FIRST-PERSON: Care for new believers
EDITOR'S NOTE: Mark Snowden is the Missouri Baptist Convention's evangelism/discipleship strategist.
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP) -- When I accepted Jesus as my Savior as a 7-year-old boy, I walked the aisle at the end of a revival service. Someone filled out a card with my name and address and then the pastor presented me to the church. I was voted in as a member right on the spot pending my baptism.
Churches today are taking a closer look at how they receive decisions. Individuals who may still have a lifestyle contrary to biblical teaching are being received under a form of "watch care." They don't have voting rights and cannot hold office, serve on committees or be approved as a Bible study teacher. In some churches, implementation of watch care may require a change to bylaws and constitutions.
Church members who serve as decision counselors are on the frontlines of these special moments and of follow-up. Good preparation is crucial. Prayer for revival and spiritual awakening saturate everything that counselors do on behalf of the church. They must know how to lead someone to faith in Christ and use their own testimony when appropriate to do so.
It is important to be sensitive and security-minded to those who come forward. "Why have you come today?" is still the best question to use to greet people making spiritual decisions with eternal consequences. Yet, a child may have come on a dare. A college student may be looking for a place to meet a godly spouse. A man may want help paying his heating bill. An older adult may want to be in a church where their children belong.
Listening is the key. My wife was a decision counselor in a church when we lived in another state. A woman came forward and the pastor nodded to Mary Leigh to accompany her to a counseling room. The married woman was crying and upset. She soon confessed to having an affair but wanted to repent. My wife had been coached to listen carefully and to arrange a meeting with one of the church staff.
Children and students should not be escorted by a man alone into a private counseling room. All a minor has to say is "he touched me" and, well, it's over. Despite having a godly reputation, it will be instantly ruined. Counseling with parents or with a decision team partner present is always advised. A front pew can work in a pinch.
When serving with the International Mission Board, I was angered to hear when pseudo-Christian cult groups learned of an evangelistic blitz and waited like the proverbial lion. After the followers of Jesus led hundreds to Christ, the cult groups pounced on the new believers. They had small group leaders ready to invite them into their homes and begin indoctrination. When the true Christians arrived to begin follow-up, most of the "converts" had slipped into a false faith. Because of stories like this, some Christian groups have avoided evangelism until follow-up is in place.
Most churches consider the first 48 hours as the most critical time in the life of the new believer. The sooner the better, having someone meet them to begin their spiritual development is key.
After the decision is made, and made public, new believers must be intentionally discipled. They may be carrying baggage from another religious background. New believers need training in five areas: abiding with Jesus in prayer and worship; obedience beginning with baptism by immersion and stewardship; studying the Bible; loving others as part of active church life in and beyond the church; and telling others about Jesus as He commanded in the Great Commission. Conduct a review of your church's follow-up tools to ensure effective follow-up.
A "Personal Commitment Guide" from the North American Mission Board's evangelism team is available free to help with follow-up at NAMBstore.com. In it, you'll see training for salvation, baptism, assurance of salvation, rededication, church membership, discipleship and Christian ministry.
We keep praying for the Lord to send workers into His harvest field (Luke 10:2). What if the new believers are the answer to our prayer? Will you be ready?
Decision counselors must have that immediate relationship that enables follow-up. Invite new believers' parents, spouses and friends join in, too. When you reinforce the decision and the Gospel message, they also may become followers of Christ.