Discipleship and spiritual formation curriculum for new believers, new Christians

For Pastors and Church Leaders

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson

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Pastor and church leaders discussing discipleship Pastor or church leader, JesusWalk: Beginning the Journey is designed to make your job easier. It is my experience that most churches just don't have in place a careful plan to nurture new believers in the very early days of their Christian lives. And most churches don't have enough new believers at any one time to form a class for them.

JesusWalk: Beginning the Journey gives you what you need. It is a carefully designed, 12-lesson teaching and discussion curriculum designed to help new believers develop into healthy, growing Christians. It is also available at low or no-cost. All you need to do is give the mentor an Internet web address. He or she can go there, print out the lessons and discussion points, and watch each 15-minute online video lesson with the new believer.

Costs - Free is Good!

Though people can access this free, you may want to purchase a short book that contains all the lessons for the mentors and new Christians who will be going through this program. There is also a DVD set available so the lessons can be watched by the mentor and new believer -- or even a class or group -- in locations that don't have Internet access. You can order these materials online if you like (www.jesuswalk.com/books/beginning.htm).

But whether or not your church can afford these tools, they're available free on the Internet. The only cost then is Internet access time and the cost of printing webpages that contain the lessons and questions. Do not let lack of money stand in the way of using this program.

The Pastor's Role

Here's how this might work for the pastor and your congregation. After a person becomes a Christian, as pastor or a leader delegated to this ministry:

  1. You assign a mentor to each new believer. The mentor should be a growing Christian of the same gender as the new believer, who can spend an hour or hour and a half with him or her each week. It is best if the age of the mentor and new believer are similar, though that is not absolutely necessary. The mentor could well be the person who led the new believer to Christ. The mentor needs to be someone who is currently growing well in Christ, but he or she does not need to be fully mature. 
  2. You train the mentor by watching the mentor training video or reading together -- Appendix 1: "The Role of the Mentor." Then go over with him or her what will be expected and how to approach this ministry.
  3. You send out the mentor to make an appointment and then meet with the new believer. Encourage the mentor to meet in a relaxed setting, perhaps a coffee shop or Internet café or in a home, to watch the video lesson or read the lesson together, and then talk about it using the included discussion points.
  4. You monitor the progress of discipling by staying in touch with the mentor regularly. Since this may stretch the mentor beyond his or her comfort zone, this can be a good time to mentor the mentor and help this ministry to be a growth opportunity for him or her.
  5. You meet with the mentor and new believer, but only occasionally as needed. If you are present very often, you will suppress the mentor's own developing gift of ministry. But the mentor might need some help with Lesson 7. Holy Spirit - The Power of God's Presence," that discusses the Spirit-led life. If you think it is necessary, watch the lesson 7 video with them, then help them through the discussion questions.
  6. You celebrate the new believer's progress. This curriculum does not assume that the new believer grew up in the church, so it starts from the very basics. It encourages the mentor and new believer to contact the pastor regarding baptism and church membership, so you can celebrate new life in Christ publically with the new believers in the way that your church does these things.

Pastor, you may be tempted to do the mentoring yourself. After all, you may have better training and are deeper in the Lord than nearly anyone else in the congregation. I encourage you to resist that temptation. Rather, prayerfully find a possible mentor and then extend your ministry through him or her. In doing this you are fulfilling your Scriptural mandate "to equip the saints for the work of ministry" (Ephesians 4:12, NRSV). As you do this, your congregation will be able to grow naturally through the leaders you are developing.

Doctrine: A Trans-Denominational Approach

As a pastor or church leader you are rightly concerned about the doctrines that your people will be exposed to. JesusWalk: Beginning the Journey is designed to be a tool that can be trusted and used by any denomination.

This material doesn't shy away from the hard issues of serving Christ as a disciple. We consider sin, repentance, commitment, salvation, resisting temptation, enduring persecution, practicing Christian love, giving to God's work, serving one another, and living by the Spirit.

However, I go out of my way to present this material without discussing them in ways that offend particular teachings of Christian denominations. For example:

  • Baptism is strongly encouraged in Lesson 1. Rescue - Grace and Forgiveness, but we don't specify the mode of baptism. Instead, new believers are referred to churches to explain the details. Since I am assuming that the new believers have no church background, I haven't touched on the issue of infant baptism or "re-baptism." Pastors can explain these matters where appropriate.
  • Church membership is strongly encouraged in Lesson 4. Fellowship - Connecting to a Community of Christians, but we leave it to pastors and churches to fill in the details for the new believer.
  • The Lord's Supper is mentioned in Lesson 6. Gospel - Understanding Christ's Story, without being specific about how it is to be administered. Your church traditions regarding the Eucharist are honored, not undermined.
  • A Spirit-led Christian life is taught in Lesson 7. Holy Spirit - The Power of God's Presence. We don't use explicit Pentecostal terminology, though most Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal groups should be comfortable with this teaching on the Spirit-led life.
  • Spiritual gift examples given are both "natural" and "supernatural," though this is presented in a non-controversial manner. Speaking in tongues is not specifically mentioned.
  • The authority of Scripture is assumed throughout and discussed explicitly in Lesson 11. Bible - Our Guidebook for Living, though we don't treat the issue of inerrancy. We leave that to you.

This does not mean that I don't have clear views on these subjects. I discuss controversial issues in my in-depth Bible studies as they appear in the text. The purpose of JesusWalk: Beginning the Journey, however, is not to generate controversy, but to make a high quality spiritual formation and discipleship tool available to the greatest possible number of Christian churches at the lowest possible price -- free.

As important as sound doctrine is, however, the purpose of JesusWalk: Beginning the Journey is not solely doctrinal. This series aims at solid, practical Christian living. The purpose is to develop in new believers a healthy Christian approach to life and to help them develop spiritual disciplines that will allow them to continue to grow well in the Lord long after they complete this series.

Use in Classes or Small Groups

This series is specifically designed to be used with a new believer and a mentor. However, it is adaptable for use with a mentor who works with two or even three new believers at a time. What you gain is increased "efficiency" of ministry personnel. What you lose, at some point, however, is the personal mentoring presence. I believe it is vital for the new believer to observe a growing Christian up close so that he or she is able to serve as a model for growth.

If your class or small group has already been living the Christian life for some time, this is not the series for you. You need discipleship curricula that does not assume a complete lack of knowledge about Christianity. Instead, you need Bible studies that are more intensive and are appropriate for more mature Christians.

However, if you are working with a group of new believers who are pretty much at the same point in their early spiritual growth, this curriculum could work for a class -- and you could use it with a mixed group of both men and women.

  JesusWalk - Beginning the Journey book cover
Printed books, e-books, and a DVD set are available

You might watch the video together. Secure the DVD set for your church and supply the book for each person -- mentor and new believer alike. Or print out a copy of the two-page lesson handout for each participant. Then break into two smaller sub-groups -- men with men, women with women -- to talk through the discussion points together.

Since the discussion points are designed to instill individual accountability and follow-through, make sure that your discussion groups are very small. I recommend an absolute maximum of three new believers for each mentor. It is best for a mentor to stay with the same group of new believers through the entire series.

If you decide on a group approach, you will want to train the mentors to work together as a discipling team. You might have the mentors come 15 minutes early for prayer and meet together once or twice during the series for instruction and guidance in their ministry.

That's the overview. I hope you'll be able to use JesusWalk: Beginning the Journey in your church in order to bring fruit to maturity for the Kingdom.

JesusWalk: Beginning the Journey
New Christian, New Believer Discipleship Training and Spiritual Formation

Copyright © 2022, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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