Archives For baptism

By J.D. Greear

Editor’s note: Churches in Illinois baptized more than 700 people during One GRAND Month last April. September 8 is Baptism Sunday across the Southern Baptist Convention.

JD GreearFor several years now, I have been greatly burdened by the declining number of baptisms across the Southern Baptist Convention. I believe the baptism numbers serve as one of the best indicators of evangelism in our churches. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, and that means that proclaiming the gospel is the core of who we are—not only as Southern Baptists, but most importantly, as disciples of Jesus Christ.

That’s why I’m challenging every Southern Baptist church to call for baptisms in services on Sept. 8, the date our SBC Executive Committee has designated as “Baptism Day” on the SBC Calendar.

Baptism Sunday will be an opportunity for thousands of people in our churches to take their step of obedience and faith. Many of them already know they should be baptized, and you can schedule baptism celebrations in advance. Other people in your churches may decide on Sept. 8 that God is calling them to those same baptismal waters.

I know conversations about immediate-response baptism services tend to draw some objections, many of which are grounded in healthy concern about encouraging insincere professions of faith. Trust me, I understand the concerns: I have seen dangerous and irresponsible calls for spontaneous baptisms. God forbid that we ever declare someone “saved” when they aren’t. Not only does this give them false assurance, but it also makes them that much more immune to future calls to repent and believe.

On Baptism Sunday, call people to respond to Jesus.

Our fear of extending these invitations wrongly, though, should never make us shy away from making the invitations at all. After all, every single baptism recorded in the New Testament, without exception, is spontaneous and immediate. For New Testament believers, the pattern was alarmingly simple: believe, confess, get baptized. There was never a gap between when a person trusted Christ and when that person was baptized. Not one.

This follows the example of Jesus’ Great Commission: “Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Baptism is a believer’s first act of discipleship, a step of obedience that stands as a witness that we belong to Christ.

Baptism is like the wedding ring of salvation. I put on my wedding ring at the moment I decided to publicly declare my commitment to my wife. Putting on the ring did not make me married. But the demonstration of my commitment to my wife that the ring represents was a crucial first step in marriage. Had I refused to do it, my wife would have had reason to question my intentions.

In the same way, baptism is an outward symbol of an inward covenant we’ve made in response to Jesus’ offer of salvation.

Every one of our churches ought to do everything in its power to ensure that everyone who comes forward to be baptized understands the gospel and the significance of what they are doing. During baptism services at our church, for instance, we individually counsel every person who comes forward. Those conversations take time—often extending into the next service—and we always end up turning some people away. But that moment is important, because it starts a conversation about what it means to follow Jesus.

Baptism is of tremendous importance, but we need to keep the biblical order in mind: Baptism is the catalyst to spiritual maturity, not the sign of having attained it.

When we invite people to be baptized, we are calling them to make a decision. That’s exactly what so many of our people need. They come to our churches as consumers, going along with Jesus but never deciding for him.

Several years ago, our church chose to hold our first baptism service after we noticed the biblical pattern of spontaneous baptisms while preaching through a series in the book of Acts. Starting with that service, we saw three times more people choose to be baptized that year than we’d ever seen! I believe that’s because our church had been faithful in sharing the gospel, and we chose to be faithful in calling for a response to that good news.

I believe God is preparing a harvest of souls. Let’s faithfully call them to respond by publicly declaring faith through baptism!

J.D. Greear is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C. For Baptism Sunday resources, go to namb.net/baptism-sunday-resources.

A box of names

Lisa Misner —  August 12, 2019

The gospel reaches from jailhouse to church house

Stevens baptism by Sexton and Easter

Easter (far left), Sexton baptizes Stevens (far right).

Jared Sexton was pacing back and forth in his jail cell. “I was like, ‘Man, I don’t know why I keep doing this… I don’t even want to live this way. I know not to live this way. I keep doing it over and over and over and over again.’”

