Today, let's dive deep into 2 foundational concepts that lie at the core of our Christian faith:
the idea of the "new birth" or being "born again"
the concept of discipleship, or "following Jesus"
This concept, articulated by Jesus Himself in His conversation with Nicodemus, holds incredible significance for both our spiritual lives and the lives of those we shepherd.
In his conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3, ESV). This "new birth" isn't a mere religious cliché; it's a radical transformation that occurs when the Holy Spirit works in the heart of a believer.
Jesus distinguishes between physical birth and spiritual birth, stating, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6, ESV). The new birth is not about a mere change in outward rituals; it's about an inward renewal, a spiritual awakening initiated by the Holy Spirit, making what is NOT alive, instantly alive. The new birth is a leap from spiritual death to life, from darkness to light.
Our task is to guide individuals:
TO this moment through Gospel preaching: salvation
THROUGH this moment into Gospel transformation: discipleship
The New Birth: Crisis, or Process?
The New Birth is a crisis, not a process. Like the moment of physical birth, it may be approached gradually, but it is entered into suddenly.
The new birth is inseparable from faith in Jesus. We must continually point our congregations to the redemptive work of Christ on the cross. It's through His sacrifice that we find forgiveness, and through His resurrection, we experience newness of life... nothing less than a miracle of grace producing Resurrection within us.
But here's a key difference: while the New Birth may not be a process, discipleship most definitely is.
Following up on the New Birth: Discipleship
After the New Birth, it is the role of pastors to ensure that newly "born again" Christians are equipped for a lifelong journey of spiritual growth. It is urgent that our brand new converts move from
trusting in Jesus in salvation to
imitating Jesus in holiness.
Discipleship is, quite simply, learning from Jesus for the purpose of imitating him.
Let's explore the some crucial aspects of discipleship that lead to a deep and enduring transformation.
What are some aspects of discipleship that we must cultivate?
#1: Spiritual Disciplines: Cultivating Intimacy with God
Encouraging new believers to establish daily spiritual disciplines is foundational to their growth. The discipline of spending time with God through prayer and studying the Word fosters intimacy and a vibrant relationship with the Lord. Teach them the importance of carving out dedicated moments in their day to seek God, allowing His Word to shape their thoughts and actions. Share practical tips on prayer, meditation, and effective Bible study methods to help them develop a robust spiritual routine.
Churches across the United States use NewStart Discipleship's plan for discipling new believers to teach new believers to form these habits. The NewStart Discipleship Journal contains a 50 Day Bible reading plan for new Christians, and habit-forming questions to help them learn to engage and live the Bible, not just read the Bible.
#2: Obedience to Christ: Living Out the Commands of Jesus
True discipleship involves not just knowing but living out the teachings of Christ. Take the new believers through the Gospels, focusing on the commands of Jesus. Emphasize the significance of obedience as a natural response to God's love. Help them understand that following Christ involves a surrendered life, aligning their will with His. This obedience extends beyond mere compliance with rules; it's a heart posture that reflects their love for Christ.
At my church, we use the Obedience Challenge, a 90-day Gospels Bible reading plan and daily video series, to help believers learn that being a Christian is more than a byword, it's a lifestyle commitment to the rightful King.
#3: Baptism into a Local Body of Believers: Embracing Community Identity.
Baptism is a public declaration of one's faith and an essential step in the discipleship journey. Encourage new believers to express their commitment to Christ by being baptized into a local body of believers. Stress the importance of community identity and the support and accountability that come from being part of a church family. Help them understand that the Christian journey is not meant to be walked alone but in fellowship with others who share the same faith.
To teach our believers about baptism, we use the Baptism Challenge. This 21 day "preparation for baptism" study covers:
Imagine your church's next baptism service after doing that!
#4: Christian Community: Practicing the "One Another" Commands
Deepen their understanding of Christian community by exploring the "one another" commands found throughout the New Testament. Teach them the importance of love, encouragement, accountability, and service within the body of believers. It can also be very important to facilitate within a church, small group experiences where new believers can practice these principles and build meaningful connections. Pastors should often emphasize that authentic Christian community is a place for both giving and receiving support, a real-life living out of the "one another" commands.
Moving From Me to We is the study we use to do this kind of follow-up. All discipleship should be done in the context of mentoring relationships.
#5: Deep Understanding and Growth in the Gospel: Studying the Book of Romans
Guide new believers through a focused study of the book of Romans to provide them with a solid theological foundation. The book of Romans offers profound insights into the core tenets of the Gospel, justification by faith, and the transformative power of God's grace. Break down the key concepts and engage in discussions that encourage them to apply these truths to their lives. This study will deepen their understanding of the Gospel and empower them to articulate their faith with clarity and conviction.
At our church, we use a 50 day Bible study through the Book of Romans called "The Gospel Challenge: How the Gospel Creates a New You and a New World."
This Romans discipleship tool on the Gospel will be available for NewStart member churches in the spring of 2024.
#6: Growth in Holiness: Surrender and the Fruit of the Spirit
Holiness is the product of surrender to the work of the Holy Spirit which begins at the new birth, and leaps forward in the filling of the Holy Spirit, and continues throughout our walk with God until glorification. But too often, Christians teach forgiveness as the Good News, and sanctification as the Irrelevant News!
That needs to change! As pastors, we must teach new believers about the process of sanctification and the role of surrender in growth. Emphasize that growth in holiness is a lifelong pursuit empowered by the filling & purifying work of the Holy Spirit.
Many churches across American (and several foreign countries) are using the Pursuing Holiness study to help their congregations seek God together for deeper levels of personal holiness.
Here's where you can find more information about this Bible study on holiness.
The Importance of Following Up on The New Birth
As discipleship leaders in the local church, our role extends beyond celebrating conversions; it involves equipping and nurturing new believers for a lifelong journey of transformation.
By focusing on spiritual disciplines, obedience to Christ, baptism, Christian community, a deep understanding of the Gospel, and growth in holiness, we provide a comprehensive framework for discipleship.
The problem: Too few small-church pastors have any clear discipleship strategy beyond "just keep coming to church."
Discipleship Follow-up Help
Let me introduce a possible solution: NewStart Discipleship
I understand not having a crystal-clear strategy. I was the same way for years! I've served as pastor in OKC for over 20 years.
NewStart solves the problem of discipleship follow-up, by giving a clear pathway to help churches of any size:
Give a clear "next step" for new Christians
Teach spiritual disciplines in a habitual, bite-sized way
Help new converts know exactly where to read
Share robust, clear theology
Teach Christian community and mentoring
Move from a new birth to discipleship and holiness
A comprehensive Plan for Moving from the New Birth to Discipleship
Many pastors discipleship plan is basically the size of a brochure. NewStart is much more robust.
Here's what's included:
What Pastors Are Saying about NewStart Discipleship Curriculum
Here's what some pastors are saying on Google reviews:
"great resources to make discipleship available... in any size church"
"exactly what I was looking for at a great price...a formal discipleship program that was easy to follow."
"present God's truth in a simple, clear, profound and practical way... Discipleship resource, great for groups, new Christians"
If you want more information about it, check out the NewStart Info Page.