By Tamice Hasty, Black Campus Ministries staff at Emory University
The five thresholds of postmodern conversion are concepts developed by Don Everts and Doug Schaupp in their book, I Once Was Lost. The thresholds were derived from the stories of postmodern skeptics who shared their stories of coming to faith. All of them seemed to pass through the same five distinct stages: from distrust to trust, from complacent to curious, from being closed to change in their lives to being open, from meandering to seeking, and entering into the Kingdom.
Understanding this process will help you learn how to encourage your friends along their journeys, even though not all of them will become Christians. Let's examine the characteristics of each threshold and how you can recognize, celebrate, and move your friends forward.
The postmodern journey of conversion usually takes place when a skeptic begins to significantly trust a Christian. Today, Christianity and religion are suspect and distrust has become the norm. This hurts and is unpleasant for believers and can result in any number of the following five knee-jerk reactions.
Five Knee-Jerk Reactions from Christians:
We begin to close our hearts to non-Christians and treat them with contempt. We begin to point fingers and judge.
This is the hardest threshold to cross and where a lot of people turn back or stay where they are without moving forward. However, this is the stage where the Holy Spirit is especially at work, and when a person can finally become willing to make changes in their lifestyle.
How to Encourage Openness:
1. Be Patient
Choosing to make Christ the Lord of your life is a really big decision and the person is more than likely considering the cost.
This is a very vulnerable and scary place to be; it involves dying to oneself. The secret prayers of friends like you matter immensely at this threshold.
3. Challenge Like Jesus Did
Affirm with Gentle Honesty: "You are right in saying...you have had five husbands." (John 4:18)
Give an Empowering Nudge: "Take up your mat and walk." (John 5:8)
Be a Mirror for Their Logic: "You are a teacher of Israel, yet you do not understand." (John 3:10)
Connect the Dots: "Truly, truly I say to you..." (John 12:24)
THRESHOLD 4: Seeking After God
This threshold is about coming to a conclusion. There may not be a lot of behavioral change here because they are just about to make a decision about Jesus. There is urgency and purpose to their seeking, and they have decided it's time to make up their minds.
Characteristics of Seekers:
1. Seeking Jesus Specifically
They seek Jesus not just “God,” and thus have a clear object of intrigue.
2. Counting the Cost
They have been around enough to know the implications of becoming a believer.
3. Spending Time in Community
They spend time with Christians and at Christian events and services. Even if they are not fully aware of what is going on, they still feel it is worth going.
During this time, we can live out the Kingdom before their eyes by showing them how to build our lives around Jesus' words, opening up our prayer life to them, providing answers to questions (using personal apologetics as opposed to philosophical apologetics), and modeling a life of seeking.
THRESHOLD 5: Entering the Kingdom
This is the point when the person decides to repent and follow Jesus! They have decided they want to cross a real and eternally significant line. They go from flirting to commitment. They look Jesus in the face and say “I do.”
During this phase, we want to be appropriately urgent; no one stays in seeking mode forever. We want to walk closely with them into this phase and thereafter.
We can find creative ways to communicate the gospel clearly, being careful to not oversimplify. However, we can invite them in ways they can understand:
We must also make sure to celebrate this step the right way! God is throwing a big ol' party in heaven, so throw one on earth too!
After we lead someone to Christ, our work is not done. We have to commit to help them begin well. This is usually a 6-8 week process where we want to establish key spiritual disciplines in their lives like prayer, Bible study, community, evangelism, and service. We should seek to do these things with them.
One option is to use Launch to help new Christians learn how to follow Jesus. It is a website with 10 sessions focused on the top 10 questions new Christians in university settings have about growing their relationship with Jesus. Each session also includes supplemental exercises and resources for new Christians to check out on their own time and at their own pace. Plus, new Christians will find more advice and stories from mature Christians on the Launch blog.