Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.
– The Acts of the Apostles 8:35-38
Yesterday we baptized more than 250 adults at my church. To say it was a great day would be more than an understatement. For three weeks we taught on baptism. With nothing spectacular or unique in what we said or how we presented it, the series simply highlighted what baptism means and who it’s for. However, from the beginning we told our congregation, “At the end of this series we’re going to set up a baptistry and baptize anyone who is ready.” And boy, were they ready! When all was said and done, 0ne out of every ten adults who attend our Egret Bay campus on a given weekend went under the waters of baptism yesterday. It was incredibly emotional: joy, laughter, shouts, tears, hugs, hi-fives, and smiles abounded at every turn in a service filled with songs, Scripture and a simple sermon that essentially echoed the words of an Ethiopian ready to demonstrate his union with Christ and entrance into the church, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” Nothing! Let’s do this!
Reflecting on this experience, a few things surface in my mind and heart as a pastor for pastors:
- Teach the Basics. We are a post-Christian, post-Bible culture. Many don’t know why they believe what they believe and that includes an obscene amount of Christians. Pastors can take too much for granted when teaching their people, believing their congregation is further down the road spiritually/theologically/biblically than is reality. But if Peter called followers of Jesus to be reminded of the truth (2 Pt. 1:12), it just shows us forgetting the basics is common to all – and I believe especially so in the 21st Century West. Plan your teaching calendar with “101” messages designed to remind or, more likely, introduce your congregants to the foundational beliefs of Christianity. So when you teach on things like, say, baptism, the people may respond by getting, say, baptized!
- Have Faith in People. Are there those who come to church for less than honorable reasons, and so, when it comes to actually living for Jesus after they leave on Sunday morning they really don’t? Sure. But should that surprise us? Not at all. Jesus told us in Mt. 13 (e.g., wheat and tares) this would happen! But that doesn’t mean there aren’t scores upon scores of souls who walk through the doors of your sanctuary every Sunday who sincerely want to follow Jesus. And what they need most is not your cynicism or cajoling but a clear understanding of what Jesus asks of them (and what he doesn’t ask of them). I was amazed at the numbers of people baptized yesterday who said, “I’m here because you guys made it clear for me this was what Jesus wants, and I just want to follow Him.” It was a kind encouragement to me which said the Holy Spirit is working in all kinds of people, and a kind rebuke to me when I think I know exactly which kinds.
- Take Risks on the Spirit. Every church picks its spots to challenge the people. Obviously we chose to put a baptistry (three in all) on our staging area and believed God to bring people through the water. This wasn’t without thought. We did teach on baptism for three weeks. Yet, we had no clue before starting the series how many, if any, would come. We baptize people each and every month. What was one more day going to do differently? For all we knew we could have baptized three people (or less) in our three Sunday services. But we believed God wanted to do a work in our congregation. We believed the Holy Spirit would draw many to the waters. We just needed, to borrow a phrase, to put our baptistries where our faith was. It helped me see we should regularly ask ourselves, “How can we truly demonstrate faith in the Holy Spirit’s work by giving him ‘space’ to do just that?” The spontaneity we provided in the service allowed us the Holy Spirit to bless us in a way like never before. I know for me, it was a day I won’t forget.