Updated: Mar 31
By The Reverend Kelley Smart
Chances are, even if you have not raised such a question, someone in your congregation most likely has. It is one I did not necessarily raise myself, but looking back I wish that I had done so for many reasons. You see, there is a tendency within the Christian community to focus upon “getting a response” or “conversion,” if you will, from those who have yet to embrace Christ as Lord and Savior. We think of this being an essential part of a person’s life without considering the implications of his or her decision. To do so can only leave one floundering at best and wondering what a profession of faith might mean to one’s present as well as future.
If there is one area that we as the Body of Christ fall short, it would be that of discipling men, women, and children who are new to the Christian faith. We may indicate a desire to see new Christians grow into maturity through Christ, but implicitly we send a message that shouts “Just figure it out for yourself.” “Do it yourself” may work pretty well when it comes to home improvement projects, but leaving a new Christian to his or her way can serve as a setup for failure.
In looking back over the course of my life and faith journey, I can relate to people who may feel a bit tossed about following a profession of faith. I grew upon not only faithfully attending church but also was enrolled in a Christian school for the entirety of my elementary and high school education. One may assume this exposure was sufficient enough to get me onto the right path with my new found relationship with Christ, but in reality, it left me going through the motions and picking up bits and pieces of information when and where I could. In light of my experiences, I wish to offer a few brief insights for not only new Christians but also the Church as we seek to be faithful to those who desire to follow Christ.
1. Be patient with the process. Becoming a Christian is more than finding something new and experiencing a name change. It is an ongoing journey toward becoming like Christ. For this to take place, there will inevitably be peaks and valleys in which one feels as though he or she is making steady progress only to feel bad for slipping up at a later time. Accepting Jesus as Savior is just the beginning of a lifelong journey filled with learning opportunities and growth. One need not be perfect to be accepted by the Lord.
2. Do not be afraid of the questions. There is a tendency within many congregations to shun a lot of inquiry from people new to the faith. For years, we have assumed what people know or do not know about Christianity, and we force new thoughts and practices upon them or fail to offer clarity for the Christian language we use. Rather than viewing questions as being in opposition to faith, use them as opportunities for spiritual growth.
3. Live out the faith as a faith community. The journey toward Christlikeness is not something that occurs in isolation. This is true for Christians of all backgrounds, but especially so for those who find themselves new to the faith. Being in a faith community provides a space for affirmation, encouragement, and accountability which is of great value to faith development. Just as mentors are essential in various facets of public life, good examples of faith can offer inspiration to those who are trying to make connections between their Christianity and life.
4. Growth calls for personal study. While much can be said for the time spent in fellowship with other Christians within the context of worship, service, and discipleship, there is a component of personal discipline as well. The key to nurturing one’s faith is the realization that going from seed to fruit calls for more than time with God on select days of the week. The process of maturing in Christ is a day by day journey when we read, meditate, pray, and seek counsel between scheduled church services. This time need not be of considerable length but should be a matter of daily consistency.
Growth in Christ is not an overnight process. For new Christians this can be challenging, but also a breath of fresh air. Some feel as though their lives must radically change from one moment to the next, but this is simply not the case. Accepting Christ does not guarantee perfection or make life free from troubles. To follow Christ is to embrace a different way of living which offers meaning and purpose for this life and not simply for the sake of heaven one day. Coming alongside individuals as they “make sense of this Christ” is a great portion of our calling as the Church and one worthy of our very best efforts.