This article was published in abbreviated form in the June/July 2022 issue of Ministry Magazine.
By Jacob & Dan Serns
Dan: Celebrating Changed Lives
“Melinda, how has God brought you to this place in life?”
Sabbath morning during the worship service we always had a Celebrating Changed Lives feature. Today I was interviewing those who were joining the church that month through baptism, profession of faith and transfer.
“I had a really tough life growing up and got onto drugs early. Then because I needed money for drugs I became a prostitute. That’s when I became really hard-hearted.” Melinda’s two teen-aged daughters standing beside her started nodding their heads. “But there was this lady who was always so nice to me when I was mean to her and I couldn’t figure out why. She kept inviting me to a women’s Bible study group and told me some of the women had had a really tough life, too. When I finally came with her I knew I had found a spiritual home where I could grow and become like Jesus. Everything is changing in our home. Our words. Our music. Our pictures. What we watch.”
“Praise the Lord!” I said as I moved to the oldest daughter. “How has God brought you to this place in life?”
“It’s pretty much like Mom said. It’s getting better and better now. I like it.” Her younger sister agreed.
“And all three of you are telling the world today that you belong to Jesus and are uniting with His final movement! We are not perfect people but we are all in to let the world know that Jesus loves them, that He’s coming again soon, that He has a good plan for their lives, and that it’s time to take Him seriously. Welcome to the family!”
Not all of our Celebrating Changed Lives interviews on Sabbath morning are this dramatic. But all of them show how God is at work changing our lives. Some testimonies have featured victories in Sabbath work issues, relationships healed, decisions for baptism, new ministry or group leaders, a story from someone who handed out a GLOW tract, or those returning from a mission trip or spiritual retreat. Other times we have interviewed long time members about a turning point in their lives from years before, or how they first decided to return tithe.
If you want an evangelistic culture in church, one of the simplest and least expensive (free) ways to do it is to add brief (1-3 minutes) interviews during the worship service.
“And they [believers] overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb [Jesus] and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.” Revelation 12:11.
Jacob: Baptismal Celebration Sabbaths
“Would it be ok if I said a prayer for you right now?” I almost surprised myself with my own question to Verna, the older lady cutting my hair. The conversation had wandered through the usual small talk and gradually drifted deeper and toward more spiritual things. She shared with me that she was going through a tough time and, seeing the tears forming in her eyes, I felt compelled to ask if I could pray for her, as I sat in the barber’s chair of that budget hair salon. “Yes!” She blurted out. After praying, exchanging contact info, and going our separate ways, months passed.
Then one day, I felt impressed to text her and ask if she wanted Bible studies. I had no clue if she would even remember who I was, but I asked. She accepted, and we began a Bible Study journey that eventually led her to a crossroads of choosing to either follow Jesus and His commandments, or to continue working on Saturdays cutting hair. Her boss was relentless in pushing for her to continue working Saturdays. I remember Verna breaking down and crying on many occasions as we talked about God’s faithfulness to those who choose to be faithful to Him. On one of those occasions, I shared with her that our church had a Baptismal Celebration Sabbath scheduled in just three weeks. I told her I was praying God would give her the strength to take a stand for Him and be baptized on that Sabbath.
A week later Verna stood her ground, drew her battle lines, and refused to show up to work on Sabbath, even though her boss had scheduled her for that day. She chose instead to come worship with her church family. I shared her decision with those in attendance and said a special prayer for her during the worship service. She stood and pointed heavenward as her church family cheered enthusiastically for her decision to follow Jesus no matter what. Two weeks later, at her baptism, she shared her powerful testimony of faith. Because we are a newly planted church, renting a building with no baptistry, I baptized her in the bed of a pickup truck just outside the entrance of our church!
I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if we hadn’t scheduled a Baptismal Celebration Sabbath date in advance by faith. After all, at the time the date was scheduled, we had no one ready to be baptized. On top of that, we didn’t even have a baptistry!
