Note: This is the back story to our basic discipleship class, Life is a Journey, and why we started with a discussion of conversion.
When I decided to create our own new believers curriculum, the first step was to marshall what forces I could from the congregation. I looked for men and women who had a proven track record of mentoring new followers of Christ, as well as those who had a clear understanding of the end goal. I wanted people who had a heart for evangelism and discipleship, justification and sanctification.
I learned two things very quickly. 1. There are not many of them. 2. The few are easy to find. These are the people who are already doing the work, who are looking for people to serve. We used to joke that one of the ladies had a “bathroom ministry.” She watched the congregation very carefully during the service, and if a woman got up and left crying, there was a good chance one of two things were happening. 1. She were hurting. 2. She was being convicted by the Holy Spirit and needed a Phillip to guide her. This lady was God’s agent of leading many women through an awareness of their sin to God’s gracious forgiveness and Jesus’ provision of access to the Father.
When this group met, we started listing all the topics that we thought were essential for a new believer to understand. We thought through the challenges he or she would have, and what would help them learn and grow. We did not decide there would be a “Top Twelve,” but it soon became clear that’s how many topics there needed to be.
What I did not expect was that the first topic the group said I needed to cover was conversion. I thought, “The person just became a Christian. Why talk about conversion?” But the group wisely pointed out many people go through what they believe is a conversion experience when in fact they didn’t.
I am reminded of one of our dearest friends who served in a well-known Bible Study program for many years, and after seven years realized that she in fact wasn’t a Christian, that her understanding had been deficient, and she was nothing more than an apparently good, moral person. When she finally did hear a clear proclamation of the gospel, she responded.
I have been in many churches where I have heard an altar call, and some of the times was surprised. The pastor had not been discussing our separation from God, our inability to earn access to the Father, the role of Christ on the cross and the gift of faith, or of counting the cost. The pastor’s call was to “trust Jesus,” and I have seen people respond. But what are they responding to?
Of course, I have no idea what they are responding to. It could be a very true, deeply felt, spiritual conversion, and for that I rejoice. But there are times I wonder if the person responded to something short of the gospel and now lives out his or her life with the false assumption that they are heaven bound.
So I learned in our very first meeting to respect this group and to value their opinion. Before we can enter into the life of a new believer, we need to be sure, as do they, that they in fact have entered through the gate. In Pilgrims Progress, Christian meets a man who travels as if he is headed toward the Celestial City but in fact never received a certificate (Bunyan’s term for conversion). In the last page of the book, he is turned away at the city’s gate and dragged to hell by two demons.
Let’s be sure that there are not any false assumptions as we work with new believers. Let’s be sure that they in fact are believers. And so we will turn to the whole presentation of the gospel in my next post.
So, what do you think? Is this the right place to start? Is there even something more basic?