The first Pentecost following Jesus’ resurrection was also the birthday of the church. There were about 3,000 people baptized after hearing the first gospel sermon preached by Peter and the other apostles (Acts 2:1, 36-38, 41). I’m sure this was both an exciting and challenging time for the church. Imagine 3,000 people in the new converts class! Shortly after Pentecost, the gospel continued to spread, and the number of disciples was more than 5,000 (Acts 4:4). It should always be our desire that the gospel spread freely and that more individuals and families come to know Jesus (2 Thess. 3:1). Along with our desire for the gospel to go further and for God to give the increase should come a sobering reminder of the church’s responsibility to new converts.
The Bible speaks of some of the things that new converts must desire for themselves. New Christians should desire to grow in the word of God (1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18). New Christians should be sure to attend every possible assembly so that they can grow and be encouraged (Heb. 10:24-25). However, those of us who have been Christians for some time must consider what our responsibilities are to those who are new to the faith. The way we respond (or fail to respond) to new converts could be the difference between whether they flourish in their faith or fall away. While it is right to rejoice as baptisms are taking place it is also necessary to evaluate our congregation and be sure we are all that we should be for new converts. Let’s consider a few things every congregation owes new converts.
1. A Loving Family
The church is the household of God (1 Tim. 3:15). We are family in Christ, and we should operate like the most loving family in the world (1 Cor. 16:14). When someone rises from the waters of the baptistery, God does not send them out on their own. God adds those who are being saved to the body of Christ (Acts 2:47; 1 Cor. 12:18). Those of us who are already members of the body must warmly receive them. The world will know that we are disciples of Jesus by the love that we have for each other (John 13:34-35). New converts will also pick up on our sincerity and commitment to the New Testament if they encounter a people who have been radically shaped by the love of Christ.
When the new Christians obeyed the gospel in Jerusalem, they immediately encountered Christlike love from the apostles. Many in Jerusalem sold their property and shared their goods so that others could have what they needed (Acts 2:44-45). This was not a one-time occurrence but took place whenever it was necessary (Acts 4:34-37). This had to have a positive impact on the new converts. It is not enough to teach people the right doctrine to then fail to live the right way. New converts should never enter a congregation where fighting and bickering are the norms (Gal. 5:15). We will not be perfect, but we should be growing in Christian maturity so that we are not setting a bad example to those who are babes in Christ.
New converts should enter a congregation that welcomes them, loves them, and assists them in any way possible as they grow closer to Jesus. It should be normal for Christians to show love to one another (2 John 5). Some people who become Christians did not grow up with loving family members among their physical family. They may have never been hugged or told they were appreciated, or that they did a good job. In Christ, we are to show them something different. We are to show them the family as God always intended for it to be (John 15:12).
No sensible parent gets angry with a newborn who spits up on them. Parents recognize that newborn babies will make mistakes and do things wrong on occasion. In fact, it will probably be a long time before a child is able to make good decisions and overcome clumsy mistakes. When congregations encounter new converts, we should keep in mind that they are “babes in Christ.” This does not mean we do not challenge them to grow in their faith, but we should be patient with them (1 Thess. 5:14). The fruit of the spirit involves patience and new Christians need us to exercise patience toward them (Gal. 5:22). Even those of us who have been Christians for a few years recognize that we still sin and stumble, how much more a recent convert (1 John 1:8, 10)?
When a new Christian says something incorrect or does something wrong, remember to show patience. Be slow to pounce on them and rebuke them for their use of denominational terminology or their inability to grasp New Testament Christianity in its fullness. Remember to give them time to grow and do not rush them along; spiritual growth takes time (cf. 2 Pet. 1:5-11). Again, we do not approve error or fail to correct it, we just need to do so gently and with patience (1 Thess. 2:7). Jesus spent three years training the apostles and still recognized there were some things it would take them a while to grasp (John 16:12). We need to be patient with those who are learning the truth and crucifying old habits for the first time. If we want God to be patient with us, we better be sure to be patient with others (Matt. 7:2).
3. Do Not Be a Stumbling Block
Jesus had harsh words to say for those who would cause “little ones” (i.e. new converts) to stumble (Matt. 18:6). We must give careful attention not to put a stumbling block in the way of any Christian, but especially those who have just begun their walk with Christ (cf. Rom. 14:13). Our behavior should not encourage them to sin or live unrighteous lives, but instead to grow more into the image of Christ. They will listen to us even when we are not paying attention and watch how we interact with each other. May they never overhear us gossiping about another Christian or tearing someone down with our words (James 4:11).
We should not endorse false teaching or refer them to materials that will confuse them and lead them in the wrong direction. As new converts come to the church, we should be making it easier—not harder—for them to know the truth and do the right thing. Jesus said we were better off destroying ourselves than if we caused a new convert to stumble. We should all ask ourselves, “If new Christians followed me around and walked in my steps, would they become more like Jesus or less like him?”
4. A Chance to Grow and Participate
The adage is, “If you want something done right you have to do it yourself.” Jesus never said anything like this. There is room in the body of Christ for everyone to use their talents and gifts to the glory of God (1 Cor. 12:12-24). The church owes new Christians an opportunity to grow in their faith. There should be classes for them to attend and things taught so that they can grow and flourish. If we do not want them to remain babes in the faith, they must be fed a steady and healthy diet of the Word of God so they can mature and develop (cf. Heb. 5:11-14). However, we must not simply stick them in the classroom and lecture them.
New Christians should be allowed to volunteer, get involved, and use their talents for God’s glory. The sooner a new Christian is involved the more likely he or she will stick around. People will remain committed to the things they are invested in. Wise elders will not turn over a Bible class to new converts to teach or allow them to lead prayer immediately after their conversion for obvious reasons. Still, if we are wise, we will find things for them to do and ways for them to serve so that they know they are not second-class citizens in the kingdom. We should let them fix communion, fold bulletins, go visiting with us, go door-knocking, help serve meals, etc. New converts, like seasoned Christians, must have works that accompany their faith and we can help with this (James 2:14-26).
It is great to see people obey the gospel and become Christians. It is always sad to see new Christians fall away and leave the church. New converts have personal responsibility concerning their faithfulness to God (Rom. 14:12). Likewise, the local church has responsibilities to new converts. May we all do our part to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31)!