Wanting to help new Christians to grow in spiritual maturity? Here are some simple forms of support.
1. How can we best disciple new Christians?
The priority is not to pass on Christian beliefs, such as those in the creeds.
Jesus didn’t focus on teaching people theoretical doctrine. He concentrated on people’s behavior and relationships.
He repeatedly called his followers to love their enemies, forgive seventy times seven, turn the other cheek, and more.
Jesus was interested in understanding that grew faith and led people into lives of healing, justice and wholeness.
The first Christians emphasised practice, too. They theorised about their beliefs as they worked out what it meant to follow Jesus in everyday life.
So follow their example. Encourage mature Christian behaviour. Focus on the four overlapping sets of relationships that are at the heart of the Christian life (see 16. Church?/Guide).
2. Direct relationships with God
Encourage prayer to become an everyday habit, as it was for Jesus.
For example, invite community members to exchange prayer requests on social media, swap prayers for each other, and report answers to prayer. Text them regular prayer prompts.
Caution! You may want to consider any safeguarding issues that could arise, e.g. by consulting someone in your denomination or network with expertise in this area.
Keep studying Scripture and ring the changes. See 12. Explore faith/Guide for ideas.
In Birmingham, leaders of B1 invited adults to read a Bible passage in advance and discuss it with their children.
When the community met, individuals in age-based groups shared what they had learnt.
This became a way of encouraging families to worship God on their own and then together.
3. Relationships with the outside world
Develop communal practices (or “rhythms of life”) – things you do together to follow Jesus in everyday life.
Adopt a contemporary version of the eighteenth century Wesleyan “bands”: suggest people support each other for a limited period in practicing a certain behavior.
- For 6 weeks, each person does one act of generosity a week and shares with the group how they got on.
- As a form of prayer, one group writes protest letters on behalf of Amnesty International (as Just Church did during its worship); another group writes on behalf of a different organization.
- Three or four people contract for a period to eat more healthily, or to read an evening Bible story to their children.
- During Lent, individuals agree to do one act of kindness a day and share with each other what they’ve done.
People could do this in self-selecting groups or as a whole community.
The support of other Christians makes a huge difference. As St. John of the Cross said, in community the individual becomes a stone that others turn into a sculpture.
4. Relationships with the wider church
Christians are baptized into the whole Christian family, and discipleship involves learning from and contributing to it.
So encourage your community to:
link up with a local church or congregation and join in social, learning, missional and worship events – e.g.a family fun day, a series of study evenings, or celebrating Easter together. Start with social or educational events. Often it’s easier!
Attend a Christian festival or conference
Download Christian resources from the internet
Worship regularly as a community and in another congregation you’re connected to.
5. Relationships within the new Christian community
Encourage conversations about the difference Jesus makes to everyday life.
People learn by asking questions, putting into their own words what they’ve learnt, trying out ideas, and listening to other people’s comments.
If you have used one of the Bible study approaches in 12. Explore faith/Guide, you may want to ring the changes.
For example, invite someone to download a relevant podcast or video and share what they have learnt.
Or invite a person in advance to consult one website with expert information about the passage and someone else to look at another. Each shares their findings.
Look for material produced by someone whose ministry is well recognized by the wider church. Recorded sermons by a well-known preacher might be a possibility.
This way the group takes responsibility for becoming more informed in its study.
6. Don’t let the group become dependent on you
If someone asks a factual question, don’t feel you have to answer it. Suggest they Google the information instead, and ask if they think the source is reliable.
If the question invites an opinion, throw the question back to the group: “From what you know about Jesus so far, what do you think he would say?”
Invite prayerful silence while people consider their responses. Then invite them to share what they think God has been saying to them.
Encourage them to listen rather than correct one another.
Remind them that the church is full of different viewpoints. Indeed, it could be said that the church’s history is one long argument!
If we listen to different views carefully, however much we disagree with them, we may get a fresh glimpse of Jesus.
“It takes the whole church to reveal the whole Christ.”
So encourage people to listen to each other, be patient with one another, and then share what they’ve learnt about Jesus through their listening.
Help them develop a Jesus-centered habit of thinking.
Let them rely prayerfully on the Holy Spirit to speak through the Bible, the group and the wider church.
Paul was eager that the Corinthians build one another up in the faith (1 Corinthians 14.5, 12, 26). This was the responsibility of the whole congregation, gathered around Scripture.
7. Here, then, is a way to safeguard against error
These four sets of relationships – with God directly, with the world, with the wider church and within the new Christian community – are all centred on Jesus. They provide boundaries within which to explore faith and discover God’s will.
The relationships balance each other. Together, they stretch personal faith and behaviour. They encourage people to become well-rounded believers.
Nicola illustrates the disciple-making potential of relationships within the new Christian community.
Andy describes how mentoring encouraged conversations about the difference Jesus makes to everyday life.
Discuss Hebrews 5.11–14.
Ask someone to read in advance this extract from “The danger of perpetual infancy”, and then share any points that struck them.
Ask someone else to read in advance, “By This Time You Ought To Be Teachers” and share thoughts that struck them.
What practical steps might help your community – or the community you envisage – grow beyond infancy?
Choose one or more of the following:
- Discuss what your community’s key values might be.
Then for each value, figure out one practice that would express that value.
For example, if one value was hospitality, a practice might be to find a “buy one and get one free” offer, and give the free item to someone else. Or the practice could be sitting next to or spending time with someone you find difficult in the community.
Try these practices in the team/core group, and then spread them out to others in the community.
- Reflect on what you have seen, read and heard in this unit about helping new Christians to grow in their faith.
- What are the good things your community is doing about this and where is it falling short?
- What might you do differently that would help new Christians mature in their faith?
- How does the prospect of doing these things differently make you feel?
- What does it mean to live a distinctive Christian life in your context? i.e. what specific practices would express a Christian way of life in your setting? For example:
- If your community is based on a common interest or sport like soccer, what would it mean to be a Christian soccer player?
- If your community is drawn from a particular locality, such as an apartment block, what would it mean to be a Christian in this apartment block?
- If your community is drawn from a particular demographic, such as teenagers, what would it mean to be a Christian teenager in the school(s) the young people attend?
How might you encourage those who’ve recently come to faith or are journeying toward faith to explore these practices?
- Think about what you have seen, heard and read in this unit. What one new thing to nurture Christian faith do you think you should introduce?
- If this new focus became a reality, what would members of your community see, hear and feel?
- What would make you most pleased about their response?
- Post a question on the free fresh expressions-stories app (download it from Apple or from Google Play) – e.g. “What rhythms of life does your new Christian community practice?”
© Fresh Expressions Ltd. The Godsend contents
are used here with permission from fxresourcing.