New Believers Class

The idea of a "New Believers Class" is a good one, but it will be helpful if you break out of the box of seeing it as a "class." It is really a learning or growth experience. As you design a New Believers growth experience, keep at least three things in mind:

1) The "resource" will probably not be a book or program, but a rather eclectic assortment of both ancient and contemporary reflection bytes ... more like a cross between a scrap book and a journal. I believe every congregation will need to customize their own, because it must emerge out of the unique ethno-socio-cultural background of your community.

2) Mentoring will be more important than curriculum. It's not "what" you teach, but "who teaches". Post-modern new believers grow best in a relationship with a mentor who can be available 24 hours a day, and can "go with the flow" using life experience as the curriculum of the holy Spirit. Consider, for example, how Paul taught new believers like Priscilla or Aquilla (particularly as they emerged from pagan Greek culture). Unfortunately, one really has to read between the lines of Scripture. What is notably absent is a curriculum, although there are indications of ancient hymns or creeds. There was a lot of storytelling about what (for them) was current experience of the Spirit. And there was a lot of action/reflection type learning methodologies. In a way, they did what Mormons do ... if you want people to grow in faith, send them away on a mission.

3) Growth for post-modern new believers is really experiential, and that's the biggest reason the "classroom" box doesn't fit anymore. We can take some clues from 12 step programs. "How do we grow a new believer?" is not very different a question from "How do I help someone stay sober?" The issue here is not really "belief" (at least in an abstract or intellectual definition), but rather of behavior. Post-moderns are actually less apt to ask "What should I believe as a Christian", but rather "How should I behave as a Christian?"

Response from a forum member:

Post-moderns are actually less apt to ask "What should I believe as a Christian", but rather "How should I behave as a Christian?"

This part surprises me. "what should I believe" and "how should I behave" sound very similar to me. Both seem directive; and if someone were giving me a set of parameters by which to live, what difference would it make if one said "believe this" and another said "do this." I personally wouldn't like either one of those things very well. After reading you for a while, I'm sure there's something deep in what you're saying, and I'm missing it. Would you care to say more about this so that I might be enlightened?

Response from Bill Easum

Most Christians say they believe one thing and then do the other. For example: 98% believe in God, but their morals are no different from non Christians. Or, it is not assent to propositions that makes all the difference about faith, but it is THE relationship that recreates one's life. Or, consider Wesley's class meetings. They were focuses on behavior modification, not learning the Scriptures. This is a classic response of Modernity that equates what one knows with who one is rather than how one translates faith into action. There is a world of difference here. It is now not that I believe in order to understand, but I understand in order to believe. I understand that God has entered my life, I have had an experience with the Holy that has nothing to do with what I believe but this experience causes me to change what I believe. I believe that now I am loved. That is not belief, that is assurance. Assurance is the prime directive in the postmodern experience. Luther would not play as well today as would Wesley.

Many churches fall victim to the belief issue by thinking if they just teach the bible people will act right. Wesley knew that more is involved. So the class meetings dealt with how one had lived during the week. What sin have you committed this week? Who do you need to forgive this week? What sin of omission have you committed this week? Although these are not quotes, they carry the impact of the questions the Class members were asked each week when they gathered.

Another response:

I'm trying to piece together some the things I've learned from this thread about helping new believers grow. I've got some contradictory findings.

  1. Mentoring is key.
  2. Thinking "class room" is too restrictive.
  3. Vital Christianity, Vital Beginning, & Walking with God are some possible curriculum
  4. Curriculum doesn't work.
  5. Formulas don't work.
  6. It has to be home-grown.
  7. Growing disciples is a God-thing.
  8. Imparting knowledge doesn't make disciples.
  9. Disciple making is the process of changing lives.

Another Response:

I've carefully read and considered every post in this thread, added in some of my own ideas, drawn from some sources not mentioned here yet and this is what I've come up with.

We must be deliberate and intentional about making disciples but yet avoid formulas, curriculum, classes, information, etc. Programs don't make disciples. People who cooperate with the Holy Spirit make disciples.