His cellmate handed him a King James Bible and told him, “You need to read Romans 7.” In the complex passage, Paul complains about committing sins that he hates. Sexton had a hard time understanding the Apostle’s words, but, “I was like, ‘OK, well this sounds exactly like what I was just saying.’” He wanted to know more.

He began drinking at a young age. “I was always in trouble, in and out of jail, and rehabs, boot camps, prison—I’ve been to every one of them….I was literally at a point where the only thing I could do is look to God.” That was the point when he found himself in a jail cell with four other inmates, one of whom had just returned from a Bible study of Romans 7.

When Sexton bonded out of jail, he went home and found a Contemporary English Version Bible someone had given him. “I read it and it just blew my mind…I read the Bible [before] and nothing ever clicked. This time was completely different. It was like everything was jumping out at me.

“For the first time in my life I took a real look at what sin meant in my life…I wanted to know more what that meant. And so, I knew the perfect place to go; that was church.”
Sexton went to Metropolis First Baptist Church where his boss is a member and his grandparents had taken him a few times as a child. There, Sexton met Cliff Easter, the church’s youth and missions pastor, and gave his life to Christ.

Metropolis First is deeply involved in evangelism and missions through local outreach ministries, international mission trips, and church planting mission trips to Chicago. Easter said, “It’s not complicated. It’s just, ‘Go, reach somebody.’ We’ve incorporated that into some of our discipleship training that we’ve just begun in our church.”

That’s my ‘one’
IBSA’s Pat Pajak led an evangelism training in the local association, as he does across the state, sharing the “Who’s Your One” evangelism concept in which members pray for the people they know to find salvation in Christ. Three times in the past two years, Pajak has urged churches to dedicate one Sunday or a month of Sundays to a baptism emphasis, and baptisms in Illinois increased almost 7% last year.

The Metropolis church keeps cards at the front of the auditorium for members to write the names of people who need Christ. The cards are an important part of the evangelism effort. “Every Wednesday night at our prayer meeting, we distribute every single one of those cards, and as a church we pray over them,” Easter said. “There are hundreds of names in the box.

“The idea is, if you put someone’s name on a card in the box, you’re praying for them, and you’re looking for opportunities to share the gospel with them.”

The first name Sexton put in the box was his childhood friend, Dakota Stevens. “We all began praying for Dakota,” Easter said. “You could tell that God was at work in him, and sure enough Dakota came to repentance and faith in Christ.”

“I don’t know when he put my name in there, or what date it was, but it obviously worked…. The power of prayer does work. It’ll move anything in front of you,” Stevens said.

Sexton, as a Christian and member in good standing at Metropolis First, had the privilege of baptizing his friend. “I came up out of the water… I was like, it’s a helping hand that he’s always had,” Stevens said. “He’s good about that. If he cares about you that man will help you no matter what.”

Sexton knows he is blessed to bless others to share the gospel, especially his old friends. “I’ll try to say some things related to the Word that are happening in my life. Whether it be with prayer, or a blessing God has shown me…I just pray…that something that they heard, something catches their attention that just breaks a little bit of the resistance away from them.”

Watch the 2019 MIO videos at MissionIllinois.org and also download mission studies.

By Meredith Flynn

Baptism

Romanian Baptist Church of Chicago and Pastor Adrian Neiconi (center) celebrated baptisms in April, joining a statewide, month-long focus on evangelism. More than 700 people were baptized in April, including 271 on Easter Sunday alone.

Pat Pajak gestures to a small piece of paper filled with neat script. Each line is the name of a different IBSA pastor or church that has called him to report baptisms in the month of April. On one car ride alone in the middle of the month, he talked to three leaders who were celebrating people who had come to faith in Christ and followed their decisions with baptism.

One GRAND Month, marked in churches around the state in April, was, in a word, grand. Churches reported more than 700 baptisms during the month, and Pajak is still getting reports. And churches are still baptizing. Several pastors have said the April emphasis on evangelism resulted in professions of faith and people wanting to be baptized.

