I’ve seen it over and over, especially in “low churches.” Pastors and leaders might read the Great Commission as “make disciples,” but in practice they act as though Jesus commanded us to “make converts.” In fact, I once heard a well-known president of a seminary say it would be better to save hundreds of people from hell and leave them as baby Christians than to focus on discipling a few Christians deeply.
This new guide, Grounded in the Faith, is the latest tool to help you lay the foundation for a lifetime of discipleship with new believers.
Two glaring problems with valuing conversion over discipleship
Conversion without discipleship happens often. Newcomers visit a service, respond to an emotional sermon and invitation to “get saved,” get baptized the next week, and voila, a baby Christian. But what’s next? Churches often don’t have a plan, and some leaders don’t seem to care much about discipleship; it’s conversion that really matters. There’s two glaring problems with this approach to ministry.
First, we assume that people actually get saved because they made a profession and decided to get baptized. But what if they misunderstood the sermon and thought you were explaining salvation through morality? What if they’re only responding to their emotions? What if they’re caving to peer pressure? What if they just want to join in on their family member’s decision? In the moment, they might “accept Jesus,” recite and assent to a creed, pray for salvation, or do anything else that a pastor invites them to do for salvation.
But unless you follow up with a discipleship plan that involves discussion of the gospel and basic biblical truths, it’s hard to tell whether they really understood the gospel and whether their conversion was genuine. I don’t think we do new believers a service by assuming anything. A healthy dose of skepticism is a service of love to new believers. After all, Jesus warned us that the way into the kingdom is narrow, and few will enter it (Matt 7:13-14).
Second, we leave our new believers with shallow roots. Jesus explained that there are “rocky soil” converts, those who appear to have been regenerated for a time, but then, because they had no real roots, were scorched by the elements of the world and withered away (Mark 4:5-6). So I’m never surprised when I see new believers suddenly disappear from church fellowship. I’m brokenhearted about it, but never completely surprised.
But how do they end up with shallow roots? Because their church community didn’t help them grow any. There was no discipleship plan to further their knowledge of Christ and his work and to integrate them into the church community through nourishing relationships.
Get a Discipleship Plan
While one hundred baby Christians might be better than a few mature disciples, how can we be certain that any of the hundred will turn out to be genuine followers of Christ if we lack a discipleship plan? Their conversion might not have been genuine and they might end up with shallow roots. In either case, your baby Christians might not be Christians after all.
Some churches have developed strategic and systematic discipleship plans. According to the book Simple Church, churches that have a plan in place see vastly greater improvements in the spiritual growth of their members. But whether you have a plan already or want to develop a plan, you need a foundational step on which you can build everything else.
For that foundational step, I created a new, concise guide, Grounded in the Faith: A Guide for New Believers Based on the Apostles’ Creed.
This little booklet is intended for church leaders or mentors to use with new believers to solve the two problems of assumed conversions and shallow roots. It provides brief commentary on each phrase in the Apostles’ Creed with discussion questions after each section. It’s short enough to read aloud together and cover one section per meeting. To finish the book quicker, you could each read several sections before meeting and then discuss them when you meet. The final chapter provides “next steps” with basic information on church membership, spiritual disciplines, and biblical knowledge along with suggested resources.
I wrote this guide because I’ve seen the two problems of assumed conversions and shallow roots far too often. I wanted something brief but theologically accurate for ministers to use with new believers to prepare them for baptism or as the next step immediately after baptism. I’ll be using it for exactly that purpose in my church.
I also wanted to emphasize the relational aspect of discipleship, which is why I included discussion questions. You could give this book as a gift to new believers to read on their own, but discipleship is ideally relational (look at Jesus and his disciples!). Working through this book together would provide the basis for an ongoing spiritual mentorship, which is exactly what disciples need.