Stabilizing the New Convert
Brian V. Sullivan
Thirty-one baptized at 4th and 6th Street. Twenty-one at Route 3, Anywhere. Fourteen at Hendrick Street. Beautiful to think about, aren't they?
It would be a cold, cold heart that would not rejoice over such progress being made in proclaiming the precious gospel and such increases being given. Yet, how many of those will ever reach maturity? How many will be privileged to be among the host of them that receive the inheritance? Or, how many will become statistics in an ever-increasing toll of those who begin but never finish the course before them? We are not questioning anyone's obedience, but rather wish to draw attention to a much needed endeavor, that of stabilizing the new convert.
The Need Is Evident
I am not being cynical when I suggest that the possibility of failure looms close in the life of the new convert. A careful perusal of the Scripture will illustrate that there are many forces that rise against all Christians. As a personal worker, we need to be aware of them and seek to prepare the new convert to cope with them. Jesus, in Luke 8 (the parable of the sower), illustrated some of the forces or influences that could interfere with truth, and they are worthy of our consideration.
The hardening influence of Satan working through his agents of unrighteousness may interfere with our work. Such agents as worldliness, lust, sin, false teaching, man's wisdom, et al are continually confronting all of us. However, with proper warning and preparation, they should not seduce us, nor bring us into subjection. This shows the need for teaching that will prepare and reinforce one's faith (Eph. 6:13-18).
The pressures of ridicule, abuse and criticism add to the barriers through which the new Christian must pass. Friends (?) or family may attempt to interfere, attack or mock for any number of reasons. Since rejection by others, and the need for social contact is so great among mankind, we must teach the babe and encourage them through these situations.
The flooding influence of materialism, gain and selfish quests can smother the new convert as thorns do the grain, and a loss will result (1 Tim. 6:9-10). Surely, we can see the need for teaching here.
The question is not "Is teaching needed?", for it is evident that it is! The question is "Where do I begin?", and to that end we continue this article.
Begin Where The Lord Commanded
We have all quoted the Great Commission as it is found in Matthew's gospel. From it, we have tried to impress not only the authority of Christ, but also the need for teaching and baptism. Yet, for some reason unknown to me, many seem to think that the instructions found there are: Teach, Baptize and Forget. No, the Lord did not say that! The Lord commanded: Teach, Baptize and Teach! (Look up Matthew 28:18-20 and consider it again.)
Since we recognize that a taught one should become a baptized one without delay, should we not also recognize that a baptized one should receive further teaching without delay? In any field, the most successful preventative maintenance scheme is one that begins long before the first problems arise. In much the same way, the most successful stabilizing effort is one which begins immediately after conversion.
The Babe's Immediate Needs
The use of "birth" (John 3:5), "babe" (1 Pet. 2:2) and "milk" (Heb. 5:12 and 1 Pet. 2:2) should draw our attention to the helplessness, dependence, and care that is needed by the new convert. At no other time in their life will they need more attention.
If at all possible, have the same party that planted the seed bring in the sheave. In other words, do not switch teachers unless you can do it in a way that will be gradual (cf. John the Baptist's statement: "He must increase, I must decrease" -- John 3:30). The convert has confidence in the one that taught them, and should by this stage feel comfortable in their presence. This will open the door for meeting continued needs in this person. Review the plan of salvation with this person, showing them positively what they are now part of. Such repetition or reminding has a scriptural precedent (see 2 Tim. 1:5-2:26).
Make them aware of the fact that they will make mistakes from time to time, that they may yield in a time of weakness but that this does not mean that they are finished. Like the person who walks an icy sidewalk, they may not intend to fall, but inadvertently they do. What does that person do? They try to get up and go on. Do not be backward about telling them how this can be accomplished. Show them the picture of Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8) and acquaint them with the teaching of John in 1 John 1:7-10. Familiarity with these facts, at this stage, will help them to admit and correct their mistakes rather than to try to cover them up or excuse them.
As soon as possible, find out what questions they have that- are presenting problems, and try to supply scriptural answers on a personal basis. The Lord Himself utilized many occasions to teach but one person (cf. John 4; etc.), and by His action demonstrated the concern that we need to have. Only when this person has their own problem areas dealt with, will they be ready to continue the climb, and only personal contact can recognize and remove such barriers to growth and development.
Where Do I Go?
It would be impossible for me to suggest a program that would work in every place, and so I will not attempt it. However, let me make a few suggestions and perhaps by them you will find a direction to travel in this most important work.
The choice of materials for use in edifying new converts is plenteous. Film strips, study charts, prepared books, and open Bible studies are all available. The choice as to which to use must take into consideration the needs of the convert, and the ability of the teacher. Let us consider some of them briefly.
