By Tim Zakarian
So, what happens after a person gets saved? Is our job done? How do we help them take their next steps of faith?
I was not raised in the church, and I did not make the decision to follow Christ until I was in middle school. I was excited to live for Christ, but that excitement lasted about three months, and then I fell away. I just did not know how to take my next steps of faith. It was not until my senior year of high school that I became so tired of my life that I decided to follow the Lord again. This time I had the support of a youth group and a good Christian friend to walk with me through my next steps. Some would call it discipleship.
Helping a person in their next steps of faith is vital. In fact, Jesus commanded us in Matthew 28:19 to “go and make disciples.”
Yes, it is important that a person accepts the Lord, but it is also important they learn what it means to have a relationship with Christ. We all have the opportunity to help new believers in this journey. But how do we do that?”
Since becoming a pastor, I have had the privilege to disciple many people and see them become incredible leaders for Christ. I learned about discipleship from my own faith experience, but I also learned by helping others in their next steps of faith. So, when you disciple someone, where do you start?
It starts with relationship.
And relationships take time. When I got saved, a Christian coworker spent months building a relationship with me. Because we had a friendship, that person was able to help me move forward in my faith. The relationship was important; it enabled me to ask the hard questions to someone I trusted. It also allowed me to observe someone else’s life to see how a Christian really lived. Because I came from an unchurched background, I also needed accountability to deal with my former way of life.
If living life with others (His disciples) was the model used by Jesus, then maybe we should do the same. Jesus spent lots of time with His disciples. This was His example: I will show you, you model after Me, then go do what I showed you and I’ll watch. Jesus sent the disciples out town to town to share the Good News. That is how they started the early church (Mark 6:7-13).
Guiding a new believer to an authentic relationship with Christ is an important next step.
It may be easy to point to the rules of our faith or to godly morals, and these things are important. But real transformation happens through a relationship with Christ. When I first became a Christian, I tried so hard to follow the rules without knowing Christ very well. The result was I kept falling short. My failures caused guilt, and I began to wonder if I could really follow Christ. Then someone helped me develop my relationship with Christ by showing me how to grow closer to Him. They helped me get involved in a small group that was geared for new believers, and I began to understand who Jesus really is. This is when I found real change and true freedom in my life. Relationship with Christ is what brings real transformation.
Helping a new believer get plugged into a good church is another a vital step.
It is important they have the support of other Christians. This was hard for me at first. I was afraid of church, especially the church service. But my friend encouraged me to attend and get involved. I learned how to worship, fellowship, and understand the Bible. I got involved in a small group, and with that I had six guys holding me accountable and helping me grow in my faith. The church’s new believer’s class was where I learned the basics of being a Christian. It is where I learned the importance of baptism and got baptized. It is where I received my calling to be a pastor. Some people try to skip church involvement in their process of faith, but the church is critical in our growth. It is the model Jesus gave us to help us in our journey.
The next step is to help a new believer find their new identity in Christ.
They need to go from the role of a spectator to that of a participator. Often this is where people get stuck. They do not know how to get involved or make real connections. When I became a Christian, my whole life was changed. I lost many friends because I changed how I lived and how I spent my time. I was a new person in Christ, but I had to learn what that meant. There are many ways to help a new believer in this season. Offer them a personality test or spiritual gift assessment that will help them identify God-given traits, talents, and gifts they didn’t even know they had. Give them the opportunity to serve alongside mature believers in the local church and the community. This will also help them identify their passions and gifts.
Training is crucial. As I shared earlier, that’s exactly what Jesus did with His disciples. He showed them what to do, had them go do it, and then released them to lead. Showing someone how to serve so they understand what is expected is important in the growth of a believer. Often we tell someone to go serve without offering training or explaining expectations just to later watch them fail. When a person is well trained and they know what is expected from them, they have a much better chance to succeed and grow in their talents and gifts.
How long does this “discipleship” process take? The reality is if you’re a believer, this should be a lifelong process. Be patient with someone else’s spiritual growth. Be there for the long haul. Maybe they will take some hard steps backwards. Be there to love them and help them get back on track. Be honest with them and love them with a love not based on their actions, but on who they are. It is how Jesus loves us. I am so thankful He never gave up on me through my process. I am so thankful God also placed people in my life that never gave up on me. Be that person for someone else. Ask the Lord how you can help someone else grow in their faith. It is an incredible honor to watch someone you have invested in love Jesus and make an impact on the Kingdom.
About the Author
Tim Zakarian is the associate director for the Pacific Region of Open Bible Churches. He lives in Springfield, Oregon, with his wife, Tina, to whom he has been married 36 years. The Zakarians have two adult, married children who are serving in ministry. Michael and his wife, Cheyenne, are the youth pastors at Summit Christian Church of the Open Bible in Los Angeles. Christine McAndrew and her husband, Aaron, are the youth pastors at Waypoint Community, an Open Bible church in Springfield, Oregon. Tim has had many roles in ministry, including youth pastor, regional youth director, associate pastor, executive pastor, church planter, and lead pastor. No matter his role, Tim’s passion for the ministry has always been to mentor and develop leaders.