Imagine new parents arriving home from the hospital with their newborn baby. Daddy places him carefully in the crib, eyes wide open with fascination of the most beautiful little boy ever born on earth. Then Daddy hands the baby a $10 bill and says, "Son, this is for your first bottle of formula. The next one you will have to work for." Obviously, no parent in his or her sane mind would do that. We feed our babies, clothe them, and hold them close to our bodies so they can experience human love. As they grow and become more independent, we adjust the way we care for them accordingly.
In The Family of Faith
Now, consider the spiritual new birth. We rightfully say that those who “accept Christ as their Lord and Savior” are born again (actually, this is what Jesus said). As such, we consider them babies in the faith. Peter, the apostle, says,
Like newborn babies,
crave pure spiritual milk,
so that by it you may grow up
in your salvation.
If new believers are babies, they should not be expected to fetch their own spiritual food, right? Yet much of the Church expects once someone “prayed the prayer,” they should fend for themselves and seek “spiritual milk” on their own by practicing spiritual disciplines of the Christian faith.
Go and Make Disciples
Jesus gave us clear instructions in what we call “The Great Commission.” Using the language of new birth, making disciples would be feeding newborn Christians the Word of God as “baby formula,” helping them survive and thrive spiritually. As “spiritual parents,” we may even have to clean up their mess every now and then. This requires four practices of discipleship which every believer and every church should embrace.
- PAY THE PRICE. One thing all new parents experience is sleeplessness. Once the baby comes home, sleep becomes a luxury rarely enjoyed. By the same measure, it takes time and effort to help a newborn believer grow to spiritual maturity. In some cases, it will literally mean sleepless nights praying or even counseling a struggling new believer.
- CREATE A GROWTH TRACK. Parenting is not a one-size-fits-all method, but there are certain sequential steps to take according to the size and development of the child. We should have a method to our discipleship. Churches should develop a clear growth track for new members to guide them through different stages of growth. At ILI, we have developed a discipleship track based on the Eight Core Values called Christian to the Core.
- ADJUST EXPECTATIONS. God has blessed my wife and me with four beautiful grandchildren, the youngest is only six months old. My son and his wife don’t expect him to walk or eat his food with a spoon, like his older sister does. Some new believers experience explosive growth, while others take years to get rid of sinful habits of the flesh. A good “discipler” expects the best, but knows the process takes time. An experienced friend once told me it takes three years walking alongside a new Christian to solidify his or her faith.
- INVEST IN YOUR OWN GROWTH. One of the best side-effects of making disciples is that it stretches our own faith. After all, we can’t teach what we don’t know or give what we don’t have.
My best memories of “the church” are not great songs I sang or sermons I heard, or even the spiritual blessings I received by the laying of hands when I “went forward.” My treasured memories include the young men in whose lives I invested. There was a lot of prayer involved, and it was often hard work. Not all persevered, but many are still strong in the faith. Some have become pastors and leaders, influencing others and multiplying that investment I made in their lives.