Perhaps it seems so obvious that it doesn't need to be said, but when someone initially comes to faith in Jesus, that is not the end goal. Rather, that moment is the starting point of a lifelong process of being transformed by the renewing of our minds to become like Jesus. But even when we know better, our behavior sometimes betrays that we may not believe that as deeply as needed. Parents make this mistake when they pray and grieve and even worry over their children who have not yet trusted Jesus, but then when their child does accept Jesus and is baptized, there is an internal, if not a literal sigh of relief that says, "whew, I'm so glad that hurdle is crossed." There is temptation to grow more spiritually careless at this point as if to think, "I've got them in the boat, they aren't going to hell now so we can go back to living the way that we want to live." That's stated overly negative, but I've seen it happen. I can remember some sentiment in myself of wanting to relax a bit spiritually with my own kids after they came to Jesus.
This also happens when a church puts a lot of focus on helping people accept Christ, get baptized, and drawn into relationships through church membership but then doesn't have an intentional process for helping people keep moving forward spiritually. This focus on the beginning of a relationship with Jesus ignores a significant part of what we know as the Great Commission. There Jesus said, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you, and surely I will be with you to the end of the age. "
It's the middle part that gets overlooked when all the focus is on the beginning of the relationship with God. One reason it gets overlooked is that we Americans are addicted to fast, but the process of discipleship is slow. It cannot be sped up. In our church we hold classes about membership and about how to grow as a believer and how to discover your spiritual gifts. All of these are important and will continue. But perhaps we betray our desire to get these done fast when we shorten them to get them done as quickly as possible. We do this to include as many as people as possible and we will continue, but let us not forget that the real work of spiritual progress will be slow. Sometimes progress will seem almost non-existent. It's what author Eugene Peterson calls A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. I will talk further about this slow process Sunday at Bethany Place in a message from Mark 8:22-26 called, "Slow Going?"