If you’re just tuning in, Sunday was a day for the history books at the Summit Church. We saw 140 people get baptized among our seven services. You can read more about that incredible event here, but the rest of this week’s posts are dedicated to the story behind the stories.
Is this a good idea?
That’s the subtext of all of the voices in my head over the last few weeks. When you undertake the planning of a mass baptism, the “good idea” question is going to inevitably raise its head.
I’ve been the baptism guy at the Summit for almost six years now. In those six years, I’ve seen hundreds of people go through the baptismal waters. In the vast majority of those cases, there has been a process. People go through a class. They talk to a pastor or trained counselor. They have time to think it through.
In other words, it’s neat and tidy.
I freely confess to you that I always have been…and in a way still am…one of the biggest critics of mass baptism. Big baptism services scare me. They are like a gangly, awkward teenager roaming haphazardly through the fine china section of Macy’s: eventually, something is going to go horribly wrong.
Over the past few years, our staff has brought the subject up on occasion. And every time it’s brought up, the acid starts churning in my stomach, and the voices in my head start screaming: Are we being responsible? Can we handle the Pandora’s box that we’re about to open? Can we guarantee that we’re not riding some sort of drummed-up emotional wave? In short, is this the wise thing to do?
140 baptisms are nothing to sneeze at, and they’re nothing to be taken lightly. As a pastor, scripture is very clear that I’m going to be held to a high standard for what I teach and how I lead. If I approach a baptism service of this nature with the same intense scrutiny as I would approach…let’s say…deciding where to eat for lunch, then the project is doomed from the beginning. No, it takes an intentional process to do something like this and call it a success. I define success not by the numbers, but by the authentic life change that the numbers represent. Here are a few things that we set in place to make sure Sunday was more than making the Summit look like some sort of spiritual water park:
- Biblical precedence: it should go without saying, instantaneous baptisms were the rule rather than the exception in scripture. Peter preached. 3000 were baptized. The eunuch inquired. He was baptized. The jailer was saved. He was baptized. Understand that I’m not tossing out a process. I believe in the process (without the process, I’d be without a job!). But I also know that, while neither J.D. nor myself is Peter, we are filled with the same Spirit that moved in Acts.
- Careful exposition: you can listen to the entire sermon for yourself on our sermon downloads page (it’ll be posted soon), but suffice it to say that J.D. left no room for error on what baptism is and is not. It is not your salvation; it is a picture of your salvation. We weren’t calling people to find Jesus by getting dunked, but to get dunked because Jesus has found them, called them, and redeemed them.
- Thorough counseling: read very carefully…no one was baptized on Sunday that wasn’t first required to speak to a counselor. We asked questions, made sure they understood the gospel, made sure they understood #2 above. And yes, there was at least one person that we asked to put the decision on hold. The bottom line of all of our counselors’ training: any red flag should be thoroughly explored and rectified before moving ahead.
- No kids: we intentionally did not design this experience for minors. At the Summit we offer a First Steps class for kids who are asking questions about the gospel and baptism, but we didn’t do so on Sunday. Yes, there were two or three kids who were baptized, but these were only allowed because we had an age-appropriate ministry staff member who happened to be available to talk to them. Do we ever baptize kids? Yes…but only after we’re absolutely sure they know their stuff.
- Insane follow up: there is nothing more irresponsible than us baptizing 140 people and saying, “Go forth, drip dry, and good luck with that life change thing.” Every single one of the people baptized on Sunday who have not attended our Starting Point process will be asked to do so. This is where we talk about spiritual growth, involvement in small groups and ministry teams, and how to commit to a spiritual body of believers. You can believe that I’m going to be like those little yapping dogs that you often find in a retiree’s RV park: loud, annoying, and intensely deliberate. I won’t rest until all of ’em contextualize their commitment to Jesus alongside commitment to His church.
What are your thoughts on this? I’d love to see comments from our counselors on Sunday.
Tomorrow, we continue with the story behind the stories.
Read all of the posts in this series: