-24).
Consistency. The second prime quality to develop in the life of a new believer is consistency or faithfulness. You must help him see the need for daily communion with God, daily feeding on the Word. Physically, most of us eat three meals a day. We need a daily intake of protein, fat, and carbohydrates to keep us healthy. We need certain vitamins and minerals too.
So it is spiritually. Since we have been made partakers of the divine nature (see 2 Peter 1:4), that spiritual dimension of our lives now needs regular spiritual nourishment.
But faithfulness cannot be forced. I have tried to force it and failed. In the 1950’s I was asked to develop a summer training program for some high school and college students.
During the course, my associates and I kept them on a daily schedule of tough spiritual discipline. We demanded they have a quiet time. We required them to memorize a certain number of Bible verses each day. We forced them to do a daily Bible study.
We jammed it down their throats. It was mind over matter; we didn’t mind and they didn’t matter. The whole thing had the air of a Marine Corps boot camp.
After the program was over, many of the young people left the camp disillusioned with these things. We had not yet learned that faithfulness and consistency are the result of the promptings of the Holy Spirit within, not human efforts from outside.
We can help develop this faithfulness three ways, ways in which we open the lives of our new Christians to the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
1. Give him small, bite-sized assignments in the Word that you know will be a blessing to him. Many have found the pamphlet Seven Minutes with God and the Devotional Diary booklet to be one of great help (see Appendix 1). The latter provides a daily Bible reading and space to record the blessings and wonderful things God reveals to his heart.
2. Have a quiet time with him. Call him on the phone and suggest you get together for a brief time of Bible reading and prayer before he and you have to leave for work. Go to his home, have a cup of coffee with him, and spend a little time with the Lord together. Since these things are more easily caught than taught, he will learn from you as he experiences it with you.
In a few days call him and see if he would like to do it again. Then after you think he has caught on to the idea, suggest that you both do it on your own and then meet for lunch to share with one another what you did, how it went, and exchange some blessings that each of you received from your respective times with the Lord.
3. Check up on him and encourage him periodically. This is very important, but the emphasis is on encouragement. During my first year of campus ministry at the University of Pittsburgh, a number of men came to Christ. Whenever I would meet them in the halls of the dorms, I would stop them and check up on them in their Bible study, Scripture memory, and Christian growth.
I soon became known as “Old Mr. Check-up.” If they were lagging a bit, they would avoid me. I soon learned it was hard to help a person grow in Christ if he was avoiding me. So I changed and became known as Mr. Encouragement. ” The more I encouraged, the more things changed. The new converts grew and we had great fellowship together. They became faithful in their walk with the Lord.
Specifically, what are some of the ingredients that will help a new convert become a dedicated, mature, fruitful disciple of Jesus Christ? And how can we help him get these into his life? In the next chapter we will discuss some of these training objectives, together with some practical activities, tools, and Scripture passages you can use in your discipleship training.