By Dave Ferguson
Here is my challenge for every leader and paid staff person of every Christian church—stop baptizing! Just so you understand the challenge, let me say it again—STOP BAPTIZING!
If you think this is merely an attention-grabber, you are only partially correct. Let me explain.
I recently started leading a new small group. In preparation for the first group gathering, I met my apprentice leader at my favorite Starbucks to go over leadership expectations and to make other preparations.
This was all new to him; he had never been a leader, never been in a group, and finished our meeting by asking, “When it comes to reading the Bible, how do you do that?”
I recommended a translation of the Bible, provided him with a journal, and we agreed to read through the book of John one chapter per day. When we got to chapter 4 it hit me—“Stop baptizing.”
John 4:1, 2 says, “The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples.” I reread these two simple verses over and over.
In many churches, either by rule or tradition, the paid staff does most or all of the baptizing. Why? Seriously, ask yourself why “paid clergy” do most or all of the baptizing. I can’t think of any good reason for it, but I can think of several bad reasons:
We don’t believe in the priesthood of all believers so we only allow our “priests” to administer the sacraments.
We believe you must be ordained and “know what you are doing” to baptize someone.
Nobody else brought their swimsuit to church.
I can think of a lot more reasons the few should baptize the many . . . but all of the reasons are bad! So, leaders and paid staff, let’s stop baptizing and let others in on the fun!
Let Others Do the Baptizing
We had a few baptisms at a recent service, and one of them was a young woman who wanted me to baptize her. Why? She and her husband had lost a child some time back, and I was there when their baby died. I was also there for the funeral. We were together when they struggled through the grieving process and asked “How could a good God . . . ?”
I think she would tell you I had paid the relational rent and she felt like I deserved to be in the water with her when she was baptized. It was an honor.
However, at that same service, an 80-year-old man I didn’t know was baptized by his adult granddaughter, who was baptized a few moments before him. She was extremely close with her grandfather and was thrilled at the opportunity.
Right after his baptism one of his sons-in-law came up to me and said, “This baptism is something our family has been praying about for 30 years.” What a day for this elderly man, his granddaughter, and the whole family!
Would it have been right for me to step in and baptize him? I guess I could have. But how much more meaningful for everyone that a family member got to do it. After all, they had been praying for 30 years!
You’ve probably heard testimonies from people who are baptized, but have you ever heard a testimony from someone who does the baptizing? Here is the testimony of a mother who, with her husband, baptized a son:
Baptizing our son, Nicholas, was a dream come true! Throughout the years we’ve seen many parents baptize their kids at Community and could not wait to have our opportunity. We have immense joy for our son, knowing he’s going to walk with Jesus the rest of his life! Nicholas has such a giving soul. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for his life. We are deeply blessed! (Maria Wagner)
Let me offer a few reasons why you should encourage people other than leaders to baptize at your church:
• Baptism is an honor. Every time someone asks me to baptize them I consider it a real honor. The person who has made the biggest spiritual investment in that person deserves this honor.
• Baptism is the payoff. Getting to baptize someone is like a payday. This is what you have been working toward. When someone other than the person who has been praying and investing himself relationally does the baptizing, it is like stealing someone else’s paycheck.
• Baptism reinforces the responsibility of evangelism. There is nothing like being up close and personal when a person publicly commits to following Jesus. When a person baptizes someone else into Christ, it is a lifelong reminder of why evangelism is so important.
• Baptism reinforces the responsibility of discipleship and shepherding. When someone baptizes another person, he or she walks away feeling the appropriate responsibility for the continued maturation of that new believer.
• Baptism reinforces the priesthood of all believers. When we see people other than the “paid staff” do the baptizing, it reminds us that each person has a role to play in accomplishing the mission of Jesus.
More People Will Be Baptized
Last year at Community we baptized 359 people. How do I know? We keep track, just like in John 4! Last year our goal was to become an Acts 2:47 church where “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” We missed achieving this goal by six people . . . but it was still a pretty good year.
This year Community’s goal is to baptize 10 percent of the church’s total attendance. If we reach that goal, we should see more than 500 people baptized!
Of the 359 people baptized last year, I baptized only about 10. There is a part of me that wishes I would have baptized more. I love getting to be in the water with a person as he publicly declares Jesus is his Lord and Savior! There is no thrill like it!
But I’m also proud that during the course of the last year, we have seen friends baptize friends, small group leaders baptize small group members, fathers baptize kids, wives baptize husbands, and kids baptize their parents. The result is the church has baptized more people than ever before!
I have to believe Jesus’ intention for having his disciples do the baptizing is he wanted to see more people become Christ followers. It isn’t that he didn’t want to baptize or he didn’t know it would be a huge buzz to baptize dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people. No. Jesus knew that.
But Jesus also knew that accomplishing his mission—for all people to declare themselves as his followers—was only possible if his disciples went into the world teaching, baptizing, and discipling others to do the same.
We need to take a lesson from Jesus. If only a handful of leaders and paid staff do all the baptizing at your church . . . stop baptizing and you will begin to see a whole lot more people getting baptized!
There are several people in my new small group who have not yet been baptized. If this small group is like other small groups I have been a part of, then over the course of the next year, several people in our group will decide to publicly declare themselves followers of Jesus and be baptized.
Who will baptize them? I anticipate some of them will be baptized by the apprentice leader I’m discipling.
Dave Ferguson is lead pastor at Community Christian Church, Naperville, Illinois, and a movement leader with NewThing Network.