I recently read that the number of Muslim converts to Christianity returning to their Muslim faith after only a year is surprisingly high. At the heart of this reconversion rate is a lack of attention on the needs of the new converts after coming to faith in Jesus Christ. A new Christian needs someone to help them navigate their new place in the world, to adjust their expectations and perceptions and learn how to orient themselves to Christ first. They need ongoing support and teaching.
Culturally, Western people are very independent – we don’t typically rely on the family unit for everything. We demand independence from the “net” of our family systems earlier than ever. However, many other cultures, like the Muslim culture, do not place such a high value on independence. They function primarily within the family system, so when someone converts to a new religion and changes the system, that individual is often cut off entirely. He loses all of his support for the sake of the gospel. Who steps in to help him find a new family system?
The Western Church puts extraordinary emphasis on the Great Commission, spending millions each year on all kinds of mission’s trips, sending thousands of people to far corners of the world to share the Gospel. But apparently, the church has focused so much on “Go” that we are missing the mark when it comes to the core and only command of the Great Commission – “make disciples”.
A disciple is a student. In biblical times, a disciple committed his life to his teacher. The 12 disciples Jesus chose left their families to live with and follow Jesus for the full three years of his ministry, totally saturated in his teachings, observing His interactions and faith before being sent out on their own to “make disciples…teaching them to observe everything” Jesus had commanded (Matthew 28:19-20, CSB).
The Apostle Paul took on young Timothy as his disciple. Timothy followed Paul on his missionary journeys, helping establish churches all over the Gentile world until just before Paul’s death, when Paul determined Timothy was well-established in his own faith, and able to take charge of his own mission. The charge of the Great Commission isn’t to merely go and drop truth bombs on people and then head home, it’s to take these new converts on and teach them what following Jesus really means and looks like, to invest in their spiritual wellbeing.
A pastor once told me that every believer needs a Paul and a Timothy. We are meant to be in mentor-disciple relationships with people in the community of Christ. No believer can do any aspect of this life in isolation. You weren’t meant to! When you feel worn down and exhausted and think to yourself, “I just can’t do this,” whether that “this” is your job, parenting, homeschooling, moving again as a military family, dig yourself out of depression or manage your severe anxiety, I want to respond with a resounding “You’re right! You CAN’T do this!” Because if you could, you wouldn’t need the Holy Spirit or the body of Christ. So stop trying, and reach out to a trusted “Paul” in your life for help. And then pray that as you grow, God will bring you your own Timothy.
This was published in part in Lifeway’s Journey magazine in October 2018.