Several years ago a resident at one of the apartment complexes in Montgomery, Alabama went to the dumpster to empty her morning coffee grounds and when she did, she thought she heard a baby whimper. She strained to look over the side of the dumpster and much to her horror, she saw that she had dumped her coffee grounds in the face of a newborn baby. The mother had given birth somewhere else, brought the baby to the complex, and thrown it in the dumpster. Before you panic, the baby is now a healthy young girl in the home of a loving adoptive mother and father, loved and nourished and probably not even aware of her horrific birth story.
Are we stirring the baptismal waters and then throwing the new babes to the mercy of the world? As the parable of the soil and seed teaches (Luke 8), we can’t control the hearts (soil) of converts but we must love and nourish them (the little plants) and give them the best chance of survival. Even with the best of everything, only about one out of four will become mature Christians and effective leaders in the Lord’s church.
When Jesus gave the Apostles the Great Commission, He made the after baptism education equally as important as the before baptism teaching. While wondering why those converted on the Day of Pentecost remained in Jerusalem, could it be partly because they were being nursed on the milk until such time as they could be weaned? When they were persecuted and forced to scatter they could survive on their own. A wonderful serendipity seemed to be that they went everywhere preaching the word (Acts 8:4; Heb. 5:12).
I do not believe there is one exact way to teach new converts, but they must immediately learn the fundamentals of the faith in order to survive. These basic doctrines must be repeated over and over again. The three rules of learning are (don’t miss this): Repetition! Repetition! Repetition! They should hear it at home if they are from a Christian home. They must hear it in the Bible classes. They must hear it from the pulpit. They must hear it in conversations with their Christian friends. But let’s face it – none of this will take the place of a loving elder or mature Christian man or woman, sitting down with them in their home and teaching them to read the Scriptures for themselves and learning how to find answers as to how to live the Christian life. How long this spoon fed nourishment lasts depends on the needs of the convert.
I love David Pharr’s book, The Beginning of Our Confidence. It’s never too far from my sight. But to give it to a babe who can’t hold his or her Bible yet is not nearly as effective as a loving Christian brother or sister discussing David’s book with them face to face once or twice a week.
Brother Stewart Schnur uses Christian Development, published by Sunset International Bible Institute, which is a 52-lesson fundamentals of the faith based material. That, too, is most effective under a Christian tutor. I am sure there are many other good faith development programs available.
Warning! This one-on-one relationship of which I am writing has one objective: to make the new convert strong and independent. If you as a mentor make them dependent on you and you control them, you have the wrong motive. Control freaks have no place teaching new converts. Paul did not encourage Timothy to teach men so he could control them, but so they could teach others (2 Tim. 2:2).
Church leaders need to spot this kind of unhealthy relationship and break the pattern as soon as possible. No “prayer partners,” please!
There are some things that happen to young Christians that are tragic and could be fatal if they are not guided through them with gentle hands: the ugly dismissal of the preacher, withdrawal from an errant member, a church fuss or split. They will even encounter those who have been in the church for years and who are still juveniles in Christ. These weak brethren should not be allowed to harm new Christians with their frivolous behavior such as childish public complaints and argumentative spirits.
Church leaders should curtail silly arguments over Christmas trees, bearing arms, voting, etc., and of course, matters of opinion. When the new convert is exposed to such distasteful, immature antics before they are ready to digest them, they can be led through them with little or no damage by good elders or mature mentors.
There is definitely a biblical and common sense rule that dictates what each new convert needs. Some have come from mature Christian homes and are way ahead of the game. Others have been converted from denominationalism and must “unlearn” many bad habits and especially the language of their past religion. This requires patience.
Unfortunately, our brethren are not always patient with the ones who use the “language of Ashdod” such as “pastor,” “reverend,” and call denominational people “brothers,” etc. We treat them like a piñata and take a blind swing at them without taking into consideration their spiritual age. This is where a good, caring tutor can rescue them from well-meaning but insensitive brethren. One brother said to my wife when her father died, “Well, we know where our daddies are. They both split Hell wide open.”
New Christians need an abbreviated introduction to the Restoration Plea. When the first century doctrines are compared to the dogmas of the Catholic and Reformed faith groups, the new convert’s faith formation is well on its way. If they internalize such slogans as “No Creed But Christ” and “No Book But The Bible,” they will be hard to lead astray. New converts need to learn who the apostles were and what it means to follow such examples of the early church in Acts 2:42 and Acts 20:7. Add the slogans “Speak Where The Bible Speaks, Be Silent Where The Bible Is Silent,” and “Call Bible Things By Bible Names.”
Have the new convert learn how the Bible teaches:
- By statement of fact (Gen. 1:1; John 1:1-2)
- By command (Acts 2:38; 10:48; 1 Cor. 14:37; Matt. 26:26-29)
- By approved example (Acts 20:7)
- By necessary inference (Acts 8:35-36 – it is inferred that preaching Jesus included preaching baptism.)
Have them learn the rules of specific and generic commands. When a command is specific, it cannot be changed or substituted for in any way, shape, or form. If it is generic, one can accomplish the command by whatever means are available to him or her, such as Noah selecting the tools to build the ark even though the dimensions could not be altered.
The new convert must have a healthy abiding love for Christ and an equally abiding love for His word. The initial teaching emphasizes the belief in Christ that leads to baptism. The same care must be given to the teaching that matures the convert into a full-grown Christian (Eph. 4:11-14). Please, brethren. Let’s not “duck ’em and turn ’em loose.”