James A. Cress was the General Conference Ministerial Secretary when he wrote this article.

This issue of Christian influence and ministry particularly impacts what we do with new believers. Just as the first learning patterns of children will govern their future behavior, so the first learning patterns of baby Christians will determine their future discipleship. John Wesley insisted that to lead people to Jesus Christ without also providing an adequate opportunity for growth and nurture is simply "to beget children for the murderer." 1 Turtle adds: "I am personally convinced that the only way to keep Christians alive is to keep them moving. The Christian walk is much like riding a bicycle; we are either moving forward or falling off."2 Thus, it is the church's responsibility not only to ensure that each new believer is taught to ride the bicycle, but to ensure that the new believer gets ongoing exercise and stays on the path. This cannot be done without helping new believers discover and employ their spiritual gifts.

Typically, we have considered the first ministry of new believers to nonbelievers to be that of direct witnessing, and there is certainly biblical support for such a concept. When the demoniac of Gadara was healed (Mark 5), Jesus did not yield to the man's begging to join His group of disciples, but instead sent him back to his own village. "Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you and how He has had compassion on you" (Mark 5:19). Verse 20 tells us that the man's witness was not without results, and when Jesus later returned to that region, there were believers there, apparently a result of the man's ministry.

However, while witnessing to others should be one desirable result of coming to Jesus, evangelism is not the only gift of the Holy Spirit. New believers should be led to discover that which best fits their own capabilities and Spirit-given gifts. Otherwise, witnessing may be the result of a religious compulsion or the new believer's guilty regret for "wasted" years. If new believers are "forced" into one mold of ministry, they may become frustrated and potential souls may be lost to Christ's kingdom.

Believers may be categorized into five witnessing types:

1. The strong, silent type. Says he/she just lives his/her faith.
2. Happens to drop the fact that he/she has been to church or says his/her prayers.
3. The "won't you attend?" type. Invites people to a service to hear someone else say what he/she does not have the courage to personally say.
4. The public-speaking type. Speaks forthrightly in classes, meetings, or services in a way he/she is not quite able to do individually.
5. The conversational/relational type. Witnessing derives from a relationship with Jesus and flows naturally in and through the person's conversation and daily activities. 3

"Much modern exhortation to witness is futile and may actually be harmful. If men do not have a vital up-to-date relationship with Christ, witnessing can become pharisaical religious proselytizing so we can hang up more scalps on our ecclesiastical belts or pad our religious pride by the number of visits we made ... A failure to engage in some high-pressure witnessing activity may pile up layers of religious guilt for not witnessing. Consequently, when we do speak to others for Christ, it is out of fear and guilt more than out of faith and guidance. The result? Not much! Compulsive witnessing may have the thrasher going wide open, but not much wheat comes out."

Witnessing, then, is not something we "do" as much as something we "are". A relationship with Jesus produces the fruit of Christian character, and this, unconsciously, even more than consciously on our part, draws men to Christ. Jesus told His disciples, "Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto me" (Acts 1:8). "Christ says that Christian witnessing is not optional. But neither is it mandatory. It is inevitable."4

Employment of spiritual gifts in ministry is important for spiritual growth in the life of the new believer, and its vital role should not be underestimated. McCavran and Arn say, "Inherent in being saved was that the redeemed share the good news."5

However, while the Spirit's purpose in bestowing gifts is twofold increasing the kingdom as well as increasing the faith of the new believer we should not confuse ministry, in which every believer must engage, with evangelism, which is one of many gifts the Holy Spirit gives.

This is a subtle, but important, distinction. The ministry of every believer provides a witness, but every life of witness has not been given the gift of evangelism. We must carefully maintain this distinction in order to assist new believers, first, not to feel frustrated if their spiritual gift is not evangelism and, second, to encourage them to discover and utilize that which the Spirit has given them in ministry. In her little book, Beyond Baptism, an introduction to what new believers should know about the Adventist lifestyle, Fannie Houck says, "It is important that the new believer settle in to the Christian way of life quickly and solidly. This process, called discipling, includes learning how to gain spiritual victory, how to prioritize and use personal resources in God's service, and how to work effectively for Him."6

Therefore, our need is to employ the energy and enthusiasm of new believers in such a way that it builds their own spiritual strength and thus nurtures their own relationship with their Savior and, simultaneously, accomplishes ministry for the kingdom. Stott says, "If Jesus first command was 'come!', His second was 'go!', that is, we are to go back into the world out of which we have come, and go back as Christ's ambassadors." He quotes the report, The Church for Others: "The biblical view of conversion envisages a double movement, the turning away from preoccupation with one's own interest and the turning toward the interests of the neighbor (Philippians 2:3). It is a movement of turning away from the world in that the terms of the world, based on self-interest, can no longer be accepted. At the same time, it is a turning toward the world, now seen from the perspective of hope in the light of God's purpose." 7

Unfortunately, studies show that even among believers the concept of turning toward the world in ministry is diminishing to the point that it soon may become extinct. In surveys that back his report, What Americans Believe, George Barna discovered that there is not one demographic group of believers in which adult members are spending more time in church related activities (much less ministry activities) than they were one year ago. He says, "The bad news for churches is that across-the-board people are spending less time participating in church activities. On the other hand, 26 percent report they are spending more time watching television and 55 percent report watching about the same amount as they did one year ago. Furthermore, although sociological studies demonstrate Americans to be among the loneliest people on earth, you might expect people to spend increasing amounts of time with friends. Sadly, just the opposite is happening. There is actually a net decrease, albeit small, in the proportion of adults who are spending more time with friends than they did one year ago. Isolationism is becoming a way of life in virtually every area. The potential negative impact of this upon the ministry of the church is staggering."8

It is the privilege and responsibility of the church to see that new believers are taught to minister. In fact, we will be judged, both corporately and individually, for squandered resources that could and should have been utilized in ministry for the Savior. Oscar Thompson says, "Someday all Christians will give an account of their lives to the Lord. He has given us many commandments by which we are to live. His last commandment, often called the Great Commission, is found in Matthew 28:19-20 ... In our concentric circles, everyone has a Jerusalem, a Judea, a Samaria, and a world. Jesus said to start where you are and move forward.

Where are you now? Where are you going? Jesus told us to make disciples. Are you?"9

James A. Cress writes from Silver Spring, Maryland. He serves the Seventh-day Adventist Church as leader of the General Conference Ministerial Association.


1 InTuttle, p.103.
2 Ibid.
3 Rex D. Edwards, A New Frontier: Every Believer a Minister, p.98.
4 Ibid, p. 100.
5 Mcgavran and Arn, p. 108.
6 Fannie L. Houck, Beyond Baptism, p. 9.
7 Stott, p.121.
8 George Barna, What Americans Believe, pp. 68-76.
9Thompson, pp.156, 162.
Taken from the book You Can Keep Them If You Care, pp. 72-75.

James A. Cress was the General Conference Ministerial Secretary when he wrote this article.