Dan Edelen has a post up at Cerulean Sanctum about what he calls anti-witnesses: people who accept Christ but then, left alone with no follow-up or discipleship by the Christans who converted them, drift away from the faith or wander into dangerous and unorthodox spiritual territory. With only a surface-level understanding of the Christian faith and nobody on hand to disciple or mentor them, these people can actually present a confused and tarnished witness to others.
What message are we inadvertently sending to a new convert if we bail the second they say, "I believe"? We tend to want to make converts, but the actual interpersonal discipling that happens afterward becomes some other church's, pastor's, or discipler's responsibility.
I've seen or heard of too many people left to their own devices after a supposed conversion and more often than not those abandoned folks turn into antiwitnesses. We may think they're in God's care and protection, but the truth is that we left them to be sifted by Satan. God gave them to us and we tossed them aside to get torn apart by the Enemy.
I think Dan's onto something important here. This is a topic I feel strongly about; in fact, I can say that one of the most disillusioning spiritual experiences I had as a young Christian involved door-to-door evangelism carried out with little thought given to long-term discipleship. I was walking around a Midwestern town with a small team of fellow Christians, knocking on doors and walking people through the Four Spiritual Laws.
Our one "successful conversion" of the day was a middle-aged woman who accepted our spiritual claims with a readiness that made me think that God must have surely been at work. She went through our little summary of Christianity and prayed the sinner's prayer, asking Christ into her life. I was absolutely exhilirated, feeling what can only be described as a "spiritual high." We left shortly after she accepted Christ, giving her a little brochure for a nearby church before heading out to the car to call it a day.
Then, on the car ride home, I started to replay the conversation, and I started to ask what we had actually just accomplished. The woman's ready agreement with our Gospel presentation started looking less like the eager enthusiasm of a convert, and more like the shallow agreement of somebody who wasn't really being challenged to truly consider the import of Christ's claims. Her prayer of repentance suddenly seemed less like the cry of a lost soul in need of salvation, and more like a skeptical soul saying "Sure, I'll say the words, what can it hurt?" without understanding the significance of the activity. Because we hadn't taken any time to get to know this woman outside of our brief Gospel presentation, there was no way for us to truly tell how much she did or didn't understand about our message. And then I started wondering: if this woman had truly accepted Christ, did we have any plan for discipleship that went beyond just hoping she showed up at church on Sunday?
My elation at the successful conversion evaporated completely, and I began to fear that we had just left this woman with some very dangerous misconceptions about what it meant to be a Christian. To this day I don't know whether she is a Christian or not, but I do know that if she is flourishing in her Christian walk, it probably isn't because of our businesslike Gospel presentation and subsequent abandonment.
What do you think? What does your church do to avoid the problem of "post-conversion abandonment"? To what extent do you think this is still a problem for the church today?