It can seem like a crazy idea to schedule a baptism before having any qualified candidates prepared, but Jesus tells us that the harvest is plentiful (Luke 10:2). One of the most impactful baby steps a pastor can take toward building a rhythm of, “Adding to the church daily,” as Acts 2:47 describes, is to regularly schedule Baptismal Celebration Sabbaths ahead of time. Why force baptismal candidates to initiate a conversation about when to get baptized? Our Savior stands at the door and knocks, He pursues lost sheep with reckless abandon! The least we can do as pastors is to simplify the process for those wanting to commit to Jesus. Those who are attending our church and seeking a place where God is actively working will see a church committed to the harvest! Those needing a nudge of encouragement will see all the motivation they need! Church members and church leaders will be excited by the mighty works of God and will be more likely to take an active role in bringing others to experience the joy of public commitment to Christ!
Positive momentum begins with one well-placed baby step. Take a step of faith and schedule a Baptismal Celebration Sabbath at your church in the near future, whether or not you know of anyone ready to be baptized. Some pastors may choose to schedule Baptismal Celebration Sabbaths monthly, quarterly, or at some other interval that works best in their particular context. Even in the worst case scenario, if no one ends up being ready when the date arrives, you will be shifting the focus of your church to the harvest fields, which Jesus says is a good place to be focused!
Jacob: Baptism Coaches
“No, Jacob! Not my shrimp!” Harold whined in a shrill, half-joking tone. I was 7 weeks into an 8 week Bible Study preparing Harold for baptism, and the lesson on living a healthy lifestyle was threatening to thwart what had been a joyous journey in getting to know Jesus. Harold had nodded agreeably when this particular lesson covered the topics of abstaining from alcohol, not smoking, and refusing pork, but it was obvious that we had struck a nerve when approaching the subject of one of his favorite foods.
There he sat, a look of bewilderment overtaking his typically calm, happy face as he leaned forward in his chair and asked, or more accurately pleaded with me, “No Jacob! Not my shrimp! You can’t take my shrimp from me! No?” I smiled back at the man I by this time considered a good friend and gently replied, “It’s not me, Harold. I’m not trying to take anything from you. But God is telling you in His Word that you’ll be better off without this in your life.” Harold grew silent, staring at me with a look I can best describe as horror. His gaze slowly slid downward to the carpet beneath us as I saw him wrestling with what to him surely seemed to be a monstrous decision of allegiance. Who would it be? Jesus, or his shrimp?
After what felt like several minutes, Harold lifted his head and looked at me with determination in his eyes, “I guess,” he said quietly, “If Jesus wants me to give up my shrimp…then I guess…I guess I’ll have to give up shrimp.”
“Let’s go, Harold!” I shouted, jarring him from his somber expression, “You got this, brother! Jesus will give you the power to let shrimp go completely!”
Harold and I completed our 8 week Bible Study plan and I had the privilege of seeing him baptized and watching him grow into a mighty worker for God’s kingdom!
Preparing someone for baptism doesn’t have to be complicated, and it doesn’t have to take forever. In fact, you’ll often find more people ready to prepare for baptism if your church has a clear and simple plan for baptismal preparation. Our church uses the first 14 lessons of the Amazing Facts Bible Study Guides. They are straightforward, visually appealing, have lots of Bible verses, don’t take forever, and include a quiz with a decision question on the last page. Any time a person expresses any interest in baptism, I immediately do everything I can to partner them with a “Baptismal Coach.” The Baptismal Coach gives the interested person lessons 1 and 2, (All 14 lessons are found easily accessible in our church lobby). The interested person completes the lessons on their own and meets with the Baptismal Coach the next week. The Baptismal Coach goes over the quiz on each lesson together with the interested person, answers any questions they might have, and hands them lessons 3 and 4. The process continues and takes a total of 8 weeks. By the end, both the Baptismal Coach and interested person are stronger in their walks with God, and the interested person is ready to be cleared by the pastor for baptism!
