Don’t Stop Until Your “Decisions” Lead to Discipleship

One of the most exciting moments within the life of a church is when someone comes to know Jesus Christ as Savior. We celebrate having new believers in our churches, but are we leading them to become lifelong disciples of Jesus?

Are we helping them continue through the transformation process or are we leaving them in convert mode?

Conversion is not the end. It is the glorious beginning.

We have become masters at getting “decisions.” Conversion is a powerful event in the life of the believer. It is a great moment. But it isn’t the end of the game. Converting those decisions into disciples must be part of the church’s purpose.

Sometimes we put such an emphasis on that moment, we make people think that is all we are after. The not-so-funny joke is that some people are willing to receive Christ just so the pastor will leave them alone. Our goal is often for conversions. But God’s goal is for transformation, which really just begins at conversion.

Paul remarks in his letter to the Philippians (1:6), “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” Conversion is central to the beginning of new life, being relocated (spiritually) to another kingdom. Colossians 1:13 tells us that we are “transferred through the domain of darkness into the kingdom of the Son He loves.”

They have been born again, Jesus says in John 3. So there is now a spiritual life present now that was not present before. The Spirit of God dwells in them. They have new life. They are a new creation in Christ even as Christ in them is the “hope of glory.” But that event is not the end. It is a taste of the ongoing transformation that will come.

Spiritual growth should always follow spiritual birth.

How do we follow up for spiritual growth?

It’s a really bad idea to give birth to a baby and leave them on their own. We call that abandonment. People go to jail for that—and rightfully so. But I think sometimes we do that in church.

I call people to trust and respond to Christ every week in our church service. We ask them to share that decision through a card. Others use an altar call where new believers are connected with an established believer.

Whatever you use, it is at this point the process of partnership in spiritual growth is now stewarded to you and your church. We need to prioritize the discipling of anyone who has trusted Christ in our church.

When our church had ten people, I would meet with that person the same week. Now that our church has grown, I am not necessarily the person who meets with that new believer (unless they are in my neighborhood).

But in our context we’ve grown now where we have dozens of groups who become the “under shepherds,” leading people into the spiritual growth process. These groups are made of small group leaders—lay pastors in a sense—who are empowered to do the disciple making.

It is essential that someone connects with that new believer. As a matter of fact, I would say that there is no more important person in the life of the church, my church and yours, than the person who has just called upon the name of King Jesus for Salvation.

Spiritual mentoring creates a pathway to stabilization

Why is it so important to connect a new convert with someone who will walk through the spiritual growth process? More often than not people respond to Christ because they are in a life crisis, not just because they wake up feeling the need to be closer to Christ.

Adults who become Christians usually do so because of a challenging situation of some sort, and that means they probably need some help, and often need it fast.

A person who responds to Christ in a crisis then needs three types of stabilization, as I first heard from my friend Dan Morgan. And a journey companion can help with each of these.

Personal Stabilization – Most of the adults who I see trust Christ are doing so as their marriage is in trouble, or they’ve just had a drunk driving incident or whatever it may be. They need personal stabilization. Their personal life is spinning out of control. They are facing and making some crazy decisions. Becoming personally stable is part of what happens during spiritual transformation. So we have people in our church who can help with that.

Relational Stabilization – Now that they’ve become a believer they’re probably leaving behind some things and certain people behind who aren’t on board with their new life. These are usually people with whom they used to get into trouble, and some who helped them into the crisis God used to reach them. Losing friends and family can sometimes be part of following Jesus—not because that is our desire, but sometimes because the old friends aren’t too keen about that new life. But, either way, it isn’t easy. So they need people who can help with relational stabilization.

Doctrinal Stabilization – The unregenerated person does not think properly about God, life, truth, etc. So part of the discipleship process is renewal of our mind. We know “all Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16) So the convert will definitely need to exchange their belief system for God’s truth. However, most follow up only focuses on doctrinal stabilization.

Yes, let’s teach them what they need to know, but there may be some other stabilization that needs to take place first. Eventually good doctrine will help sustain them through crisis. But in a crisis, a whole new set of truths is not the only thing that is needed.

Spiritual mentoring is follow-up that encourages following.

This piece won’t answer every question, but I mainly want to remind us all that we need to immediately help people grow—and to do so through a process.

Every church needs a pathway which will provide direction for their discipleship plan, and also show how they grow together as a church. So we want them to travel on the pathway—maybe through classes, intentional relationships, a workbook, and more. But particularly when they’re older we want to recognize there’s probably a lot of instability we need to engage.

Part of that process has to involve people. The best thing you can offer a new believer is an older believer. It doesn’t have to be someone older in age, but rather someone who has been walking with Jesus for a longer period of time and experienced ongoing life-transformation themselves.

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Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

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