Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Cost of Following Jesus: Brad the Unmarried Father of Three

Yesterday I began a series of posts on the cost(s) of following Jesus. We would all agree that following Jesus is costly. And I suppose we would all agree that faithful evangelism and preaching must be clear about the cost of following the Lord. But what I'm interested in here is how that truth affects pastoral ministry, especially as we welcome new converts into the fold fresh from the world.

And to think about that a little, I want to sketch a series of scenarios and ask you all to share thoughts about how to care for people in these cases. With each case, I'll do two posts. The first post will offer the scenario and the main questions. The second post will, quite frankly, steal from your good suggestions and comments and a few of my own to attempt an answer of sorts. I really want to learn from others in all of this. So, "bring da Book!" Bring your experience. Bring other resources. Let's think together about this issue.

Scenario 1: "Brad," the Unmarried Father of Three

Imagine a single man in his mid-thirties, let's call him "Brad". He's been attending your church for several weeks now, listening attentively and showing interest in spiritual things. You have opportunity to get to know Brad a little bit. He works at a construction site nearby. He received his GED after dropping out of high school in the 10th grade. His father left the family when Brad was about 13 and he hasn't seen him since.

Today, Brad tells you he thinks he has been born again. He trusts the Lord Jesus and wants to follow him. You ask a few questions, and it seems Brad understands the gospel clearly. He gives you a pretty good God-man-Christ-response outline. You ask him about repentance and faith. He speaks to some particular ways he is repentant and joyfully speaks of giving himself over to Christ in trust.

Next week, Brad comes to church and takes up an entire pew with a young woman and three children. After the service, he excitedly introduces the woman to you as his girlfriend, "Jill," and the three children as his sons and daughter, "Brad, Jr.", "Thomas," and "Zoe."

They've been living together for 13 years. The oldest child is 14, about Brad's age when his father left. The youngest child is 3. The mother works as a waitress. The family primarily depends on Brad's income, which sometimes has seasonal ups and downs. Brad is the only believer in the family.

Neither Brad nor Jill really value marriage, since they've seen a lot of heartache in abuse, abandonment, infidelity, and divorce. They've lived together 13 years and they've worked it out okay; they're happy. Because they love one another and are committed to one another, they don't think their relationship is sinful nor do they think "a piece of paper" matters that much.

Brad wants to be baptized and join the church.

The Questions:

How do you counsel Brad? Do you baptize him and admit him to membership?

What specifically are the costs you think he may have to pay to follow Jesus? And how do you and the church help him to pay those costs?


Anonymous said...

This is tough. I'm not a pastor, nor is that my gifting. But if Brad believes Jesus Christ is the son of the living God, and wants to give his life to him, I'd baptize him. I don't think I have any right to refuse his entry into the kingdom. I'm not the savior, nor the gatekeeper. No man can come to the Father, but by being drawn by the Father.

I would have to trust that the Holy Spirit living in Brad will continue to convict and teach him from the Bible concerning what it means to be a follower of Jesus -- and what he may have to give up in the process. I don't think it's wise for me just to tell him, "these are the things you have to change." That's God's work AND his timing. I do think I can mention some areas where he might want to begin study -- though I myself wouldn't start him with marriage...

I do, however, believe it's my responsibility to hold Brad accountable to the commitment he's made to learn from, and act like, Jesus Christ. I would make sure he's got some kind of Bible study partner or group, and hold him accountable to his own personal study of the word. I would challenge him often to share with me how he is being more obedient to God, and how his life is changing as a result. I would encourage him to share everything he learns and experiences with his girlfriend and kids. And above all, I would pray -- with him and for him.

Casey Hough said...

Wonderful questions! These tensions are common in the urban area in which I am ministering.

As I am sure you will agree, we must first acknowledge that we are under the authority of the Word of God. Scripture teaches us that an unbeliever and a believer should not marry one another. For Brad, he must count the cost and choose to move out with their children. This shows that there has been a decisive break with sin and that his life is marked with repentance.

The difficulty that this will present must be met by the church. Whether it is in the form of free childcare or financial support, the church cannot allow for Brad to HAVE to remain in a sinful situation. It must also count the cost.

Those these costs can be great, they can also serve as a testimony to Jill as she watches the church care for Brad and the children. This corporate testimony of the goodness and love of Christ is one of the reasons that the church exists.

There is MUCH more that should and can be said regarding these questions, but these are some (not all) initial thoughts.

David Kjos said...

I'm going to resist the urge to blurt out my (obviously correct, duh) opinion because I know you're asking pastors, which I'm not. But I do hope you're going to give yours.

Dan Sudfeld said...

Hmmm. I'll take a stab at the first question, so as to not take up too much space.

I guess the initial question with which to grapple is, does discipleship come before baptism, or vice versa? I would lean toward baptizing the brother. It seems to me that the biblical evidence in Acts points to a "Repent and be baptized" pattern, both prescriptively (2:37-38) and descriptively (16:14-15, 33, etc.).

I'm also wondering whether the order of the participles in the Great Commission is important to this question. "Baptizing" comes before "teaching them to observe all that I have commanded."

FellowElder said...

Hi David,

No, I didn't mean for only pastors to comment. You're welcome to share your thoughts. I think the congregation's understanding has a lot to do with how we respond to situations like "Brad's". So, please, join in!


TM said...

In answer to the first question, I would not baptize him... yet. This really has less to do with his family per se, as it does with his understanding of the gospel. Per your outline, it sounds like he comprehends the gospel. However, that he is not somewhat ashamed of his living conditions, that he excuses them, makes me wonder if he truly has counted the cost.

