I remember clearly the day I surrendered to Jesus and began to follow Him. For me, this happened in Sunday School. I prayed with an intern and began my spiritual journey. I was told to read the Bible every day. I was even handed a book that taught me how to read the Bible every day. I was very excited and I tore through that book in the first few weeks. I attended every event my church had. I brought my friends to church. I eventually surrendered to ministry and began serving as a leader while still a senior in high school. But I never – not even once – was given a clear direction on how to follow Jesus. I was never told what a disciple really was. Oh, I inferred these things over time, but I was never clear on them. The result is that it took me a bit longer to develop as a disciple and understand what God had done for me and what the life of a disciple really looked like. There has to be a better way.
One of the most amazing experiences in student ministry is when one of our students accepts Christ. As a minister or volunteer leader we are so blessed to be able to walk alongside students as they surrender to Jesus and begin following Him. But what happens next? Is there a set path for these new believers? Is there a next step that makes more sense than others? Is there more than telling them to read the Bible and start with the Book of John?
As student leaders we must be intentional about helping students walk the path of the disciple. Here are a few things we need to focus on when it comes to the new believers in our ministry:
- We need to present a clear and simple pathway for new believers. Whether you call these next steps or discipleship or even a series of classes, unless those new to following Jesus are given a clear path, it will take longer for them to embrace and understand what it means. A good example is baptism. While the Bible is clear that we are to be baptized after following Jesus, new believers may not be aware of this. Additionally, they may be apprehensive about practices like baptism depending on what their context is and how they have viewed these things prior to following Jesus. By outlining the Scriptural basis for baptism, new believers can take that next step with confidence. This of course applies other elements along the way like prayer, being a part of a Body of believers, and reading God’s Word regularly. While there are some clear steps along the disciple’s path, there are many ways your church and ministry may want to present it to your people.
- We need to walk beside and encourage our new believers. Without the support of friends and encouragement of leaders, new believers will face the challenges of following Jesus alone. While Christ empowers us to live a life after Him, we can be sure that this life is not to be lived in a silo. We must do all that we can to support and encourage those new in their faith as they grow in Christ as a disciple.
- We must help new believers learn foundational truths. So many things can be thrown at a new follower of Christ that it often feels like overload. Nurturing the understanding of basic theological truths is vital at this stage of a disciple’s journey. Additionally, it is critical that new believers get a theologically sound presentation of the Gospel and all its ramifications. One of the greatest challenges of the Church is spiritual immaturity and how the misunderstanding of Scripture can stunt or hinder the growth of a disciple. One of the best ways to encourage the teaching of sound doctrine at this stage is to identify and implement a curriculum that you and your church agree will help the new believer. Whether you develop your own or adopt one like Disciples Path, be intentional about ensuring your new believers learn strong foundational truths.
There is so much going on in the heart and life of a new believer. As leaders we must do our best to clear away the clutter and help them pursue Jesus with their whole life. This journey is never promised to be easy, but it can be made clearer if we will intentionally work to simplify and clarify the process. We ought to do everything we can as leaders to help students along the journey from decision to disciple.
This post was written by Chris Swain, Director of LifeWay Student Ministry Publishing