One of the greatest joys of any growing church family is the addition of new members. Since the very beginning of the Seventh-day Adventist Church—150 years ago—the consistent advance through a clear vision of mission has brought eager new converts to the doors of our churches on Sabbath morning.
But these very successes often lead to new challenges for local churches and local church leaders. A significant responsibility of the local church elder is to encourage a warm and welcoming atmosphere to the entire church family. New members are newborn babes in Christ and perhaps some bruised wanderers who have returned to Him. They are looking to their new church family for guidance and support in their new life with Jesus. Baptism is not a graduation ceremony but a birth event.
The familiar social networks of the new members have most likely been ruptured. Friends may ridicule and then desert them. They are in the process of changing basic perspectives on life, and they have not yet acclimated to their new church family. Each new member has behind her or him a large group of family members, friends, and co-workers who are “with them” in the sense that their beliefs and comments are putting pressure on the new member, either approving or disapproving of the radical changes they are making in their lives.
In Step With Jesus, four quarterly Bible study guides, address these kinds of issues directly. These guides have been prepared expressly for new members of the Seventhday Adventist Church, and Sabbath School classes and other small study groups are responding with enthusiasm. The goal of these guides is to introduce new members to Adventist belief, heritage, language, and lifestyle. Through a series of 52 lessons, these guides help to transition them smoothly into the regular study of the Sabbath School Adult Bible Study Guide—and to a full, rich life in the church.
“For many years,” says Bonita Joyner Shields, assistant director for discipleship in the Sabbath School and Personal Ministries Department, “leadership and local churches have expressed the need for a resource to introduce recent converts to Adventist culture and to start them on a path of fruitful discipleship that will encourage them to engage in an increasingly active part of church life.”
The four quarterly student guides were authored by Dr. Jane Thayer, professor of religious education in the Andrews University Theological Seminary. They are fully approved by the Biblical Research Institute and are grounded firmly in the “Together Growing Fruitful Disciples” curriculum developed in a cooperative effort among the General Conference departments and the Andrews University Theological Seminary and the School of Education.
The “Together Growing Fruitful Disciples” curriculum centers on development of four essential elements: connecting (growing in relationship with God, self, and others); understanding (growing in knowledge of Jesus and His teachings); equipping (growing the body of Christ by walking alongside other disciples to support, nurture, and strengthen in love), and ministering (growing in participation in God’s mission of revelation, reconciliation, and restoration). These four emphases serve as the framework for the full spiritual development of disciples. (For additional information regarding the framework, see .)
In Step With Jesus, the New Members’ Bible Study Guide, offers a multimedia approach to this introduction to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It is comprised of:
- four quarterly Bible study guides for the student
- four corresponding leader/teacher guides to provide transformational, interactive tools for the group studies
- A website where new members may explore a rich array of content, commentary, and other creative resources. (See .)
The result of more than four years of research and development, including questionnaires, interviews, focus groups, and pilot presentation, In Step With Jesus offers a balance of content and socialization that will encourage new members to become fully engaged in church life. Published by the General Conference Sabbath School and Personal Ministries Department, it is printed by the Pacific Press Publishing Association and may be ordered through the PPPA website or at Adventist Book Centers.
“And one of the additional strengths of this resource,” says Shields, “is that with its undated weekly lessons, teachers or leaders of groups of new members may begin to use it at any time during the year. There is no need to wait for the beginning of a quarter.”
As In Step With Jesus enters the second year of its use around the world, more and more congregations are discovering its unique strengths in discipling new members. By learning to grow ever nearer to Jesus, these new members are also finding and embracing their specific and personal roles in the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Gary B. Swanson is associate director of the General Conference Sabbath School and Personal Ministries Department.