Is there a "way" to make disciples that is intentional and deliberate, yet allows room for the unpredictable work of the Spirit, the uniqueness of individuals, and the variety of local context? I think so. Here it is...

NURTURE A COMMUNITY WHERE EVERYONE IS ENCOURAGED TO BECOME A PART OF AN EVER-CHANGING WEB/MATRIX OF RELATIONSHIP IN WHICH EVERY PART IMPARTS THE LIFE OF CHRIST TO EVERY OTHER.

I have a 3-d motion picture in my mind that is difficult to translate into a the linear medium of the printed word.

(dream sequence.... your screen become blurry.... then...) You see no straight lines, boxes or flow charts, just an ever transforming blob of relationships that transforms all within it. The Holy Spirit presides over this blob and is ever present within it and within each part. I see people constantly moving into and out of relationships with small groups, mentors and learners. I see friendships (co-equal relationships) becoming mentoring relationships. I see mentoring relationships becoming friendships. I see mentoring relationships emerging from groups and groups emerging from mentors. I see learners becoming mentors and mentors growing more than they help others grow. I see people focused in one type of relationship (group/friendship or mentor or learner) for a season flowing into another type of relationship as they and others they are in relationship with grow and change. I see people connected in more than one relationship and more than one type of relationship at a time with the combination and priority of each ever changing. Everyone has the life of Christ imparted to them. Everyone imparts the life of Christ to others. It can't be managed or directed, but it can be nurtured and enjoyed...

The Responses Continue:

I have a question for you and others - Did you read the post that asked about time lines? I responded to that with something that I do with time lines, because I guess I think that some people need them. However, your post makes me question my reasoning now. Frankly, I would never use one myself -- I have found them too restricting. I do more in my head than on paper, though I suppose that what is in my head may involve a movement of time, but when you start to talk about that and put it on paper, it brings it into another whole reality. However, I find that people need concrete tools. At least that's the conclusion I've reached - is it flawed? Or are such concrete tools just morphing or being used in some settings and not others, etc. Is the need for concrete tools changing because of the change in culture ala the movie matrix you describe -- ? Or are concrete tools a product of learning styles?

I even feel stupid for asking those questions because part of me worries I'll send someone into the ozone because I'm so picky I' m really a very nice person though so here in your movie you have this matrix of connections which is impossible to diagram which explodes but which is grounded and connected by one thread which is Jesus I dig. 

Actually, we are working toward creating a multi track curriculum for new believers. We have decided to use as many resources as possible to help people discover, grow, and become involved in the mission. Thus, we are using Alpha curriculum; Experiencing God; Saddleback's 101, 201. 301and 401; a resource I have developed for Geneva College called "Spiritual Formation For Ministry; as well as other things. I am discovering that in a church as large and as diverse as ours, we need as many resources as there are subcultures within the congregation.

That's why in some ways I find the post modern discussion on this forum so interesting. I see moderns and post moderns coexisting on a daily basis in my ministry. We all worship together, but we experience community, discipleship and nurture differently.

The problem that was initially mentioned (people who have accepted Christ coming back because they missed something in the new members class) is a problem we have most acutely among our post modern gen-xers.

The following Post was addressed to Tom

A Response To An Earlier Post:

>It's a major challenge to get people who are very busy to commit to a class. >

We have found some ways to work for us. Our Bible study is at the food court at the mall. We pick up a lot of our older folks who are walkers and even some younger moms with kids who bring them along to get something at McDonalds while we adults get Starbucks and Seattle's Best coffees. We are studying Acts and comparing it to our own experience.