“How in the world are we going to reach 8.5 million people?” Pajak knows the question is overwhelming, especially when estimates say the state has around a hundred times more people who don’t know Christ than Southern Baptists.

If One GRAND Month did anything, he says, it alerted church members to the fact that people all around them are living without a relationship with Christ. “It’s a daunting task if you allow Satan to convince you that it can’t be done. You just say, ‘Let’s give up. Let’s not try.’”

But hundreds of churches took up the challenge in April, baptizing 271 people on Easter Sunday and 443 the rest of the month, for a total of 714. Pajak notes that if IBSA churches baptized 700 people every month for a year, it would more than double the number of baptisms reported last year.

“It has alerted people to the necessity of sharing their faith, and that it’s not just the pastor. He’s one guy in a whole town. Think about what happens if 35 or 40 people decide, ‘You know what, I can do that.’

“It’s the only way we’re going to reach 8.5 million people in Illinois.”

Change of venue, change of hearts
On their first Sunday in a new building, Grace Church in Metropolis baptized two people in a donated cattle trough. A young man sitting in the congregation heard the invitation to respond to the gospel and did so. He was baptized two weeks later, along with four others.

“We had a big ole day,” said Pastor Chris Sielbeck, who started the church two years ago in the front room of his home.

Grace met at the Union Baptist Association office for more than a year, and had been praying about a building when Sielbeck began to focus on a place he passed every Sunday. On a day off from his job with the U.S. Postal Service, the pastor began to research the building he thought would be perfect for a church. A local CPA owned the building, and Sielbeck dropped in to ask whether the owner would consider allowing a church to meet there.

“We’re a small church, we don’t have any money, and I need it for free,” Sielbeck pitched. “And he said, ‘I can do that.’” The church baptized two people their first morning in the building, and one the next week. Plus five more on the first Sunday in May.

When Sielbeck went to a farm supply store to purchase a $300 trough for the baptism, he ran into a sales representative for the manufacturer in the parking lot. The rep followed him inside, where he gave Grace a generous gift. Standing at the register, Sielbeck remembered, the man said, “I’m going to buy that for that church.”

‘Jesus steps in’
At Marshall Missionary Baptist Church, Pastor Paul Cooper baptized nine people in April. And five more on the first Sunday in May.

“It’s not normal for us,” said Cooper, whose church moved into a former Walmart building two years ago. “I think we had 15 baptisms for the year last year, and last year was higher than most years. Having 14 in basically a one-month period is pretty amazing.”

Marshall is the last stop on Interstate 70 before you cross into Indiana. There aren’t a lot of younger adults in the community, Marshall said, but several of the people baptized at his church the last few weeks are in their 20s. Michael Mattingly and Ranae Clements were baptized Easter Sunday. The engaged couple shared video of their baptisms on social media, celebrating their life transformation with family and friends.

Just weeks prior, Clements was a Christian who had moved away from the church and Mattingly doubted the existence of God. She attended a conference where her faith was reignited, and she also met a member of the Marshall church. Mattingly agreed to attend the church with his fiancé to be supportive. He arrived at church on the Sunday Cooper was set to preach “Jesus steps into your doubts.”

“My whole sermon was about how it’s okay to have doubts,” Cooper said. “God will speak into that, and Jesus will show up.”

When he gave the invitation at the end of the service, the pastor asked people who had prayed to receive Christ to raise their hands. Mattingly’s was one of the hands raised. A few weeks later, on Easter, he and Clements were baptized.

“There’s a sense of anticipation in the church,” Cooper said. “God’s doing things, and God’s reaching people, and people just want to share that. A lot of our new people have gotten really excited, and then they share it, and it keeps kind of multiplying right now.”
After he baptized Mattingly, Cooper asked if he wanted to say anything. The young man responded simply.

“Jesus is Lord.”

