As you begin to work with new believers, it is helpful to clarify the goal of follow-up. All pastors want their members to be “conformed to the likeness of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). God wants these people to become like Jesus. That is God’s purpose for them, and it should be your purpose as well. Simply put, a disciple is one who learns from Christ and imitates him. The Gospel of John describes a disciple in three ways. First, a disciple studies the Bible continually (John 8:31). Second, a disciple loves and sacrifices for others (John 13:34–35). Third, a disciple abides with Christ and bears fruit for Christ (John 15:4–5).
The process of helping spiritual infants become like Christ is called discipling. It could just as well be described as spiritual pediatrics. You won’t accomplish this task in two weeks, but you will find great joy in watching new Christians grow in their faith. Fortunately, you are not alone in this. The Holy Spirit works in the lives of the new believers to make them more like Christ every day. Theologians call this process “sanctification.” It simply means that the Holy Spirit works in believers to make them like Christ. This process is progressive, not instantaneous. Thus, disciplers need to be patient and give the Holy Spirit time to work in lives of converts.
I can testify from personal experience that newborn babies need a lot of care. They can’t feed, bathe, or dress themselves. They can’t walk or talk. They depend on their parents for everything. Newborn Christians are much the same. They don’t know how to talk—they’ve not yet learned to pray. They don’t know how to walk—they don’t know biblical ethics. They don’t know how to bathe—they don’t know about confession. And, they don’t know how to feed themselves—they haven’t learned how to study the Bible yet. But, so often when a person professes Christ as Savior, we shake her hand, pat her on the back, and wish her well in the Christian life. If we patted a newborn baby on the head, wished her a happy life, and walked away, we would be criminally negligent. In the same way, abandoning spiritual infants is criminal.
New Christians have many needs. Perhaps their greatest and most immediate need is for assurance. After people accept Christ as Savior, they are prone to question or doubt their salvation. The discipler can provide great help here by assuring the new believer that such doubts are normal and by sharing comforting verses like Romans 10:13 and John 10:28.
New believers also need love (John 15:12). Psychologists have discovered that newborn babies need to feel love and security. This early bonding makes for a healthy personality. The discipler can provide this bonding by spending time with the new Christian and by giving lots of tender loving care.
Young Christians need nourishment (1 Pet. 2:2). Babes in Christ cannot feed themselves. They need someone to show them how to study the Bible so they can receive spiritual food. Many new believers don’t even know how to find a biblical text. This is where the discipler can help. By teaching basic Bible study methods and principles of interpretation, the discipler can teach the new convert to feed himself.
Like all babies, new believers need protection (1 Pet. 5:8). New believers struggle with the “world, the flesh, and the devil” just as all Christians do. However, new believers are less able to protect themselves. The discipler should teach the convert basic survival techniques like a daily devotional time and Scripture memorization. Jesus resisted temptation by quoting Scripture verses. This method will work for new believers as well, but they must be encouraged and taught to memorize Scripture.
Finally, new Christians need training (Acts 2:42). New believers need to learn doctrine, ethics, biblical backgrounds, and lots of other things. The discipler will teach the new believer these things and more. Some teaching will take place through reading and oral instruction. However, much teaching will take place as a result of the personal example of the discipler.
John Mark Terry, Church Evangelism: Creating a Culture for Growth in Your Congregation (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997), 191–193.