I started a congregation wide listserv four weeks ago. We have email addresses on it, many which are couples. We also have individualized Listserve for specific tasks and themes. This has been the best part. Its like in Acts where the community gathered together daily. After Jeff Patton was with us and shot us ahead light years, these listservs have been amazing. We study. We plan. We lament. For example, the state appeals court just ruled that our state motto "With God all things are possible" is unconstitutional because it is a direct scripture quote (unlike "In God we trust.") from Mt 19:23-26 (that piece about how rich folks will make it into the kingdom of heaven). Well, there were some real knee-jerk responses from some of our members online last Monday. I kept putting in my own experience and understanding of scripture, basically that it isn't the state's responsibility to make us honor the meaning of our scripture, which we hadn't been doing around our place, because at our place we are struggling over money and richness all the time. So I emphasized how we used this scripture/motto. Wow! I have heard from the two initiators of the complaints who said to me Sunday that they hadn't thought about any of the issues that I raised and they were grateful that I was their pastor. They also said they were alarmed when I shared some of my own views and experience because they thought they had set something off, but realized now that it really was a good give and take and learning and growing for the members on the Listserve.

The third piece is that during Lent we bought the video series "Wrestling with Angels" which is interviews on basic questions of faith and life with the likes of Phil Yancy, Madeleine l'Engle, Keith Miller, Lewis Smedes and so on. It was good sharing, not preaching. We averaged 40-50 people a night and they were mainly young family types. (We also had soup supper and child programs too).

A Comment

As a part of the Christian Church (Disciple of Christ) denomination, there is a very broad spectrum of what is "necessary" and what is not when it comes to belief. After a year in the new church plant with mostly unchurched (de-churched and a few never-churched), we've finally developed our own core beliefs (bedRock beliefs). One of our youth named our beliefs as "Jesus and the four greats."

  1. Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God (okay, we have an expectation that there is a core belief in the existence of the divine)
  2. Jesus gave the great invitation: "Follow me."
  3. Jesus claimed two great commandments: "Love God, Love others."
  4. Jesus proclaimed the great commission: "Make disciples."

We're up front that these are our core beliefs. Everything else is valuable for discussion, but is not a Kingdom issue and thus not worthy of serious argument or debate. In the words of the great rabbis, "Everything else is commentary."

For those who come to our Newcomer's Orientation class and subsequent discipling classes, if they have serious reservations about our core-beliefs, for instance troubles loving those of alternate orientations, level of inerrancy of scripture, etc., we recommend one of half a dozen other churches in the area where they might feel more at home with their core beliefs. So far, we've lost 3 families, but the Kingdom didn't lose any.

So, at least for us, when it comes to "fill in the blank" of what is important or not to us in our core belief system, we're up front--and we think we're better off for it.

Another Response

Take a look at the Christ in You series published by the Navigators and Churches Alive! There are six small books which I've used with new and immature believers. Any Christian book store should be able to help you find them.

Another response:

<< Let me respond more broadly to the above quote ... and I invite others to enter some dialogue about this. This issue for debate is ... how closely does a church want to define its values/beliefs foundation when they develop curricula or ministries to seekers or non-Christians of the 21st century? >>

As I consider your question, Tom, my thoughts go to Alpha.

Alpha is designed to reach non-believers or non-Christians. it is very basic in its approach. it does deal with both the head and the heart, it teaches you to be welcoming and hospitable and non-judgmental of non-believers, and it is very experiential and relationship oriented -- but it is also topical and in some ways, just simply informational. It IS programmatic, and yet, it isn't pushy, nor does it assume that people will respond at the same rate or come to believe at the same time, if at all.

I've often wondered why this programmatic approach seems to work in this era where being non-programmatic is such a big value. But one thing I keep coming back to -- besides the atmosphere of Alpha -- is the fact that it is so basic, and in some ways, rather concrete. And, perhaps, that it DOESN'T deal with values/ beliefs. Where I participate, I've never heard this particular host church say, "these are our core values, etc," except very briefly at the end of the course, when talking about church life -- you might hear, "this is how we do it here, in this church." It's not an advertisement for the local church at all, rather simply for Christianity, and if it really works for those who have limited church experience or no church experience in this post modern era, then perhaps there's a vote for down playing what your specific local church stands for.

Of course, there's a lot of questions one could come up with about Alpha: Is it modern or post modern? Does that question matter? Is it really effective in reaching non-believers? Or are most of the participants people with some background already in Christianity, who have lapsed in their beliefs or who already consider themselves Christian? Will Alpha last or is it a fad?

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