Briefing

‘Gospel above all’ as theme for SBC Birmingham
Keeping the “Gospel Above All” is Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear’s main goal going into SBC’s annual meeting. Greear noted there will be other issues demanding attention – among them, confronting sexual abuse. Greear also will be promoting the “Who’s Your One?” evangelism campaign in partnership with the North American Mission Board. Other meeting highlights will include racial reconciliation panel discussions and “The Value of Women in God’s Mission.” The annual meeting in Birmingham, Alabama is set for June 11-12.

One GRAND April: churches report baptisms
IBSA churches baptized nearly 500 people during the first three weeks of April, according to reports from congregations around the state. The number is expected to increase as churches share their stories from One GRAND Month, a month-long, statewide emphasis on evangelism and baptisms. Pat Pajak, IBSA’s associate executive director of evangelism, encouraged churches to share their baptism reports and add to the statewide celebration.

Churches eager to evangelize, but distractions abound
A 2019 LifeWay Research survey found that despite Protestant churchgoers’ excitement and eagerness about the idea of evangelism, few actually engage in the practice on a regular basis. More than half of churchgoers (55 percent) say they have not shared with someone how to become a Christian in the past six months. A majority (56 percent), however, say they pray for opportunities to tell others about Jesus. In the study, Hispanics (36 percent) and African Americans (29 percent) were more likely to offer those prayers compared to whites (20 percent) or other ethnicities (17 percent).

Christian adoption agency to accommodate LGBT community as part of settlement
The largest Christian adoption and foster agency in the United States, Bethany Christian Services, will begin placing foster children with same-sex couples for the first time after a legal battle in its home state of Michigan. This comes after the agency was sued for refusing to work with same-sex couples. The agency insists that its mission and Christian beliefs have not changed but did announce it will start placing children with LGBT families as part of a settlement with the state, opting to change its longstanding policy rather than lose the opportunity to help find homes for the thousands of vulnerable children who live in the state.

NC governor vetoes ‘born alive’ abortion bill
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a bill that would have required doctors to try to preserve the life of any infant born alive during an attempted abortion‘G. Under the proposed law, health care practitioner would be required to preserve the life and health of a child born alive during an abortion attempt. The “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Act” bill was passed by the state April 22. Cooper vetoed the bill for reasons that laws “already protect newborn babies.”

Sources: Baptist Press (2), Illinois Baptist, Christianity Today, CNN

A month for baptisms

Lisa Misner —  March 18, 2019

The countdown is on for spring evangelism emphasis

A time to pray 2

Churches across Illinois and the SBC will focus this spring on praying for people who don’t know Christ. Last year, IBSA churches (including Staunton’s Net Community Church, seen in this file photo) baptized more than 650 people during a statewide emphasis.

March signals a new season, and in many IBSA churches, a new opportunity to focus on evangelism leading up to Easter.

Last year, One GRAND Sunday resulted in more than 650 baptisms during the Easter season. This year, IBSA’s Pat Pajak is asking churches to celebrate One GRAND Month in April, preceded by 30 days of prayer for people who don’t know Christ.

“Eight out of 10 unsaved people say they are open to a gospel conversation,” said Pajak, associate executive director for evangelism. “And research tells us that four out of five will come to an Easter service if someone will invite them.”

Pajak is urging Illinois Baptists to spend March praying for one person who doesn’t know Christ, and to begin thinking about how to invite them to an Easter service. The singular prayer emphasis is part of “Who’s Your One?” an emphasis across the Southern Baptist Convention urging every Christian to share the gospel with one person this year.

“While almost every believer knows that the Great Commission instructs us to make disciples, and we are willing to obey the teachings and instructions found in God’s Word, far too many Christians have forsaken the responsibility of witnessing and left it to be done by others,” Pajak said.

“Who’s Your One?” employs what Pajak has called an “each one reach one” strategy. “It can be done anywhere, anytime, with anyone,” he said. “The idea is listening and looking for the right opportunity to turn an everyday conversation into a gospel presentation.”

At WhosYourOne.com, pastors and church members can access free resources, including a guide to 30 days of prayer for people who need to hear the gospel.

