What would you do if you found a newborn baby that had been left at your doorstep? Hopefully your answer sounds similar to “I’d take care of him or her.” What if it wasn’t a baby? What if it was a helpless young child or a teenager, or an adult, who turned up at your doorstep requesting your assistance? I hope that each of us would also be prepared to help whoever it was. What if it was not an abandoned child, youth, or adult? And what if it was not your front door? Instead, how might we each respond if it was a spiritually abandoned and spiritually needy person who turned up at your church seeking the ultimate help: how to be saved? While you might feel a similar compassion as you might have felt for the abandoned child at your doorstep, you may not be as confident in how you would spiritually help this person seeking a connection with God through Jesus Christ. “Where would I begin?” “How could I be an effective discipler of a new believer?” you might ask. Well, I’m glad you have asked. For any Christian to effectively disciple a new believer it must involve an individual, a small group, and a congregation.
By this My Father is glorified,
that you bear much fruit and
so prove to be My disciples.
WAYS OF DISCIPLING A NEW BELIEVER
I. Discipling by an individual
Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk,
that by it you may grow up into salvation—
First Peter 2:2
Every believer is called to disciple and is empowered by the Holy Spirit to do so. Our feelings of inadequacy are often the result of our underestimating just how much God has done in us and how much we have spiritually grown as a result. Compared with a newborn believer who desperately needs spiritual nourishment and care, who knows next to nothing about God and HIs Word, you are a veritable source of perpetual spiritual sustenance.
In fact, if you have already been associating with pre-Christians, you may have already been discipling unawares. This is because discipling a new believer often commences not when he or she gives his or her life to Christ but when you become his or her friend! In this way, a person can be discipled to Christ. This might involve a period of time when the pre-believer has watched how you handle life’s difficulties. It might also have included discussions you have had together about the bible or God. Your friend may have also had questions about why you think Jesus is the only way to God and the only way to be forgiven of our sins. Your friend may have accepted your invitation to attend your church, or a Christian meeting, and, despite outward appearances, left that meeting with ‘a spiritual stone in their shoe’. Then the day may have come when the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in their formally dead soul becomes obvious. It seems to be demonstrably true that by far most people who become Christians do so because of a personal invitation from a friend.
A trusted friend can lead a new believer to Christ and lay a foundation in their soul of understanding that salvation is by faith in Christ as an act of God’s grace (Eph. 2:8-9). This does not require a textbook or a special workbook or even formal bible study notes. Much of my discipling of spiritual newborns has taken place in a café and on the back of a paper napkin where I have doodled an explanation of the gospel. Meeting for a coffee or a light meal is where the newborn can be shown that salvation is not just a moment, a decision, or an event—salvation also brings a new identity, a new attitude, a new lifestyle. This new life comes with a new “life map” called the bible. By simply reading through one of the Gospel stories together each week and then asking two key questions after a minute or two, the newborn believer is being discipled. As they begin to understand their new life that can be shown that it is confirmed and represented by water baptism which pictures the believer’s old life being buried in the waters of baptism and their new life in Christ being represented by coming up and out of the waters (Rom. 6:1-4).
We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that,
just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father,
we too might walk in newness of life.
II. Discipling by a small group
Every disciple is called to be a part of Christ’s body of believers. When each of our children were born, Kim and I were both there to greet them. As our little family grew each of our subsequent children were soon introduced to their siblings, then their grandparents, then their aunts and uncles. So it is spiritually. The initial discipleship of a newborn believer is most naturally commenced one-on-one. But as soon as possible the new believer must become acquainted with their brothers and sisters in Christ in a regular small group meeting.
¶ For just as the body is one and has many members,
and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.
¶ Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
First Corinthians 12:12, 27
It is within the regular small group meetings, the microcosm of the new believer’s larger church family, that they learn to participate by sharing and praying with others, being prayed for, observing how to study God’s Word, asking questions, being corrected, witnessing how to repent, and increasingly how to know God.
As a member of a small group, even if you are not the small group leader, you are still contributing to the discipleship journey of a new believer in how you model your walk with Christ and your brothers and sisters in Christ.
III. Discipling by a congregation
Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly,
teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom,
singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,
with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Every member of a small group of disciples is called to be a part of Christ’s larger body of believers – the church congregation. Disciples of Christ must be tamed and taught to live within a community of believers. Sin separates people but Christ brings people together. Our carnal natures crave being the centre of attention placing ourselves in the middle of our little world. But our new nature longs to connect with brothers and sisters in Christ where we each together make Christ the centre of our now enormous world! We do this by: meeting together and giving heed to the preached Word of God; singing our worship of God together with “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”; offering up prayers of thankfulness to God; and regularly celebrating the ordinances of Christ, especially the Lord’s Supper. As the church congregation assembles it also enters into a time of larger fellowship where teaching and admonishing take place – often in a very indirect way.
If I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.
First Timothy 3:15
It is in the larger congregational worship and teaching assembly that a new believer is indirectly discipled by the example of other believers. This is why when you gather (or do not gather) together with your church family on the Lord’s Day you are teaching a new believer a very profound lesson about the importance of obeying Christ’s command not to neglect to gather together (Heb. 10:25). New believers notice when and how you worship God, how you listen to the preached Word, and how you pray in public. In my early years as a Christian teen I noticed that before the service had started, an elderly gentleman in our church would always stop and bow his head in prayer whenever someone in the church building began to pray. He would then wait for them to finish praying before he would continue on his way. No one taught me to do this. But I was deeply impacted by this unspoken and indirect example of this mature disciple of Christ. It has remained my practice to this day.
CAN YOU HELP?
Over the past few weeks we have actually had spiritual newborn babies “dropped off at our church’s doorstep” so-to-speak. I need people who can be spiritual parents/brothers/sisters to these newborn believers. Ask any parent and they will tell you that being a carer takes time and patience. Newborns can be messy. Newborns can make mistakes. Newborns can seem to be slow to learn. But remember, you were a newborn once. Each of us can play a role in discipling a newborn believer. You already know more than enough to start. For some you, your newborn disciple will be your own children or grandchildren. For others it will be your friends or even your new friend. To disciple someone one-on-one all you need is time together and paper napkin (the café and coffee are just bonuses). To disciple someone in a small-group all you need to do is to invite them along and let them observe what intimate fellowship with other believers looks like. To disciple someone within a congregation all you need to do is: sincerely worship God; attentively heed the preaching of God’s Word; engage in fellowship after the service (hopefully by introducing your invited friend to others – or by introducing yourself to the invited friends of others); and, serve wherever and however you can.
As we approach the Tasmania Celebration with Will Graham weekend at the end of May we expect that we will have even more newborn believers to disciple. This is why we are going to have a church dinner on the Sunday after the Celebration (on June 5th) and then follow it up for the next three Sundays with Christianity Unpacked which will be a supper, a testimony, a brief presentation, and a time of discussion around tables. All this is designed to connect newborn believers with a one-on-one discipleship opportunity, an invitation to join a small group, and an introduction to the larger congregational meeting. This is how we will disciple a new believer and what we would do if the Lord left a newborn spiritual baby at our church’s doorstep. Will you join me?
Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.
The Most Inspirational Women Of The Bible Part 4: Esther, Premium Audio
Dr. Mark Durie – Morning Service Interview, Premium Audio$1.95
The Last Week – Part 4 – The Mission Overturning Tables, Premium Audio
Apologetics Part 4 – The Apologetic Arguments For Christianity, Premium Audio