I recently had a conversation with a group leader. She asked a tremendous question about having new believers in her group, versus having them in a separate group for newer believers. How are we to care for the needs of new believers when they are placed in groups with maturing believers? Challenges abound. So do opportunities.
I’ve been noodling on her question to me about this issue. Is it better to have newer believers mixed into groups with more mature believers, or is it better to separate those newer believers into their own groups?
I believe having new believers in our Bible study groups is the right way to make disciples. Here are few reasons why combining new believers and maturing believers is a good idea, and how we can embrace new believers and their needs
- Embracing new believers means embracing evangelism. Groups exist to make disciples. This means reaching new people regularly with the gospel. If we had no new believers in our groups, we might begin to turn inward and wrongly believe that Bible study is about the maturing of the saints rather than the saving of sinners. New believers have family and friends who are spiritually lost, and savvy groups will help connect those people to the gospel, too.
- Embracing new believers means embracing biblical discipleship. When new believers are present, we can lead a member of the group to “adopt” the new believer and spend time discipling them outside of the group Bible study. That’s biblical. That’s also very needed today. Learning together as a group has great value. Of even higher value is a smaller relationship in which a more mature believer cares for the spiritual growth of a less mature Christian.
- Embracing new believers means embracing foundational discipleship. People in our churches misunderstand the purpose of Sunday School. The purpose isn’t to “go deep.” I have come to hate that term. It’s an arrogant term when used in the context of Sunday School. It’s arrogant because it assumes the goal of teaching is to unwrap and unpack “deep truths” when the reality is most of our people are educated well beyond their level of obedience. Sunday School isn’t designed to be a place for “deep discipleship.” It is a place for foundational discipleship. It is a place from which we launch maturing believers to be group leaders for preschoolers, children, students, and yes, other adult groups. If we make Sunday School all about “going deep,” we’ve gotten away from its primary mission of making disciples. So yes, mature believer, you are going to sit in a Bible study group and go over what seem to be “elementary” concepts to you, but for the new believer sitting next to you, these are “calves staring at a new gate” kind of terms. Mature believer, if you are indeed mature, leave your group and start serving by beginning a teaching-shepherding ministry as a group leader! Don’t sit and complain about the lack of depth in Sunday School.
- Embracing new believers means embracing new approaches to teaching. We cannot assume that new believers have a frame of reference when it comes to the Bible. The right assumption is to approach each study with the thought that the newest believers in our group don’t know the stories of the Bible. Nor do they know the deeds of many of the Bible’s greatest heroes. We must slow down and explain everything – people, places, words, concepts. Take nothing for granted.
- Embracing new believers means embracing simpler words and ideas. Words we (the more mature) might not give a second thought to can cause less mature believers to pause and wonder. “Saved, sanctification, gospel” and other words we use without thinking often cause newer believers to stumble. They haven’t learned the richness of the words we toss about our Bible studies. As we prepare our Bible studies, we must examine each word for clarity.
- Embracing new believers means showing them how to live. New believers will learn from us as they watch us live life in front of them. We’ll be able to teach them how to handle adversity, prosperity, and everything in between. We should be able to guide them and say, “Do as I do, as I follow Christ.”
For these reasons, I love the idea of new believers sitting in groups with more mature believers. Could your church and my church offer a short-term study to help new believers understand key doctrines? Of course. Could we provide short-term studies to help newer believers understand the chronology of the Bible? Without a doubt! In fact, check out the brand new resource, Gospel Foundations – it’s a one-year chronological journey through the Bible. Or take a look at Disciples Path – a multi-part curriculum to disciple people in smaller three and four-person groups.
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