Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Measuring Success - Baptism

Metric #4: Altar Calls vs. Baptisms
When it came time at the end of each year to submit the pastoral report to the district where I served, one of the blanks I struggled to fill in the most was the number of new church members marked by “professions of faith.” I don't mean to come across as though "altar calls" and "invitations" should be abandoned. There is a time and place for them. Presenting the gospel and being honest about who Jesus is, then praying with someone to accept Him, is nothing to take lightly and it can be a glorious thing. However, it should also be noted that the concept of the "sinner's prayer" has actually only been around for the last couple centuries. Altar calls and invitations were not the modus operandi for "winning souls" in the New Testament. We can make claims about their efficacy in our cultural context, but let's not boast that they are biblical or how things must be done. It's simply not true.
There was, interestingly enough, a very specific method used over and over again. Jesus Himself explicitly taught, modeled, and commanded that it be carried out by His disciples. Of course, I am referring to baptism!

Somehow we have lost sight (I know I have) of the significance of baptizing people. In fact, the Great Commission directs us to baptize people as part of the process of making disciples, yet think about how many denominations and churches actually have rules in place that discourage, or worse prohibit, ordinary (non-clergy) believers from performing that very act! Truthfully, baptisms should be carried out by all kinds of Christians!
There is nothing fancy about this metric. If you, as an individual or group, are not participating in baptisms, then there is probably very little to your claim that you are making disciples. I want to note two things as I conclude this point. First, this is definitely a "lagging indicator" for my involvement with the simple church. I have yet to baptize anyone and the people I often meet with haven't either. This is a confession that I need to do better at embracing this shift in thinking and acting as the church. Second, I want to be clear that I am not saying that a person must be baptized to be saved. Getting wet doesn't make one holy. However, we cannot ignore the fact that there is some kind of connection between salvation and the powerful symbol of baptism. To dismiss that reality is to our own detriment.

What would changing the scorecard in this area look like in your context?
What are our children and youth learning about baptism from us?


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