This is part II in a series on supporting and equipping new believers, and strengthening the church family. For part I—which makes the case for the inadequacy of the “salvation prayer,” and for our need to be more intentional with new believers—click here.
In part I of this series, I argued how the way many well-meaning churches across the country promote salvation (i.e. “just say this quick prayer and receive salvation, no life-change required!”) is contributing to a hypocritical Christian culture that—generally speaking—is indiscernible from the rest of the world who are living apart from Christ. Basically, “when we reduce the life-changing power of the gospel to “saying the prayer of salvation,” and don’t shepherd/guide new believers, we end up with millions of “Christians” like me, who for years would have said I was a Christian, but wasn’t noticeably different from my non-Christian peers, bearing out none of the fruits of the spirit.”
Though there are many reasons why people are reluctant to turn from sin and embrace a lifestyle of righteous obedience to our Creator (insofar as we can strive for a lifestyle of righteous obedience), from the get-go, I see two main hurdles, which I’ll expand on below:
- New believers don’t understand what they’re being saved from, or called to.
- Those who do grasp their need for salvation aren’t supported during what is often a confusing and isolating time of transition.
They Don’t “Get It”/They’re Not Ready
The fact is many people (younger-me included) are simply not ready to turn from their sin and choose obedience instead. If we don’t view sin as God does, we can’t accept salvation in the first place. Scripture is clear: sin separates us from God, and our sin is why we need the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, his son. If we are not ready to turn over our sin and live a life of obedience fueled by gratitude, then we don’t truly understand why we need salvation. Our “prayer of salvation” rings hollow. It’s a false allegiance. And it’s the primary reason why “evangelicals” aren’t discernible from the rest of the world. A “new life in Christ” can’t truly begin until we acknowledge our sin, and willingly offer it over (AKA “repentance”).
Had the reality of life-change been presented to me in my seeking process, I don’t think I would have had so many false-starts (i.e. times I said the “salvation prayer,” yet remain unchanged). I don’t mean this to discourage anyone who is in the seeking process. Not everyone is ready to acknowledge their sin and turn from it, and that’s okay. Lord willing, we’ll all get there in His timing. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict hearts of their sin, not ours (our job is to love and demonstrate love), but when we rush the process, churning out hollow believers—people who have “said the prayer” but aren’t truly repentant—we disfigure the image of our Savior as a church family. It’s not worth it.
If we trust the Father and his timing, we have assurance that we don’t need to rush the process. If He is calling a new brother or sister to Himself, it’s only a matter of time. (Think of fruit, ripening on the tree. Hold your horses, and wait patiently, expectantly for it to ripen.) In the meantime, as soon-to-be brothers and sisters, we can love and encourage those seekers along in their journey. (Back to the fruit tree: maybe we fertilize, water, and protect that tree. But what power do we have to hurry its ripening?)
Celebrating, Supporting and Equipping New Brothers and Sisters
Once a seeker is ready to turn from their sin and truly receive the offer of salvation, how do we equip them for their new life in Christ? How do we support these young believers in their most tender time of growth and transition? Conversion can be a confusing and isolating experience (especially for those who come to faith later in age, or people whose family are not also believers). What are we doing as “older” brothers and sisters to welcome them to our family? “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10)—how do we celebrate their adoption? Have we prepared for them a seat at the table?
Welcome To The Office
We could take a clue from the world of corporate human resources, and the practice of “onboarding” new employees. Businesses and non-profits around the world have standards and practices for new employee onboarding, as the benefits are undeniable:
- Engages new team members from day one, and integrates them into the culture
- Builds trust, alignment and relationships immediately
- Cultivates a connection between new team members and their coworkers
- Encourages open, honest and transparent communication
- Decreases turnover, encourages greater committment to the organization
- Facilitates compliance with company policies and procedures
When the benefits of this type of structure have been proven to be effective at all types of organizations, what’s preventing us from applying the same care and attention within our churches?
If through providing this kind of loving attention, we could improve the spiritual health of our congregations, and our family as a whole, isn’t it worth it?
Welcome To The Family
So what would a more formalized onboarding look like for a seeker, or someone who might be ready to commit their life to Christ? I have a few ideas, but I’m sure you all have way more (and many of you probably attend churches who do some form of these things already).
- Mentorship. This could easily be a friendly partnership between the new believer and whoever it was who invited them to church/introduced them to the gospel.
- “Gospel Basics.” Through reading passages of the Old and New Testaments, lay out the case for our need for Christ, God’s provision of Jesus, and the changed life we live in response.
- “Prayer Basics.” Through selected scripture, highlight why we pray, how we pray, and the crucial importance of regular (constant) prayer.
- Integration within the congregation. Joining a “small group” (whatever your church calls them), connecting with brothers and sisters in similar and more advanced stages of life. Also, finding a place to serve within the church.
- Providing a clear path to baptism. Where the “salvation prayer” isn’t biblically prescribed, the scripture does call us to be baptized. You might be surprised how many long-time believers have not celebrated their commitment to Christ with baptism!
Like I said, I know I’m not inventing the wheel here, but you get the idea. No doubt these paths exist in some form already at your church, but how intentional is your congregation about encouraging new believers through these processes early and often? And how active are “older” brothers and sisters in the ongoing celebration of new members to the family? It happens naturally that families who have attended the same church for many years tend to group together, creating the perception of exclusion to new attendees, and preventing their influence and experience from benefiting new brothers and sisters.
So how intentional are you and your church about supporting new believers? Do you remember what it was like for you, transitioning to a life of faith? What behaviors and practices did you experience or observe that were helpful (or unhelpful)?
This is part II of a series on supporting and equipping new believers, and strengthening the church family. Part III will look at the applying the same principles to long-time believers whose lives—for whatever reason—remain unchanged.