By Daniel Darling
Unless you’ve been under a rock, you’re aware by now that rapper Kanye West has openly professed faith in Christ, hosting Sunday services featuring gospel preachers, and has released an album, Jesus is King, full of Bible references.
West’s apparent conversion has provoked all kinds of reaction from Christians from jubilation to skepticism. Some have compared his conversion to that of the Apostle Paul. Others have compared it Johnny Cash’s or Bob Dylan’s.
Most of us won’t ever meet Kanye West, but hopefully we’re constantly engaging with people who have professed newfound faith in Jesus Christ. Too often we meet such professions of faith—especially when they come from the mouths of people we least expect—with deep skepticism.
But what we owe new believers is not a clenched fist, but an open hand. So instead of eye rolls, let’s offer biblical responses. Here are six things the church often gets wrong when a new believer comes into the fold.
1. Responding to a new believers with a lack of joy
Just as parents greet the entrance of a new baby into the world with joy, so should fellow believers greet the entrance of a new Christian—a new birth—into the body of Christ.
Luke 15:10 says that all of Heaven rejoices when a sinner comes home. Think about this. What lights up Heaven is that one more image-bearer has been rescued from the clutches of darkness. One more prodigal has come home. If we are truly living for Heaven, we should rejoice at what makes glad the heart of God.
2. Missing awe over the miracle of salvation
Skepticism is one thing. But surprise is another.
My friend Bryan Loritts recently wrote, “Like any miracle, conversions shock us.” That’s exactly right. A conversion is always a surprising work of God, whether it takes place at 5 or 50, in a pew or a prison.
It’s a miracle that I’m a believer. It’s a miracle that you’re a believer. We who were dead have been made alive. God by his Spirit woos the hearts of sinners and gives them new birth in Christ.
3. Losing patience as a new believer stumbles
A new believer articulates enough understanding that he or she is a sinner desperately in need of grace, abandoning idols and self-righteousness at the cross.
But that may be all they know.
Those of us who’ve spent years studying and teaching the Bible shouldn’t expect new converts to be as knowledgeable as we are. Paul says of his work among the people of Thessalonica, “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7).
This kind of gentle care of a new convert requires spiritual maturity. In a social media age, where we stand ready to mock wrong answers in order to get clicks, we need to resist this and patiently work with those who are new to the family of God.
4. Not allowing them to grow in wisdom before they assume a leadership role
Paul urges Timothy to not put a “novice” in leadership. Too often we’re tempted to give a new believer leadership roles before they are ready, particularly if they are a celebrity.
It’s tempting to see someone’s natural gifts and talents and automatically thrust them into leadership roles for which they aren’t spiritually prepared. This not only hurts the church; it hurts the person pushed into prominence prematurely. We should go slow and let some sanctification and discipleship take root.
Ironically, Paul’s words to Timothy were born out of his own experience. Before he was commissioned by the early church, he spent three years in obscurity in Arabia, learning and growing (Galatians 1:17).
5. Failure to adequately encourage a new Christian
We’re wise to watch a new convert over a long period of time to see if they’re truly regenerated. But at the same time, our first response shouldn’t be cynicism or wish they were “our kind of Christian.”
We’re not saved into parochial tribes; we’re baptized into the body of Christ. So a new believer doesn’t need our Phariseeism, but our encouragement. They need a new family, not a new group of accusers.
6. Not welcoming them With a posture of humility
There’s a tendency to disbelieve conversions happened, especially when they come out of a hedonistic or antagonistic life.
Some in the early church doubted Paul’s conversion, because he was the least likely person to be saved. Sometimes we convince ourselves that we’re the kind of people God wants to save.
But the grace that God applied to us is just as scandalous as the grace He applies to others. My salvation cost God as much as much as anyone else’s because the “wretch” in Newton’s Amazing Grace refers to me, not just those “other” people.
God is in the business of saving people, from celebrities like Kanye West to ordinary folks in your part of the world.
Let’s rejoice, like Heaven, every time a sinner crosses the threshold of mercy. And let’s not miss an opportunity to welcome a new brother or sister into the family of God.
DANIEL DARLING (@dandarling) is vice president of communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and teaching and discipleship pastor at Green Hill Church in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. He is the author of several books, including The Dignity Revolution.