For April, Pajak suggested a week by week schedule to maximize Easter impact:

April 7: Invite church members to write the name of one person they plan to invite to an Easter service on a 3×5 card (passed out with the bulletins). At the end of the service, invite the entire church to come forward and place their cards on the altar and join together in a time of corporate prayer—asking the Lord to move the people on the cards to respond to an Easter invitation. Leave the cards. The pastor or staff can gather them and pray for the people for the remainder of that week.

April 14: Write out a personal invitation and include an Easter service promo flyer or card. Mail it to the person you’ve been praying for and planning to invite. If you are going to provide a ride or an after-church meal, tell them in the invitation and ask for an RSVP.

April 21: Get ready for a great Easter Sunday! If the person you invited doesn’t have a Bible, surprise them with one as a gift and perhaps deliver it on Saturday, so they will be able to bring it to church with them on Easter Sunday.

April 28: If the person you invited made a decision to follow the Lord, encourage them to be baptized along with others on the Sunday following Easter (churches can also consider offering baptism all four Sundays in April). Make it a real celebration! Invite them out to lunch after the service and let them know you are available to walk with them in their new faith. Be sure to help them get enrolled in a Sunday school class or small group.

For more information about One GRAND Month, go to IBSA.org/Evangelism.

Baptism 1

Church of the Beloved in Chicago
celebrated baptisms in Lake Michigan last August.

‘One GRAND’ emphasis returns this spring, plus a new one-on-one evangelism strategy

By Meredith Flynn

When Pastor Kenyatta Smith’s church moved into their new building, an important piece was missing. The former Catholic church had no baptistry.

Another Chance Church, which Smith planted in 2012, got around it by bringing in an inflatable pool when someone was ready to be baptized. Last year, that was often. The church baptized 52 people.

The Chicago church’s increase in baptisms (up from 22 in 2017) mirrors statewide growth. In 2018, IBSA churches reported 3,676 baptisms, an increase of almost 7% over the previous year. The One GRAND Sunday emphasis last April resulted in 671 baptisms in churches intentionally focused on training people to share their faith, and inviting people to respond to the gospel.

At Smith’s church, the key to more baptisms was staying the course, the pastor said. “It wasn’t a planned thing; it was more [that] we just kept working and sharing the gospel, and it just kind of happened.”

Baptisms generate excitement and are a “big boost for evangelism,” Smith said. Another Chance does a lot of evangelism training to ensure that sharing the gospel is in the church’s DNA.

Across the Southern Baptist Convention, churches are being called to make a similar commitment to evangelism, with an emphasis on keeping things simple. In January, SBC President J.D. Greear introduced “Who’s Your One?” a convention-wide effort to pray for people who don’t know Christ, and intentionally look for ways to share the gospel with them.

The challenge comes at a time when membership and baptism numbers in SBC churches continue to decline. LifeWay Research acknowledges the decline in baptisms nationwide is due in part to non-reporting churches. But even when the numbers are adjusted, churches are baptizing fewer people per member than they did in 1950, for example.

When Greear shared “Who’s Your One?” with Baptist association leaders Jan. 31, he referenced obstacles churches face in a post-Christian culture. “These are some challenging days for the Southern Baptist Convention,” said Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham. “They’re challenging days for the church in general in the United States, but is God perhaps setting us up for one of the greatest evangelism explosions that we’ve ever seen?”

As Southern Baptists across the country and in Illinois look for effective ways to communicate spiritual truth with their neighbors, “gospel conversations” are key. A conversational approach to the gospel—sharing Jesus in the context of relationship—is the basis of many recent evangelism initiatives and training guides. And once Christians catch on, said IBSA’s Pat Pajak, and see how receptive others are to hear, the believer is encouraged to look for more opportunities to speak truth.

“But it all starts with just one conversati0n with one person,” said Pajak, associate executive director for evangelism. “We’re asking, ‘Who’s your one?’”

Baptism 2

Pastor Michael Nave (right) baptizes Nathan Morgan at Cornerstone Church in Marion. The church celebrates baptism every third Sunday, and invites “spontaneous baptisms” when the worship service is focused primarily on salvation.

