“When you win Jewish people to Christ, where do they worship?” I frequently hear this question as I speak in churches.
My answer is, “You will find Jewish believers in Jesus in every segment and fellowship that loves the Lord and loves the Jewish people because of Him. You usually will not find us in the membership of any church, denomination or fellowship that doesn’t like Jews.”
Jewish people are sensitive about the cultural differences in the huge, predominantly Gentile Body called the Church. Things like the beautiful stained-glass windows, unfamiliar hymns and “churchese” language often pose obstacles to Jews who are considering the claims of Y’shua (Jesus).
Even those who accept Y’shua often feel apprehensive about joining a vast community composed mostly of non- Jews who might not understand the problems and questions of a new Jewish believer. And for those Jewish believers who have overcome such difficulties, there still remains a deeper problem: Most church members, though they rejoice at a Jewish person’s presence in the congregation, don’t know how to welcome or minister to such believers who come into their fellowship.
Consider your own role in your home congregation. Are there Jewish believers in your church? You are in a position to help them feel at home with their new faith and with their new brothers and sisters in Christ.
Reinforce the new Jewish believers’ identities.
Affirm their Jewishness along with their position in the Body of Christ. Jews who have accepted Y’shua are not converted from being Jewish but from being sinners. Jewishness is not a sin for which one must repent. New Jewish believers need this affirmation because they are told by Jewish friends and family that they are no longer Jewish. Though they know that is not true, being cut out of the Jewish community— and very often their own families— intensifies their feelings of loss of identity. Often this identity crisis is heightened by the sentiments of some who think that Jewish believers who hold on to meaningful Jewish holidays or customs are spurning God’s grace. They accuse those who value Jewish tradition of attempting to “return to the Law.” In reality, that is not the case. The new Jewish believers are merely trying to integrate their cultural heritage with their new faith. As older brothers or sisters in the faith, sensitive church members can reinforce the Jewish believers’ identities as Abraham’s physical seed as well as strengthen their new identities as Abraham’s spiritual seed through faith in Messiah Jesus.
On the other hand, do not overemphasize the new Jewish believers’ Jewishness.
The opposite extreme of wanting them to deny their Jewish roots is the constant reminder of their Jewishness. This can also make a new believer feel unattached and without identity. New Jewish believers need acceptance in the Body just as any other church member. They don’t want to be recognized only for being Jewish. They want to be known and appreciated for the totality of their personhood. While this includes their Jewishness, to structure most conversations around that Jewish identity will make them feel like less of a Christian and less of a person.
Many of us Jewish believers have experienced the opposite extreme of being patronized by people in the church because of our Jewish backgrounds. Do not constantly remind Jewish believers in the church that they are Jewish and thus “different.” Also watch for other church members who may be creating an uncomfortable atmosphere for the new Jewish believer by spreading it around that there’s a “converted Hebrew” in the church and introducing him or her as “Exhibit A.” Some well-meaning Gentiles think that being Jewish by birth automatically makes all Jewish people Old Testament scholars. A new Jewish believer will feel uncomfortable if he or she is constantly identified as the church’s “token Jew” or as someone who has a vast knowledge of the Old Testament.
Finally, help the new Jewish believers among you become integrated into the life of your church.
Point out opportunities for them to become involved in the activities and ministries of your church. All new believers, whether they are Jewish or Gentile, will grow as they become more involved in their local church body. Service nurtures spiritual growth. Some new believers have the idea that they will grow spiritually as they become informed, read more and meditate more. That is true, but it is only part of the picture. We also grow as we focus outwardly and make ourselves available to God to minister to others through us. We grow as we open ourselves for Him to use our skills and gifts in the context of the local church.
Ways to Help the New Member Feel at Home in Your Church
Does your church have cell groups or home Bible studies? Invite new believers to attend such groups. Initial involvement would be on the learning level, and perhaps later on they could even teach a group.
Are the new believers college students, singles, senior citizens? Encourage them to serve by reaching out to other college students, singles, seniors or specific groups. What an opportunity this could be for a singles’ ministry or some other special ministry within your church!
Do you live near a Jewish community? Do you know any new Jewish believers? Do you know any new Jewish believers who are not in fellowship or who are entirely unchurched? Do you know some who are open to the gospel but may feel uncomfortable about coming into a church? Maybe they are just waiting for God to bring someone like you into their lives—someone who can share the good news of the promised Messiah and make them feel more comfortable with the Body of believers.
You could play an important part in your church by ministering to a new Jewish believer or a potential Jewish believer. Consider the opportunities you may have to help in this vital, seldom realized way.