I would NOT say something to the effect of, "You're not born again until you rectify this situation." However, I would try to explain to him the severity of this sin and help (see below) him rectify it. Once I saw some repentance in that area -- at a minimum, an interest in dealing with it (after all, this is not an overnight "fix") -- then I'd consider baptizing. But not so fast. This requires sensitivity.

Answering the second question... I'm assuming Jill is the mother here. The cost in this situation is that they may have to stop living together, unless Jill becomes a Christian and they take their vows the day after tomorrow. It may cost him his relationships (Matt 10:34) with his family. It may cost him financially.

But the church can help with this, primarily by building relationships with his family. They could help with the living situation by providing living space for someone, since his family is so dependent on Brad's income.

My short thoughts.


David Kjos said...

Well then, my unlettered opinion is that Tom nails it pretty well.

I see it like this:

1. Brad's profession might be quite convincing, and he may be able to articulate the Gospel perfectly -- I know I could, long before I was saved -- but if he refuses to obey the commands of Scripture, even at great personal cost (Luke 9:62), that ought to make us question the genuineness of his conversion enough to hold off on baptism. Let's apply the Word and see what happens.

2. If a professing Christian is living in sin, we apply Matthew 18:15, with hope that we don't end up in v17. I'd sure hate to see a man baptized one week, only to excommunicate him the next.

3. What's with all the urgency to baptize? What are we, Lutherans?

chuck said...

Asking him to get his life in order before conversion is against the gospel. Since "he trusts the Lord Jesus and wants to follow him," he must be baptized as an act of faith to profess before his family and the church that his life is now dedicated to the Lord.

The cost this man will face will no doubt be immense. He must lead his family to Christ with encouragement and discipleship from the elders. "then immediately he and all his family were baptized." (Acts 16:33) They must marry as this is the Lord's will. If his girlfriend is unwilling to submit to Christ, he must cut off the right hand.

The offer to provide child care or a place to live will be helpful, but do little to aid his decision. It would be similar to promising gauze after you cut off your hand.

The Student said...

When we read through the recorded baptisms in Scripture, the pattern that emerges is that a person is baptized when she / he believes the message. We also read in 1 Peter 3 that baptism is a response / pledge of a good conscience toward God. So if you are convinced that he believes (he has a good conscience), he should be baptized. I am wondering about something though: how does preaching today compare to the preaching of the first church? Is it possible that the preaching of the first church was more inclusive of the cost of being a disciple than the postmodern church, i.e. the listeners knew what they were getting into? If the church today wants to be authentic and credible, our teaching should include the whole truth and not what we think people would like to hear. God is the one that will do the convincing through the Holy Spirit when we speak the truth in love.

The costs are immense, but I am convinced that if the Holy Spirit has convicted someone, the Spirit will also enable the person to bear the cost. The Spirit will give you as pastor the wisdom to know what action to take. This of course implies that if some sin is preventing us (believers in the church) from knowing what the Spirit is trying to tell us, we might mess up big time in this situation . . .

My wife and I recently befriended a European couple who were on holiday in the same place as us. They are not married, and in worldview products of postmodern Europe. They just had a child, because they 'decided it would be good to have a child together'. It was interesting to us as we talked to them to see how the truth of Scripture stirred their hearts. We also realized the value of having non-judgmental, candid conversations about what the Scripture teaches on everything from church to marriage. They were willing to have these conversations because it was obvious that the Holy Spirit is doing a work in their life. In retrospect, we were actually having a conversation about the costs of being a disciple but they were not seeing the costs in a negative way. They were able to see that despite it being a 'cost / challenge', i.e. something that would demand them to change their lives and defend their decisions to family and neighbors, it was as a better way. Only the Holy Spirit can accomplish something like that!

The highest cost he could pay is the rejection of his girlfriend and, connected with that, the possible rejection of his children. It would require a lot of prayer and Godly wisdom to counsel him if that should happen . . . as you quoted before, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." Our prayers should be that God will do the big work we cannot do.

On a side note, I was reminded of teaching I recently heard on the parable of the sower. The teacher said that we should instead call it the parable of the soils. He was saying that we have an influence on the condition of our heart's soil. Knowing this, we should keep this in mind when we talk to someone about their decision to follow Christ beforehand, and afterward as we start walking a road of discipleship with them.

John said...

Would we baptize a drug dealer still dealing drugs? Would we baptize a man or women still living in a homosexual relationship? I've faced this issue a couple of times...I took the new believer and taught him what the Word said about marriage and encouraged him to either get married or live seperately. One refused and didn't get baptized--one got married and got baptized...

I would not baptize a man who claims to have repented, but still lives in open sin.

Hayden said...

It all comes down to what we think the word 'believe' means, doesn't it?

I am preaching through John now which has a lot to say about belief.

Does being able to recite the Gospel = belief? (read 1 John as well)

Do you baptize someone that can recite the Gospel to you, or is there more to it?

Would you baptize someone that came to your church once and then said, "I think I need to be baptized"?

I would challenge the brother on belief, and show him that belief in the Lord requires obedience to His Word. Only after I looked at his response to such challenge would I even begin talking about baptism.

maureen said...

imagine the impact to Brads children and his defacto wife of 13years if he were to up and leave them because 'the church said he had to because he's living in sin' Isnt this a time where the church should be embracing Brad and his family and helping Brad to give Jill and the family a reason to want to follow Jesus and His teachings? Maybe witnessing his decision to be baptized will have a profound effect on Jill as they both are lovingly stepped through the process. I think its the church that needs to count the cost here and instead of pointing the finger at Brads state of open sin(baptized church members sin secretly with their arrogance and pride)they need to be supporting Brad and patiently guiding, teaching and loving on this family helping them to understand Christian principles and practices and praying that the Holy Spirit would brood over their lives as they did so.