Personally, I have not utilized any of the follow-up film strips in studies with the new converts. Although I appreciate the effort that was involved in putting them together, I believe that they tend to keep the class too isolated. They lack the personal adaptability of other methods, and because they involve pictures this may mean that Junior or Sissy may stay up later and help to occupy your student's attention. Do not interpret this to mean that I am not concerned about children, but please understand that experience has taught that even a brief period of time without interruption accomplishes more than great time with much interference.
Study charts are useful if you do not get too deep too fast. Most charts have a light splattering of scriptures on the surface, but by the time we teachers get through, we have presented a truck load. You would not feed a baby a whole box of pablum would you? Then remember that, when you confront them with a chart. Perhaps the best charts are the ones that you put together yourself. Instead of trying to guess why a particular passage is introduced, you will be acquainted with it and better prepared to relate it's message.
Book studies come in all shapes and forms. Personally, I like to study "Fit for the Master's Use" by Earle West. It is a good, general purpose study of 10 lessons in length. I do not teach it verbatim, but rather use it as a guide. The students are encouraged to read the next lesson and fill in the answers to the questions. Upon my return, we study the lesson and check the answers. I encourage the students to fill in the personal testimony part of the answer sheet after the class, explaining that it is their own measurement guide. They alone fill it , in, and date it. Then two to three months later they can get it out and see whether they would change any of their answers, hence determining whether they are growing or not. Another good series of practical studies is found in the efforts of Billy W. Moore. His series on Unity is valuable for home study usage and younger folks enjoy doing them. We could cite many other books by name but let me stress this all important point. Do not, I repeat, do not assume that since you are using.a book that you will not need to study. Such an attitude of laxness will result in a boring presentation of truth, and a ritualistic presentation (simply going through the motions-not really doing the job of teaching).
Open Bible studies are the best answer to edification. Choose a New Testament Book that will meet the needs of your class and then diligently study it. Encourage questions and answer them. Often in home studies of this nature we visit for a few minutes and then after a brief word of prayer with them, we take ten to fifteen minutes (or more, if required) to answer any questions on any subject in the Bible. This meets the immediate needs and then we can begin our study. Take along a pen and lots of paper. Jot down a brief outline of what you are saying as you go along, illustrating it with brief charts or line drawings. At the end of the study period, hand this over to your contacts to study. Remember two things in relationship to it: (a) They must be able to read it; and, (b) It must include scripture references. Begin the next study period in the same manner, only briefly review the main points of the previous lesson before going on.
Whatever the method you employ, go with determination to do the best you can. Go with enthusiasm that will generate enthusiasm. Go with the purpose of getting across at least one point but do not overkill it. Set the example of conduct, behaviour, reverence and appreciation for the things of God that becomes a Christian.
Perhaps the most often heard question about this work is expressed in two words: "How long?'.' The answer to this question lies with you and your contact. Many new converts, with proper encouragement and incentives set before them, will begin to progress on their own after only a brief period of time. Others may take, what seems like, years of careful feeding. If you are seeing success, by all means continue the class. Build these folks to the place where they will be able to take an active part in the church.
Sadly, much emphasis has been placed upon the number converted in different places. This is not :where the emphasis needs to be. The proof of the pudding is not in the number of puddings you make, but in the quality you attain. Jesus condemned the Pharisees because of the damage they did to their converts: att. 23:15). The Hebrew writer declared that "those who have tasted" and "were made partakers," if they fell away, were impossible to renew again unto repentance (Heb. 6:4-9). Peter with vivid language showed the end of those who once having "escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" became entangled therein again (2 Pet. 2:20-22). With such warnings as those, let us never give up too soon. The farmer who does not bring his sheaves in the barn has little to show for his efforts, and is not being very thankful for the Lord's increase. Neither is the soul winner who does not help bring the sheaves home to heaven.
It May Be Slow, But It's Worth It!
Involvement in this type of teaching holds just as much excitement as sharing the good news in the first place. It does not allow glowing reports of conversions, but it does give personal satisfaction to see the babe continue to grow and blossom into a fruitful tree unto God (Psa. 1).
Have you always wished that everyone in the local church was an active personal worker? That, which seems like a dream, could be a reality if we will but extend the effort in this area of stabilizing the new converts. It brings me just as much happiness to see someone that I have labored and toiled with (in teaching the gospel and follow-up after conversion) bring in their first convert to Christ, as it would if I myself played some part in the effort. But, the beautiful thing is that the Lord's plan is doing what it can do. Jesus set in motion in the Great Commission the greatest plan for increase known. Consider it carefully. In brief form, it declares: Go, teach, baptize and teach. Teaching them to observe what I commanded. That means, teaching them to go, teach, baptize and teach. What a wonderful day that will be! Not `will be,' could be, if we will do our part.
Then, when the Lord comes to receive us home, in the last day, we like the song writer said, "can come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves." May we seek to glorify God and save souls through this most important work. Let me close with Paul's words by inspiration: "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (2 Tim. 4:2).
Truth Magazine XXII: 18, pp. 299-301