The opening article in the first issue of CROSSFIRE considered the subject of personal evangelism - the leading of someone to faith in Jesus Christ. This article is designed to cover the complementary but equally important subject of building up a young Christian to mature and fruitful Christian living. Spurgeon said, "He who converts a soul draws water from a fountain, but he who trains a soul-winner digs a well from which thousands may drink to eternal life." The
effectiveness of OCU members, as Christ's witnesses within the Services, would multiply several times over if we took seriously the task of nurturing and encouraging young Christians through to maturity.
We first need to recognise our responsibility to become involved in follow-up. In 1 Peter 2:2, the young Christian is likened to a new born baby. It follows that as such he requires care, encouragement and feeding if he is to grow up, or if he is to grow at all. This can only come from other Christians. Within a Service context, therefore, we should be aware of any young Christian arriving at our unit/ship/station and be actively seeking to meet his needs. We can expect to be answerable to God for how we exercise this responsibility. We need to remember that it is God's will that each should be sanctified not just justified (1 Thess.4:3). Paul's view of his task was that of presenting every man perfect (i.e. mature) in Christ Jesus (Colossians 1:28).
Where we have been involved in leading someone to faith in Christ, it is easy to recognise our responsibility to follow him up. We may well, however, encounter young Christians who have been led to Christ elsewhere and who are in need of someone to help them along. It should berecognised that positive action is required on our part - checking each new edition of the Members' Address List for new arrivals, maintaining contact with the OCU office and other more local Christian centres of news and information (local RSR Missioners, Scripture Readers, Chaplains, etc.). There is also the highly positive aspect of prayer - asking the Lord to lead us to those that He can help through us. This may take time to work through as many of us Christians are all too
competent at putting on a mask of 'maturity'. Regular contact through friendship and fellowship will eventually disclose where some kind of follow-up is overdue. We should also be alert to opportunities that may occur in the most unlikely circumstances. Often the Lord will lead us, perhaps in the apparently foreign atmosphere of a cocktail party, to a backslidden believer who is secretly yearning for tactful help and encouragement that would restore him to faith and fellowship.
Having identified new Christians who will benefit from follow-up, the best means of helping them must then be selected. Often the most effective way is to make a regular time to meet with them for Bible study and prayer; if there is a fellowship meeting locally, whose programme will meet the need, it may be enough to ensure that the new found friend gets along to it. Whichever tack is followed, it is important to monitor progress to ensure that the individual is finding it worthwhile. The Lord meets us at our point of need; we should try to meet other Christians at their point of need rather than to treat them as robots who have to be put through an identical
Our Method - General Principles
What follows can only be a guideline, as each situation merits a different approach:
We need to be determined to pray for this person regularly (1 Thessalonians 1:2). This will require discipline, and we can expect it to be costly, but we cannot expect anything to happen if we do not make this a priority.
We should be willing to spend time with our friend. Some of this time will be spent purely on spiritual matters, but by no means all of it. This does not mean once a week/month at a Christian meeting. It means time spent getting to know him. If we are married we can have him round for a meal; if single, we can do things together, play sport, go away for weekends or even take a holiday together. Jesus spent three years with just twelve disciples, and during this period His time was rarely His own.
- Share ourselves (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
We must not only spend time with our friend, but also be willing to open up our personality to him. That means sharing our failures as well as our successes, our fears as well as our joys. Only then can we expect him to open up to us. Our approach should be humble. Paul wrote, "not that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy" (2 Corinthians 1:24).
- Our example.
The closer the relationship, the more our example will count (1 Thessalonians 1:6). Paul expected his followers to become his imitators. We can be sure that our lives will count as much as our words.
When someone is converted to Christ, the first thing he needs is Assurance. Ideally we should spend some time with him reviewing the steps he has taken and the consequences of these steps. It will be helpful to review the verses that cover the Way of Salvation and that his salvation
rests on the promises of God (eg John 6:37) rather than on human opinion. The article on page 8 covers the whole field of Assurance and will represent rewarding reading for the new convert. If we are unable to spend time with him, because of Servicec commitments, there are some excellent booklets which will prove helpful, such as John Stott's "Becoming a Christian" or Michael Griffiths' booklet on Assurance.
