by Larry M
|Pic. by P V Ariel, (A mobile upload)|
There is so much potential in a new believer. But how can this potential be set in motion? The Apostle Paul dealt with new converts in several ways. These can be utilized with today's new Christians as well.
What a meeting! It seemed as though God had kissed the services each night with His blessing. In one week of evangelistic meetings, approximately 30 people came to know the Lord. The comments of the people tell the story: "It's the best meeting we've ever had." '''My neighbor was saved." "Our family will never be the same." "Every night decisions were made."
But now turn the calendar ahead 12 pages and look through the window of the church. There are very few of the 30 in attendance. In fact, if one visited during prayer meeting, he might hear something like this, "Dear God, I pray for Joe. He made a decision a year ago. But he is not walking with You now ... "
What's the problem? Some would say that the problem is the evangelism. (They may be right, but that is another article!) Others would say the problem is the follow-up. They, too, may be right. Sometimes those who are diligent in fishing are deficient in follow-up. Even the subject seems to frustrate them. How does one do it? Does he use a believer or a booklet? When and where does he start? How fast does he go? What does he teach, and how does he teach it? Oh, if only Paul were here so believers could watch him! But he obviously; isn't! Yet his teaching and testimony give insights on how he dealt with new converts.
He Was Personal
Paul's method of nurturing new believers was to have a personal relationship with them. He compares his relationship to them with that of a nurse who cherishes her children (see I Thess. 2:7) and that of a father caring for his children (v. 11). He speaks of how he poured himself into his converts (v. 8). In other words, to Paul, helping new believers was not so much inducting a person into a class as it was inducting himself into a person. In his mind, they were not merely children of God-they were his children. This relationship afforded him an atmosphere in which he could deal with them in their varying backgrounds and needs. Starting where -each new convert was, he could take them to where they needed to be. .
Follow-up cannot be done merely on a classroom level. That is not to say that certain classes for new converts are not appropriate. But personal concern has to be expressed toward each new convert. Someone filling the role of his spiritual parent needs to disciple him. Studies prove that it is difficult for one to properly mature on the human level without a warm relationship with another in his family. In a similar vein, it's difficult for one to mature spiritually without a similar relationship.' Effective nurturing of new believers revolves around a personal relationship with the new convert.
He Was Maturity-Directed
Paul's goal for each new believer was that they might come to maturity in Jesus Christ. He says in Colossians 1 :28, "That we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus." In Ephesians 4:13, Paul even says this is one reason why God gives gifted men to the Body-for the perfecting of the saints. Only when the individual was mature in Christ could Paul feel that his labors and the labors of others had been completed. It's for this reason that he seemed keenly aware that although evangelism might entail a few moments, helping them grow could entail a lifetime of work. And since one person doesn't possess all the spiritual gifts which are needed to bring another to maturity, follow-up was very definitely not a one-man job. In the Book of the Acts and in the canonical literature ascribed to Paul, the names of more than 36 people closely associated with Paul are given. Many of these associates served with him in confirming new believers in their faith.
Dear God, I pray for Joe. He made a decision a year ago. Bat he is not walking with You now.
Many times a new believer suffers because one of two things is true. Either he has no goal placed in front of him, or he has misunderstood what his goal should be. That is, no one ever told him that salvation is the beginning point of his life with Christ-not the finish line. God has much more in store for him. Others are presented with a few "assignments" or "lessons" to complete. They mistakenly think that their goal is to get through the lessons. So they get through the lessons and then they stop! Instead, they need to be told that their goal is to go from babyhood to maturity. Assignments, lessons, Bible studies, and so forth, may be the means, but they're not the goal. The goal must be maturity in Christ. That involves a lifetime of growing!
He Used a Variety of Means
In Paul's ministry, nurturing new believers was not merely teaching a person biblical facts. That had its place. But his approach employed much more variety .. His different means can be seen from a study of three words he used in I Thessalonians 2:ll. There he says, "As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged everyone of you."
The word parakalountes, translated "exhorted," comes from the Greek root parakaleo meaning "to appeal to," "to urge" or "to exhort." It has the sense of urging someone to pursue a particular course of conduct. The person must be shown the proper path, and then stimulated to lay hold of it. First Thessalonians 4:1,2 is a prime illustration of Paul's doing this with the people of Thessalonica: "Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more. For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus."
The new life to which the believer has been introduced calls for adjustments and changes. There are some things God will want to take out of his life which should not be there. There are other things God will want to put into his life which should be there. But as an individual once appropriately said, "One of the most important things in the Christian life is not where we are, but the direction in which we are headed." In each area of his life, the new believer must be shown the path that God desires for him to walk, and then be stimulated to walk that path. He must be "exhorted."
The second word, paramuthoumenoi, translated "comforted," comes from the Greek word paraamutheomai, meaning "to cheer up" or "to encourage." It represents the need to cheer the new believer on in the midst of difficulties and problems. Paul practiced what he preached when he reminded them: "[We] sent Timotheus, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith, that no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto" (I Thess. 3:2,3).
As every Christian does, the new believer has disappointments and discouragements. He' has times when living the Christian life becomes extremely difficult. He may even question the worth of’ his new life. Someone with whom he has a real relationship must be there to encourage him and cheer him on during those moments. Otherwise, he will do well on calm waters but sink when the turbulence hits. He must be "encouraged."
The third word, marturoumenoi, translated "charged," comes from the Greek root martureo, meaning "to bear witness" or "to confirm or testify." It means to share from one's own experience in such a way that the new believer will be stimulated in his own life. Paul testifies to the Thessalonians when he says in I Thessalonians 3:12, "And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you."
The new believer must be assured that others have stood and often do stand in his shoes. If they can weather the trials and problems of Christian living, so can he. If they are increasing and growing in one area or another, he can be also. This obviously means, though, that one who is not growing in his own relationship with Christ is going to have great difficulty helping a new convert. The new believer needs someone else who is a growing Christian to "charge" him.
Hence, the variety of means Paul used in nurturing new believers included urging them to pursue a particular course of conduct, cheering them on in the midst of difficulties and problems, and sharing from one's experience.
In summary, the Christian's work with new believers, if he is going to follow Paul's example, must be personal and maturity-directed, and must employ a variety of means. One's frustration might be, "This type of thoroughness requires a large amount of time and work." Right! One needs only to study a chronology of Paul's ministry to discover how much time it took. Then he can turn to Colossians 1:29 where Paul speaks of the work involved. He basically said, "It's to this end that I toil and agonize." Follow-up involves endless time and work. But the dividends are worth it in terms of changed lives.
Once a mountaineer died when he was attempting the highest ascent of his career, When his loved ones took his body and placed it in the grave, the noblest words they could think to carve on his tombstone were the words "He died-still climbing." If believers are willing to spend the time and energy that Paul did with new converts, there will be people on whose tombstones could be carved the words "He died-still growing." That is, there will be people of whom it can be said, "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?" (I Thess. 2:19).END