The lockdown has led to many churches and preachers conducting online services. I’ve watched more YouTube and Facebook sermons during the lockdown than I usually do, and I’m not the only one. Many news outlets have reported a rise in Bible sales during the lockdown and online viewership seems to be higher than normal in-church attendance. I suspect this is because online churches are more convenient and accessible. Additionally, while it may be daunting for some visitors to walk into a church for a service, watching an online isn’t. Oftentimes, preachers will invite non-believers to place their faith in Jesus at some point during the service and presumably, some take up this invitation. If so, what happens next? What is the roadmap for those new-born believers?
This isn’t an unreasonable question because, in most parts of the world, there’s a roadmap for new-borns. Many societies have a formal education program that takes a child from nursery/pre-school years through to a university degree. In some countries like the UK, its compulsory to participate in a formal education program to the age of 16. At which point, a young person can take on a job or continue with their education through to university and then, pursue a career afterwards. In either case, the aim is to equip children through to maturity so that they can become useful members of society. Ephesians 4 describes something akin to this equipping process for the Body of Christ – the Church.
Accepting Jesus is not where the story ends. Jesus didn’t save us from sin and eternal death just to wait around to die and go to heaven. Paul puts it this way: “… [Jesus] gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” [Titus 2:14 NASB]. This was echoed by Jesus who said: “You did not choose Me but I chose you and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit and that your fruit would remain…” [John 15:16]. I believe that becoming a believer is being recruited into God’s vineyard to partner with Him in His redemptive work in the world through the Church.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul explains that when Jesus ascended back to heaven “He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the Body of Christ” [Ephesians 4:11-12]. This work is to continue until we all reach the unity of the faith and knowledge of Jesus, attaining maturity which is of the likeness of Jesus Himself [Ephesians 4:13]. When this happens, the believer is no longer a child tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming. Instead, this mature believer, speaking the truth in love, is to grow up in all aspects of life to be more like Jesus, while working for the common good of the Church [Ephesians 4:14-16].
I believe this is God’s roadmap for every believer as we each work out our salvation [Philippians 2:1-12]. If this is the case, then every believer is to be equipped. This is why Jesus has appointed people within the Church to do the equipping. So, how does the Church take that new convert or even existing believers through to maturity? Paul again gives us some insight as he tells the Philippians: “the things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things” [Philippians 4:9]. This highlights to me the importance of sound teaching and godly role models new believers can emulate.
I once read an interesting article about how well we know God’s word. The author highlighted 5 levels of learning for consideration. Level 1 is Rote (the ability to repeat what we hear without thought of meaning). Level 2 is Recognition (the ability to recognise biblical concepts). Level 3 is Restatement (the ability to express or relate concepts to a biblical system of thought). Level 4 is Relation (the ability to relate biblical concepts to life) and lastly level 5, Realisation (responding to biblical truth by applying it to our lives). The author argued that “we can memorize scripture, recognize it on a test, restate it in our own words, distinguish it from false doctrines on the subject, and even see how it applies to our lives. However, until we obey and apply it to our lives, we haven’t learned it adequately”. As James cautioned, we are to be doers of the Word, not just be hearers [James 1:22].
As I reflected on that article, I thought of those specifically called to equip the saints. They are to tend and shepherd God’s sheep until we all reach maturity in Christ [John 21:15-17]. How intentional are we along with the leadership in our local churches to get new or existing believers to level 5? The onus isn’t just on those called to equip and church leaders, the rest of the congregation also have a role to play, especially in the upbringing of new believers. As such, how intentional are we in learning God’s word and working out our salvation? Do we sing songs by rote? Do we seek to go beyond just being able to express biblical concepts to others? Do we apply what we have learnt so that others can see the enduring fruits of God’s word in our lives?
If we are to partner with God in His vineyard [Luke 2:49], we must understand and actively pursue His roadmap for us, other believers and His Church. We must become mature children of God and play our role in equipping others.