When I accepted Jesus as my Savior as a boy, I walked the aisle at the end of an evangelistic service. Someone filled out a card with my name and address and then the pastor presented me to the church. I was voted in as a member right on the spot pending my baptism.
Churches today are taking a closer look at how they receive decisions. Those who continue to live a lifestyle contrary to biblical teaching are being received under a form of “watch care.” They don’t have voting rights and cannot hold office, serve on committees, or be approved as a Bible study teacher. In some churches, this requires a change to bylaws and constitutions.
Counselors are on the frontlines of decision-making and follow-up. Just as we say in sports, “the best offense is a good defense,” so the best follow-up is good preparation. Prayer for revival and spiritual awakening saturate everything the counselor will ever do on behalf of the church. They must know how to lead someone to faith in Christ and use their own testimony when appropriate to do so.
It is important to be security-minded and sensitive to those who come forward. “Why have you come today?” is still the best question to use to greet people making decisions. A child may have come on a dare. A college student may admit looking for a place to meet a godly spouse. A man may want help paying his car payments. An older adult may want to be in a church where their children belong. And, of course, there are those who are making spiritual decisions with eternal consequences!
Listening is the key. My wife was a decision counselor in a church when we lived in another state. A woman came forward and the pastor nodded to Mary Leigh to accompany the woman to a counseling room. The married woman confessed to having an affair with a co-worker. My wife was coached to listen carefully and arrange a meeting with one of the church staff, which they did.
Children and students should not be escorted by an older man into a private counseling room. All they have to say is, “he touched me,” and, well, it’s over. Despite having had a godly reputation, it will be instantly ruined. Counseling with parents present is always advised or in a pinch, a front pew in the open is advised.
After the decision is made, and made public, new believers must be discipled intentionally. They may be carrying baggage from another religious background. “New Believers Following Jesus” is available free from my office. New believers need training in five areas: abiding with Jesus in prayer and worship, obedience beginning with baptism by immersion and stewardship, studying the Bible, loving others as part of active church life in and beyond the church, and telling others about Jesus as He commanded in the Great Commission.
Hal Seed pastors New Song Community Church, Oceanside, Calif. This SBC church has seen over 17,000 people come to Christ. Seed explained to a group of us that during their invitation time, they encouraged new believers to give fist pumps right where they stood if they made a decision. Trained counselors spotted them from the back and handed them a guide. They treated the first 20 minutes after their profession of faith as the most important time in the life of a new believer. Each of these counselors took the initiative to schedule meeting times the coming week.
Decision counselors have that immediate relationship that works perfectly for follow-up. Invite parents, spouses, or friends to join in, too. When you reinforce the decision and the Gospel message, they may follow Christ, too.
I’m available to help you train your church’s decision counselors. (CABAdirector@gmail.com
Mark Snowden is the Director for Missional Leadership for the Cincinnati Area Baptist Association.