“Boring” Testimonies

bap 4Boring testimonies are great!

Last week I had the privilege of baptizing my youngest child. Now all 3 of my kids have accepted Christ, and have a testimony about that. All three of those will be boring ones.

I can remember growing up, when we would hear people share their testimony, it was the ones where the guy lived this horrible life, stealing and drinking and time in prison, then he met Jesus and had this miraculous change. Those were the best. Right? Such radical life change.

Like Saul/Paul in the New Testament. He went from murdering Christians to being one. Such a radical change he had to change his name. Man, those are good stories.

Funny thing, while those are interesting stories, they are not the lives we hope for our children. I hope that my children’s testimony will be “Grew up in church, saved at early age”  followed up with “lived a life of purpose and faith in relationship with Jesus Christ.”

I wish everyone had a testimony like that. Not just because the bad stuff people do before their salvation is sin, and has both spiritual and worldly consequences, but because boring testimonies are just as miraculous (though not as flashy) as others, and they show the faithfulness of God. The real miracle is that what Jesus did can reconcile us to God.

I’m thankful that God is faithful. He will work in my kid’s lives the way has worked in mine, and in my parent’s. Every salvation is a miracle, and the angels rejoice just as much for the 5-year-old in the school yard as they do for the 50-year-old in the prison yard.

The best thing about all of our testimonies isn’t that we were saved from our sin, it’s that the God of the universe desires to live in us, inhabit our lives, work through us to accomplish his will. That’s not boring. That’s amazing.


Reflection on 337 Baptisms and the “Church”

tubSo it’s been a couple of days since the massive baptism service we had last weekend. As they were going over records, they actually had miscounted, and we baptized 337 during the “Not Ashamed” weekend services, not 335 as was previously reported. Today in staff meeting one of our pastor’s was talking about different things. He said something that surprised me.

This past Sunday looks to be be one of the lowest attended Sundays all year. Based on the report, almost 1000 people decided to skip this week. We have about 8500 people that rotate through on various schedules. Florida is a very odd place. If asked, people who come every third Sunday would probably identify themselves as a “regular” attender. According to this, we saw more people choose this week as their “off” week than we normally would.

But why would more people choose to stay away this week?

I had a conversation with one person, and they wondered if that many baptisms would be boring. I personally wondered if the day would be too much spectre, and not enough participation. (Having been through it, I can say now, it was a lot of participation) We don’t place enough emphasis on celebrating life-change. Here is a public symbol of a changed life, a key part of a Christian’s life of faith, and we see people choose to stay home.

Boring? How could any baptism be boring? How have we gotten here?

Did you know that 48% of SBC churches didn’t baptize one person last year? That 78% baptized less than 10 people? Some of the church growth books out there talk about how the population of the earth is outpacing the growth of the Church (capital “C” church). What has happened to the Church?

Do we not hold the truth, the only really important thing that matters in this life and eternity? Are we not in the business of making disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost? 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 explains that we are the ministers of the reconciliation.

God chose to use us as ambassadors, “as though God were making his appeal through us”.

Let that sink is for just a second.

Maybe people don’t want to attend a service devoted to celebrating changed lives because we know we have not really been doing a good job as an ambassador.

We celebrate 337 baptisms in one weekend because it rarely happens, but Acts 2:41 bears witness to almost 10 times that number being baptized at one time. Doesn’t the same Holy Spirit dwell in us? We saw 337 baptisms, not because that many people accepted Christ at one time, but because that many people got right with God about being baptized.

We must do better. This weekend far outpaced any predictions. But why? Why should it surprise us when God shows up, and works in the lives of our congregation? We need to be ready for God to work, we need to expect the miraculous.

And we need to be about the business of being God’s effective ambassadors to a very distracted, mediated world.

(Photo by Ken Miller)

337 Baptized During “Not Ashamed” Services

First Baptist Orlando baptized 337 people in it’s four services this weekend. We had 10 at our Ocoee venue, 73 on Saturday, 60 in our 9:00, and 194 in our 10:45 service.

A friend asked me what caused so many people to get baptized at one time. It can only be God at work. Annually we baptize more than 500 in a normal year. That’s not that big of a number considering how large a church we are (15,000 members, 6000 average attendance) We do two outdoor baptisms every year which have between 80-100 people participating. We have a baptism time during our Christmas Eve services, and normally see 30-50 there. The rest happen during the course of regular worship times.

One of our pastors was looking at the numbers and noticed that we baptize less than half the number of people that make decisions. So, we scheduled a specific special weekend of services. The whole time was reserved for baptism and worship. No sermon.

Three weeks before this service, our pastor preached on the importance of being baptized. We inserted registration cards in the bulletin for 3 weeks, and showed 3 different videos promoting the service. By Wednesday of last week we had 217 people signed up. Of those, only 13 were church members, The rest were people who attend or have some association with the church. Saturday, which runs between 500-700 in attendance, had over 60 people signed up (a much higher percentage than the other services.)

We also knew that we would call for people to come forward in the service to get baptized right then. We had counsellers prepared, and had purchased several sets of shorts and dark shirts for people to wear. In every service we saw people move. At 10:45 there were at least 70 people that had not planned on being baptized, but came forward during the service.

While we have a large baptistry, we wanted this service to have the baptisms front and center. We lined up 5 horse troughs, or “tubs” as I called them, across the platform. Our facilities crew rigged a pump from the heated baptistry to fill each tub. And had a pump on the platform to send water back to the baptistry. The tubs were placed in a sort of plastic pool to catch overflow. We laid carpet down to help stop slipping.

Because we expected so many, two classrooms were converted to dressing rooms with pipe and drape creating the spaces. We tried to contact each preregistered candidate prior to the service. They arrived, checked in, and were given a white T Shirt that had the words “Not Ashamed” across the front to put over their own dark undershirt. After instructions and getting changed, the candidates were staged outside of the worship center. We had a couple of different people managing the flow, and numbers in each group.

We had a plan in place, and for the most part we followed it. We divided the people into groups, and would send them to the platform in order.

Our pastor wanted very much to show a symbolic putting-off-the-old kind of life change. Each candidate would come on the platform with a brown robe on, over the white shirt. At every tub we had a microphone. They each told their name and said, “Jesus is my Lord! I am not ashamed!” At that point they removed the robe, exposing the white shirt below. After they were finished, they were baptized at the same time as the rest of their set. Then the next set would step up, while the brown robes were being passed to those waiting.

The logistics of this amaze me. Every team really worked together.

From a TV/video perspective, the most challenging service to video tape was the 10:45, where we used all 5 tubs. The other services used only 3. Each camera had a specific shot list, and we followed the same pattern during each baptism segment, changing up if need be. We iso’d every camera and made sure we got everyone on tape.

We also had photographer for each tub. They took before and after shots. Each tub had a person holding the microphone for the candidate. We put the mini-script on the teleprompter screens in case some forgot the words (some did). We moved cameras and musical instruments;most of which were on risers so we could have a chance of seeing them behind the tubs.

I was able to go out into the service for part of the 10:45. Watching whole sections people standing to cheer as people they knew got baptized was aawesome. After a group would finish, the congregation would respond with applause, and then worship. I will never forget this weekend. I’ve never seen anything like it before, but I hope to see something like it again. God was so present in the services you could almost touch Him.

We didn’t go to a beach, or lake. Really, we didn’t do anything over the top in the way of promotion. We just set aside the time, and let people know why they should do it, and gave them an easy way to get involved. 336 people, across 4 services, took a public stand for Christ through baptism. God worked, and we saw it happen.

Edit: After reviewing records, we found we lost count, and had missed two. How often do you have so many that you lose count?