A hypothetical scenario shows why.
I’m not into movies. It’s not a spiritual thing; they just usually bore me. Now, suppose I found myself in a theater arts class at the local community college. Most likely, I’d be the only one who didn’t know much about movies. You can bet that most of the time, I wouldn’t say much. I’d be too intimidated, fearful of looking stupid or exposing my ignorance.
But if the discussion turned to one of the few movies I’ve paid money to see, that’s different. I’m in. I’m all in.
That’s because, like most people, I consider myself to be an expert on whatever I’ve personally experienced. I don’t care if everyone else hated it or loved it; I have my own opinion and I’ll make it known.
Yet the moment the class reverts back to a discussion of movies in general, I’m back on the sidelines, no longer so sure of the value or accuracy of my viewpoints.
That’s exactly how most new Christians feel when they join a study group. If it’s a generic discussion of a biblical passage or workbook, they won’t say much.
But if it’s a discussion about a sermon they’ve heard and experienced, most of them will be much quicker to share their thoughts and insights. Especially if the questions are phrased in a way that asks, “What did you think of … ?” “How do you feel when …?” “What jumped out at you most and why?”
These types of questions can’t really have a wrong answer. Not when they are applied to something that everyone feels like they experienced more than studied.
All this has made it relatively easy for us to mainstream new Christians, putting them in whatever group has an opening.
In some churches, a concern over the intimidation that new and not-yet Christians can feel in the presence of Bible-quoting, flip-to-the-passage Christians has led to a pattern of separating them from longtime Christians. In fact, I’ve often heard it passed off as conventional wisdom that longtime Christians can kill a study for window-shoppers and new Christians, so they should be kept as far away as possible.
While I understand the desire to remove the intimidation factor, something seems wrong with a world where we remove all the adults from the nursery.
The truth is, if we want to disciple people, the best thing to do is not to separate out all the newbies. It’s to get them into a situation where they can rub shoulders with longtime Christians and benefit from life-on-life modeling and mentoring from those who’ve learned what it means to live out their faith on a day-to-day basis.
Osborne, L. W. (2008). Sticky church. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
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