Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Post-Natal Care of Alpha Babies”

At our centralized Alpha team training events, we always make this statement: “Pastoral care is not over when the Alpha Course ends—it has only just begun.”

Having observed and helped numerous churches running Alpha, I have found that many churches struggle with post-Alpha assimilation of Alpha graduates. Most churches have no post-Alpha programme and simply channel their Alpha graduates to existing small groups, bible study groups or the Sunday Services. My conversation with many pastors and Alpha coordinators without an intentional post-Alpha transitional programme has revealed the same sad story: they lost many of their Alpha converts at the transitional phase because many Alpha graduates fail to assimilate into their small groups or the Sunday Service.
The root of this neglect is theological, not personal. It arises from an inadequate understanding of evangelism as a process that is completed when the pre-believer says the “sinner’s prayer.” The New Testament, however, understands conversion as a process that commences at the seeker’s spiritual awakening (nowadays mainly expressed through a sinner’s prayer) but is only completed when the new convert is fully assimilated into the church through water baptism.

Consider what happens on the Day of Pentecost: Immediately after Peter’s sermon, we read in Acts 2:37 that the listeners were “cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” Their question clearly indicates a spiritual as a result of the regenerative work of the Spirit. But this was just the beginning of the conversion process. In response,  Peter urged them to “repent and be baptized…” Notice that it was only after water baptism that Scripture testifies in verse 41 that “there were added that day about three thousand souls.” But somewhere between the initial spiritual awakening in verse 37 and the adding of three thousands members to the church through water baptism in verse 41, we are told in verse 40 that “with many other words (Peter) bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’”

The spiritual exhortation taking place between verse 37 and verse 41 parallels to the transitional post-Alpha phase between the initial spiritual awakening of the Alpha guests at the Alpha Course and their final incorporation into the Body life of the church.  It is only when we understand evangelism as a process that is completed when the Alpha graduates are assimilated into the church’s discipling community that we begin to realize the need for a transitional programme in the whole conversion process.

An analogy using the natural birth process may help us better understand the need for this transitional phase. The natural birth process begins with conception (spiritual regeneration) and is not completed until the baby is brought home to the family (incorporation into the Body life and ministry).  The doctor and nurses do not walk away after the baby is delivered. Instead, there are post-birth activities that must be attended to immediately: like cutting the umbilical cord, cleaning up the baby and clearing any blockages in the nasal or oral passage, slapping the baby to induce the baby to take its first breath, and monitoring the baby for complications at the pediatric ward for a few more days. This immediate post-natal care is similar to spiritual nurture that must take place immediately after the Alpha Course.

To address the special needs of Alpha graduates, I am now working on a pilot 5-week post-Alpha transitional programme as part of my Doctor of Ministry project. I plan to use this programme in future to equip churches to help their Alpha graduates make the transition successfully from a non-church background into the particular church community of the hosting church.

I would like churches interested in this pilot programme to contact me. My email: cmthen@gmail.com & mobile is +65-96707359 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            +65-96707359      end_of_the_skype_highlighting.