Raising babies or raising churches is similar. In both instances you need to pay attention to essential things. If babies don’t get smiled at, held tenderly, talked to, and fed the right foods they won’t thrive. Baby Christians and baby churches are much the same. The Apostle Paul understood this.
It is one of Paul’s earliest letters. It was probably written in AD 50 or 51. It was written during Paul’s second missionary journey. It was written to a group of people who Paul had only been with for about 3-4 weeks. They were baby Christians. They were a mixed ethnic group, Jews and Gentiles, some of whom were prominent women in the city. By the time the letter of 1 Thessalonians arrives, the baby Christians are between 2-3 months old. All of this means that when we open up our Bibles we can look back through 21 centuries to the pen of the apostle Paul at a first century exploration of new-believer follow up. The content of this book is our window into what the apostle taught new believers so that they would live passionately for and like Jesus.
Here is just a part of what Paul thought was essential for new believers to know:
- A firm hope in the second coming of Christ.
- A firm commitment to personal holiness.
- A significant theology of suffering.
- A keen dependence on the Holy Spirit in living out the gospel.
- A commitment to personal integrity and hard work.
There is so much to explore in this little book but just those five things raise serious questions about the way that many churches approach the early growth of new believers.
- Are we more likely to side step the second coming as too controversial because of disparate views or to make it one of the primary grounds for living a holy life?
- Are we more likely to reduce this to an ambiguity about living with purpose or call for it in a new believer’s life as an evidence of real belief in Christ?
- Do we avoid talking about the likelihood of suffering for Christ thinking it will “scare” people away?
- Do we emphasize the complete impossibility of living the Christian life without the real empowering of the Holy Spirit?
- Do you emphasize the connection between personal integrity and hard work for our Christian witness or are we too afraid to lay these “burdens” on new believers? (see comments below for another look)
I don’t know about you, but when I examine the “new believer follow-up” kind of materials out there in the church compared to what Paul taught in 1 Thessalonians, I don’t see a lot of similarity. And maybe that is part of the story behind many of the de-conversion stories we hear about in our time.
God forgive us.
1 Thessalonians points the way back.
We can raise better babies.