Sweet tea, fried chicken, fishin’, and muddin’—although I grew up in the South, I did not attend church every Sunday. I never attended weekly Bible studies or evening youth groups. In fact Jesus Christ had no place in my family growing up. My relationship with Jesus Christ began just a few years ago.
Before Christ came into my life, I was hostile toward Christianity. I hated the idea of God. In my mind, those who claimed to be Christians were foolish, intolerant, and hateful. During that period in my life, I cursed, drank, and had several less-than-godly relationships with women. I did whatever I wanted because I was convinced there was no God to judge me.
Given my track record with girls, it should not be a surprise that when I did finally find myself sitting in the pews on a Sunday morning, it was to impress a girl. Although I continued attending that church regularly, my conversion didn’t happen overnight. Weeks passed before I truly began to listen and learn about the truth of who God really is. I also began to understand why Christ gave Himself as a sacrifice and what that means for me. I realized that I needed to stop relying on myself for fulfillment and happiness because those things are only found in Christ. I decided to follow Him.
I am the first Christian in my family. This comes with a unique set of challenges because I have no one in my immediate family to help me understand what it means to be a Christ follower. However, my church family has supported me and helped lay a firm foundation for my walk with Christ. This was critical for my growth as a new Christian.
I am thankful for my church and here is why:
- My church holds me accountable and encourages me. Once I put my faith in Jesus Christ, I was freed from the penalty of my sin. This fact does not mean I will never sin again or that it is okay to sin. The Apostle Paul said, “Shall we continue to sin that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1, NKJV). Sin, even for believers, still separates us from God’s best plan for us. My church loves me enough to hold me accountable for the sin I still allow in my life as a new believer. My church reminds me to reckon myself dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus (cf. Romans 6:11). This is perhaps the most crucial way the church helps someone like me.
- My church unapologetically teaches me the truth of the Word of God. Scripture is offensive. Its blatant opposition to my previous lifestyle is why I hated God so intensely. One of the most loving things my church does for me as a new Christian is to not be afraid to offend me with the truth. My church teaches me to conform to Scripture instead of allowing me to conform Scripture to my life. This attitude towards the Scriptures enables God to mold me into His strong and faithful servant. A new believer’s hunger for truth is only satisfied by the true Word of God, not the processed, altered, and less offensive gospel.
- My church teaches real-world application of the Scriptures. As a new Christian, I need to be equipped with a well-rounded understanding of the Bible and its teachings. My church teaches me what the Bible says, why it says it, and what it means. This ensures that when I go through life and face trials, I am prepared with the Word of God.
- My church is an authentic Christian community. Authentic Christian relationships with members of my church provide me with Christ-like examples of faith, purity, and the pursuit of Jesus. This community teaches and encourages me to live in a way that glorifies God. They also demonstrate love and affection by investing in me and helping me grow.
- My church has strong Christian leaders. My church has excellent pastors and mentors who genuinely care for me and invest their time into personally discipling me. They encourage me from a Christ-like perspective when my family and friends cannot do so. These leaders serve as powerful examples to me of what it means to serve Christ in everything I do.
To those seeking to know more about following Jesus Christ, it is important you seek out a church like the one I attend. Choose a church that holds you accountable, teaches the truth of the Scriptures, applies Scripture to real life situations in order to help you grow, is an authentic Christian community, and has strong, godly leaders. The point is for you to grow closer to Christ. If any of these five church characteristics are compromised, you will be frustrated and your growth will be hindered.
Finally, pastors, you need to make sure your church has the above five characteristics. Remember there are new Christians like me who do not have a Christian upbringing. Some of us do not have family members to explain the Bible. We do not have people in our daily lives who demonstrate what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. So, keep loving us. Keep teaching us. Don’t ever stop telling us the truth about the Scriptures. Take the time and disciple us. In fact, your faithful commitment to discipling God’s people is what motivates a guy like me to want to surrender to Christ and live my life for Him.
NETAFIRM’s book, Saving the Saved: How the Church’s Greatest Omission Led to a Post-Christian America, is available in paperback or Kindle editions at Amazon.