What struggles do new Jewish believers encounter as they begin their spiritual journey? Sometimes, we who have been believers for a long time forget that both pain and joy accompany a new birth. As a missionary with Jews for Jesus, Kina Forman regularly disciples new Jewish believers. Here she offers a bird’s eye view of the mentoring, parenting and guiding that is involved in that discipleship process.
In my four years of ministry to new Jewish believers, I’ve found that proper discipleship is key to their growth. They often have little sense of community, if any. Their families may not accept them, and often the church is an unknown, even alien, culture. Many also wrestle with their Jewish identity and feel isolated in the struggle.
Tammy is a 10-month-old-in-the-Lord Jewish believer whom I have been discipling since she accepted Yeshua. She was at the end of her rope with a very ill son when a friend invited her to a local church meeting. She went, and when the pastor gave an altar call, Tammy responded.
After attending church services for awhile, Tammy was tugged by gnawing questions about her Jewish identity and who she was as a Jewish person in the Messiah. That was when she called the New York office of Jews for Jesus.
Tammy and I met shortly after her call. She was anxious to understand the Jewishness of believing in Yeshua and asked, Why don’t most of our people believe in Jesus? What will happen to the Jewish people if they don’t believe? How can I remain Jewish and believe in Jesus? How do I talk to my mother about what I believe?” Most of these initial questions dealt with the social implications of her faith.
Tammy and I began working through a discipleship guide (see review of the new Following Yeshua by Ruth Rosen). What I like most about using a guided study is the consistency and structure it offers new believers—it covers the essentials of the faith. It also provides an excellent springboard to discuss relevant issues, such as how to observe an upcoming Jewish holiday or how to handle attending a bar mitzvah or other family celebration.
Tammy and I meet weekly (for about an hour) to search the Scriptures together. We also talk frequently on the phone, especially as Tammy needs prayer for her sick son. The consistent building of a caring relationship is key to a new believer’s growth, Jewish or Gentile, and it enables them to trust you with their deeper, more personal struggles.
Recently, as I came in the door for our weekly morning meeting, Tammy exclaimed, “I have something to confess!” “What is it?” I asked, thinking to myself, “Praise God, that she trusts me to share!” “Well,” she responded, “I took something that wasn’t mine…” and proceeded to explain that she took two bags of potato chips and some refreshments from the airline she works for. After all, there were some perks to her job, but this was not one of them. This “confession” afforded me the opportunity to explain the ministry of the Holy Spirit as He convicts us of sin.
New believers often struggle with life issues as life happens. We need to be there for them as their lives unfold in this newness of experience. Our Messiah Yeshua stated most emphatically: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). The “teaching” is to be consistent and intentional, and should engender a sense of accountability.
We should place expectations on those we disciple by giving them “homework” in the Scriptures or even short, question-and-answer types of assignments on biblical topics and issues. However, we need to remember that new disciples, like the rest of us, are “in process,” and our patience is crucial to their growth.
Tammy continues to grow in the knowledge of her faith; as she asks more questions, she receives more answers, which of course lead to further questions and deeper responses. She affirms that she is more Jewish now than ever as she grows in the Messiah. She is even beginning to share her faith with others. When we first started to meet, Tammy asked me not to park my Jews for Jesus van in front of her house, as her neighborhood is predominantly Jewish and Catholic. She also lives right next door to a Chabad House. Several months into our new relationship, she said, “I don’t mind anymore that you park outside my home. I want my neighbors to know that I believe in Jesus!”