Every pastor is looking for simple ways to involve their members in the mission without overwhelming them. We want them to experience the same joy that we’ve experienced in bringing people to Jesus and seeing Him transform lives! By utilizing a clear plan, like the 8-week Bible Study plan, pastors can rapidly multiply the number of church members involved in real discipleship! More involvement in the mission will lead to more excitement and more lives transformed! Jesus told all His followers to make disciples. The 8-week Baptismal Coach plan is a simple way for all followers of Jesus to be a part of fulfilling the great commission in Matthew 28:19-20 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.”
Jacob: New Member Orientation
“You don’t really need me to go to that, do you, Pastor?” Is a common response I’ve gotten when asking long-time Adventists to attend our New Member Orientation Class at our church. The class happens on the Friday night before a New Member (or Baptism) Celebration Sabbath. We want to give those joining our church, whether by baptism, profession of faith, or transfer, a strong start. The meeting is divided into four, 30-minute segments: Our Stories, Our Beliefs, Our Hopes, Our Worldwide Movement.
Our Stories is a chance to highlight the testimony of each person joining by asking them “How has God brought you to this place in your life?” This time of celebrating what God is doing invigorates all those at the class, and we also have each new member share a 2-minute version of this the next morning at our worship service at church.
Our Beliefs gives people a chance to review the 28 fundamental beliefs of the Adventist Church, or as we like to call them, the 28 fundamental ways of following Jesus. Participants are encouraged to pick out a favorite belief or two, and to ask for clarification on a belief they’d like to be able to explain better to a stranger.
Our Hopes involve the four hopes that we have for every new member in their first 6 months at our church:
- That they’ll have a regular personal Bible reading plan, strengthened by a Sabbath School Class.
- That they’ll join or start a ministry group serving in a way they enjoy.
- That they’ll have the joy of leading someone else to Jesus and seeing them baptized.
- That they’ll make at least seven good friends in their new church family.
Our Worldwide Movement helps new members see the big picture of the Adventist Church around the world. We highlight the worldwide Adventist Education System, Hospital System, Publishing Centers, etc, and show how each member can be involved in the worldwide Adventist movement, even in our local context.
“I’d like for you to be there, and I think you’ll find it worthwhile.” I’ve used those words time and again with Adventists wondering why their new pastor is asking them to attend a New Member Orientation Class just for them to transfer their membership.
Building culture takes time. Transformation happens one conversation at a time, one meeting at a time, one person at a time. New Member Orientation Classes provide an opportunity to accelerate a cultural shift by giving new members a strong start, and having missional, vision-shaping conversations in a group setting, early in a person’s journey with your church.
Dan: Start Groups Easily
“Pastor, we need a Young Adult choir in our church.”
I was sitting in the front row, five minutes before I was to preach. Amanda, one of our young adults, had tapped me on the shoulder and whispered to me. In my early pastoring days I would have felt stressed and brushed off the idea with “Make a proposal for the church board” or “Come see me about it sometime.” But in time I had learned the power of groups when they are put together in a simple, Biblical way.
I turned around and smiled at Amanda and said “Why do you think God gave you that idea instead of me?”
“But what do I do?”
“You need to make sure of the four connections. Do this with me,” I whispered. I said “God” as I held my hand up as if grasping the hand of the Almighty. She did what I did. “Partners” I said as I extended my arms out to either side as if giving shoulder hugs to those beside me. She followed. “Mentor” I said as I cupped my hand to one ear as if listening carefully to someone. She followed again. “Flock” I said as I extended both hands forward and down as if serving someone.” She again followed. “Let’s do it again” I whispered. Together we said “God” “Partners” “Mentor” “Flock” while making the hand motions.
“What does that mean?”
“First make sure you are connected with God. You can’t do true ministry without that. If you’ve become disconnected it only takes two minutes to get reconnected by saying ‘Lord, I’m a great sinner but You are a greater Savior. