How to celebrate baptism in your church.

IMG_2476Every church is different. You need to come up with your own way of doing it, but the way a church celebrates baptism is important. It sends a message about values. I’ve not always done a great job at it. At times it should have been better, but here are some things you can do to make baptism a significant event. We baptize on Sunday mornings as it is a better witness to a broader crowd. Here’s what I suggest.

  1. Remember first it’s about following Jesus. I have a picture below of a Sudanese woman following Jesus in Baptism by Immersion in a mud pit. I remember that in all the celebration, it’s still first and foremost about following Jesus.
  2. Clean your baptism area. You need an area that is not junked up. When someone walks back there it should say “we value this.” A junked up dirty area speaks poorly of our commitment to baptism.
  3. Get a new baptistery. If you use an old, out dated baptistery that is dangerous to even get in, then spend some of the money your church has in savings to get a new baptistery. Build for intimacy , function, and experience. Don’t go cheap. Some baptisteries would be better of being a horse trough, which many churches are using now. They are actually not expensive and can be quality.
  4. Take pictures. We take pictures. A lot of pictures. We want people to remember the experience that they followed Jesus Christ. One thing I loathe are poor baptism pictures. You probably have someone who is a wanna be photographer who would do it. For pictures and videos, you may need to mount a camera or video. Scott Shelpman 2
  5. Share on social media. I share baptism experiences on media as it’s a witness to people about Jesus and what is happening in the church to community. I don’t just share our experiences, but also those of other churches. Celebrate everyone’s successes.
  6. Create a team. We have a few people who help out those being baptized as they change clothes, get towels, etc. It has become one of the hubs of the church. People hear about baptisms and they come behind the scenes to celebrate and watch. A good team helps the pastor not have to do all the details. I’m thankful for those who help us. They are amazing servants.
  7. Hang pictures. We put up the pictures of everyone being baptized on a wall in the prep area. People see them and are amazed. We baptize in the river some in the summer, so we put those up too as we bring it all together.
  8. Give T-Shirts. We give each person a “No Perfect People Allowed” t-shirt. It’s the icing on the cake, but it’s good icing.
  9. Video. We Skype the baptisms on the screen with a smart phone. You could do the same easily. If you have a baptistery that is high up out of sight of the crowd, you really need to get someone to Skype it to the crowd. It personalizes the baptism for the audience. IMG_2609
  10. Follow up. Before, during and after baptism, follow up is crucial. Make sure the person knows Jesus personally and has received Him as Lord and Savior. Get dates of salvation and baptism confirmed. Communicate with the person before baptism. Encourage the person after. Give the person a new believers bag that has a Bible, journal, pen, a new believers book for growth, etc. Make it good.

So there’s 10 things for making baptism a celebration. For small and mid size churches, the way you can make your church feel big or excellent is by the way you celebrate baptism. Larger churches usually don’t baptize weekly. They baptize larger numbers monthly or quarterly. It’s impressive. But it can be impersonal. because there are so many at one time. Of course we want many. There were 3000 at Pentecost. Have you ever considered that each of the 12 Apostles would have baptized 250 each in the Jordan River that day? That’s awesome! I’m not trying to advocate small versus large. I’m saying find a way that is appropriate for your context and celebrate. There’s no excuse for poor baptism experiences regardless the size of your church. Prepare now for the harvest to come. IMG_0066

Am I on target? How do you celebrate baptism? IMG_1821IMG_4684IMG_0652

How a homeless man changed Easter.

I was just going to the prayer meeting. A few of us (Linda, Jeana, Chris, Tim and I) gathered for 4 weeks in old fashioned prayer IMG_2497groups. What happened next will …. well you make up you own mind.

As I entered the apartment, I noticed a man in the group of six I didn’t know. His name was Scott. A homeless man. I was moved. Chris introduced him as a new friend. Of course I had a preconceived image of who homeless people are, but I was glad he was in the prayer meeting.

God was up to something.

We spent an hour pouring out to God. Weeping, laughing, repenting, asking, and being filled with the Spirit of God as we spilled ourselves out for revival. We have come to the turning point where the power of God is our only option. And status quo is not acceptable.

As we prayed, I listened, wondered, consider what Chris would do with the homeless man.

His name is Scott. He may be homeless, but he was an angel to me (Heb 13:1).

As we left the prayer time, I immediately called Chris and told him we were going to put Scott in a hotel for 4 days. He needed a break from the streets. Scott was graciously grateful.

The next day he came and helped us set up chairs for Easter services. It was then I explored his Scott Shelpmanfaith. He had been saved in jail. God gave him a “get out of jail free” card. Instead of five to ninety nine, he got six months and release. He took that as a sign of God’s grace. While exploring his faith, he said “Pastor I was going to ask you about baptism.” I said “if you know Jesus Christ personally and have received Him by repentance and faith, we would love to baptize you and be your home base church.”

We baptized Scott with two others on Easter Sunday.

In four days we became brothers. Scott just needed someone to love him for him not just as a homeless man. He needed brotherhood. He needed respect. He needed love. He needed encouragement. I teared up saying goodbye to him as he got on the bus to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He called when he got there. Along the way he ministered to people on the bus. He gave his Bible to a man who needed it. He called me yesterday. I met his mother over the phone. It was great. I’m praying Scott is able to get off the streets and pursue the call of God on his life. He wants to help the homeless. Scott Shelpman 2Scott said,

Pastor, not going to serve on the soup line; I’m going to serve in the line. I’m going to get in line with them and encourage them.

IMG_2508Scott gave me a Steelers blanket. I put it on my chair in the office so I will pray for him often.

Not every homeless story ends like this. But this one blows my mind. God is so good. He used a homeless man to change up our Easter. Scott ran out of the baptistery shouting and praising God. I was blown away. I’m still blown away.

We need to be Spirit filled, Jesus in shoe leather and willing to make disciples of anyone, wherever they are. You never know when Scott might just change Easter. Who knows, revival might break out.
Thank you Scott! Love you man. Praying for you. We are here to serve (Mark 10:45).

Why discipleship died.

IMG_5156One of the big discoveries recently is the recovery of disciple making. I ran into a man who served with Cru for about 20 years and has harnessed that experience and more into a revival of disciple making. John Burton. I call him the man, the myth, THE LEGEND. He’s a simple man who pours into pastors who are willing to make disciples. John has made me a believer in disciple making. I was already bought off on it, but John has helped me see blind spots. Let me share a few with you. You consider them prayerfully.

Discipleship died. Really? Well there is a phrase I’ve heard resurge recently. It’s “disciple making is not done until the discipled make disciples.” If IMG_0497that is true, and Robert Coleman’s classic says it is, then discipleship died. Jesus made disciples who made disciples. Disciple making died on the altar of lecturing, big crowds and an approach that is consumer driven and also lazy. Disciples today don’t make disciples. They grow, get fat, and do little with what they learned.

How does this happen? What can be done about it? Here are a few quick principles.

  1. Yes, it happens. Look around. Are your leaders making disciples who make disciples? Probably not.
  2. Why? The church is really weak at discipling new believers. We throw them into the Book of Ezekiel and then say “enjoy and we will see you later.”
  3. We need to disciple new believers one-on-one or no more than one on three. Especially promising leaders.
  4. Follow up – most Christians never really got it. So we never taught them and ensured they understood the internals ….
    • Confidence in relationship with God
    • Experiencing the Love and Forgiveness of God
    • Being Filled with the Holy Spirit of God
    • Walking in the Holy Spirit of God
  5. Most Christians I’ve asked do not have confidence in their relationship with God. It’s partly like Burton says, “We have sold them the Old Covenant rehashed.” Followers early on don’t know how to negotiate the new life in Christ when the flesh takes over. I believe that is why most Christians who fall out, fall out. They were never really discipled. They were thrown into the larger crowd.
  6. We throw them into the crowd because we have to do it. We don’t have enough disciples makers who know intentional content that can be reproduced to be reproduced.
  7. I’m discipling about 7 men right now in these things. I’ve learned more than they have. One man Sunday night said this to me: “In all my years as a follower, I’ve never received this stuff your teaching.” He confirmed what’s missing. Soon these men will be able to invest some basics in others, not just as teachers, but as Jesus disciples. 

Do you see disciple making as dead? It can be resurrected. Get back to doing things smaller and with intentionality. It’s works.