We should now be seeking ways of fostering growth. Three basic lessons
need to be learnt by the new Christian at this stage:
- The essential place of Bible study and Prayer. Jesus Himself knew the Old Testament
intimately and spent whole nights in prayer with His Father. The Berean Jews were commended for their study of the Scriptures (Acts 17:11) and we need to encourage the new convert to do the same. Many Christians in the Services have to spend long periods on their own, and in such a situation the daily Quiet Time becomes a lifeline. Whilst avoiding a legalistic approach, we should get across the enormous value of cultivating the good habit of setting aside time in the day - preferably in the early morning - to be alone with God. A useful aid at this juncture would be a copy of "Invitation to Live" (Scripture Union) or something similar.
- The vital work of the Holy Spirit. The young Christian needs to know who the Holy Spirit is and what His 'role', in the life of the Christian, is intended to be. He should recognise that the Holy Spirit "comes in" at conversion (Romans 8:9) and "comes on" us to empower us for service and witness (Acts 1:8). Every young Christian should be encouraged to appropriate the fullness of blessing implicit in the gift of the Holy Spirit as part and parcel of his conversion. This full blessing incorporates receiving the love of God in our hearts (Romans 5:5) to enable us to love God and to love others, as He commands. It includes the will-changing prompting of the Spirit which leads us out of selfish and godless ways into ways that are in tune with God's will and pleasure (Philippians 2:13). It includes daily filling of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) whereby we can walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:25), the empowering of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:4,5), the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4-11, 28-31). Only this full experience of the Holy Spirit is worthy of the promise that Jesus would baptise us in the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). Since every Christian is engaged in spiritual warfare, we should ensure that every young Christian is fully acquainted with both the knowledge and the experience of all the weapons and resources that God has provided.
- The life support system of fellowship. As soon as possible the young Christian should be encouraged to spend time with other Christians in fellowship (Hebrews 10:25). The Biblical concept of the Body of Christ and the mutual inter-dependence of Christians (Romans 12:5) should be explained, and its outworking in terms of the insignificance of social or cultural barriers. With exposure to fellowship he will rapidly discover for himself that we are truly all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). If he is becoming accustomed to pray extemporarily when we meet privately, it will ease his transition into corporate Christian life - a major adjustment which can easily be under estimated.
Witness and service
At some time during the early days, the young Christian should be shown the importance of sharing his faith (Romans 10:9,10). There are traps to be avoided. It is all too easy for this to become a matter of bondage; it is equally possible for it to become a source of pride. The best approach is to get him to accompany you when you are engaged in Christian service. This has the advantage of him seeing your prayerful approach and of providing opportunities for witness
and service where you can encourage, counsel and support him directly. In this way he will discover for himself the joy and satisfaction of seeing the Lord work 'even' through him.
We shall be concerned for the long-term spiritual welfare of the young Christian and this, to some extent, depends on his having access to good teaching. Our task will be to ensure that this is so whether it is achieved by taking him to a good local centre of Christian teaching, or by giving, or encouraging him to buy, a small library of reference books (eg. The New Bible Dictionary [IVP]), if he is the reading type. The value of tapes is inestimable in the mobile life of the Service officer. It will be important for him to know where tapes and books can be obtained and this will provide a good opening to acquaint him with the benefits of OCU membership. The advantage of being linked to an OCU Associate prayer group should be particularly underlined.
Our aim for ourselves and the youngest Christian should be to press on toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). To be involved in Follow Up will be costly, but in the end enormously fulfilling. We cannot expect the Church of Christ to grow
unless we are ourselves willing to be committed to this task.
Suggested books to lend:
"Basic Christianity" by John Stott
"Consistent Christianity" by Michael Griffiths
"Live a New Life" by David Watson
"Prayer" by O. Hallesby
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