More than numbers
At Cornerstone Community Church in Marion, evangelism training is built into the church membership process. The final step in a four-pronged process is “Go.” In other words, said Pastor Michael Nave, how do you as a Christian bring other people with you?
Talking about the gospel “ought to be as natural as talking about the weather,” Nave said. Christians shouldn’t have to switch into evangelism mode; rather, the gospel should permeate the conversations and relationships we already have.

Even when evangelism is a natural outgrowth of a Christian’s spiritual development, church leaders still credit intentionality as a major factor in overall effectiveness. In 2018, Cornerstone celebrated 57 baptisms, up from 22 the previous year. The church saw the increase after implementing some intentional strategies around baptism, Nave said.

“First, we set a baptism weekend, the third weekend of each month,” he said. “We will gladly baptize someone on other weekends, but this gives us an opportunity to keep it in front of our people.” Explaining the importance of baptism is also a part of Cornerstone’s membership process. And, the church stays open to how God might work.

“From time to time, when the sermon is specifically about salvation and baptism, we offer ‘spontaneous baptism,’” Nave said. They don’t practice it frequently, he said, and are sure to give a full explanation of what baptism means. “We have simply found that some people need the opportunity to do it now!”

He recounted Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Acts 2, which stirred people to immediately respond by asking, “What shall we do?” Peter’s answer: repent and be baptized. The two acts went hand-in-hand, Nave said. “That water didn’t save them, but their public profession of faith came very quickly and naturally.”

Last year’s One GRAND Sunday initiative highlighted the links between hearing the gospel, responding, and following up that decision with baptism. As people shared their stories—on video or from the baptistry or afterward over e-mail—many talked about the journey they had taken to get to the point of baptism that day.

For some, the road was long. Others took a shorter route, like the father in Amboy who came to church for his daughter’s baptism, heard the gospel, responded, and was baptized that very day.

Counting baptisms is one way to measure health and growth, but Pajak said after last year’s One GRAND Sunday that the day was about more than numbers. As IBSA churches prepare for another One GRAND emphasis this spring, his position on last year’s statewide success is an important guiding principle.

“The great thing is that it sparked a fresh passion for evangelism across the state.”

– With additional reporting from Baptist Press

 

One GRAND Sunday

Last Easter, a statewide baptism emphasis resulted in more than 650 baptisms across Illinois. If you missed the first one, you can do it now. If God blessed your church on the first One GRAND Sunday, pray He will do it again. IBSA churches are invited to participate in a second “One GRAND Sunday” this November 4.

1. Set a 2019 baptismal goal. Look at your baptismal number(s) from 2017-2018 and set a goal to increase by at least one! If you had 9 or 10, set a goal to baptize 12 or one a month. Determine to become a “frequently baptizing church!”

2. Plan to baptize on One GRAND Sunday. Announce your intention to the church, that you plan to baptize at least one person on November 4 in order to be a part of seeing 1,000 people baptized across Illinois on one day! Invite the church to join you in that strategy.

3. Pray for the lost in your community. Encourage the church to begin praying daily for unsaved friends, neighbors, relatives and coworkers that they will be able to reach them with the gospel and see them baptized on November 4 during One GRAND Sunday!

4. Have an evangelism training class. Train members how to share their personal testimony and the gospel message of salvation. Use “3 Circles Evangelism Training” to teach members how to have “A gospel conversation” with an unsaved person they meet.

5. Plan an outreach activity night. Church members will visit when a planned opportunity is made available. Plan to have a meal, provide childcare, make student ministry drivers available, set-up a homework room, and enlist visitation teams to prepare for November 4.

6. Use daylight savings time to promote the event. Use One GRAND Sunday as a strategy to draw a crowd on time-change Sunday encourage them to be a part of this miraculous and historic event. Pray – Plan – Promote and register to be involved at www.IBSA.org/pioneering.

For more information about One GRAND Sunday, visit www.IBSA.org/evangelism.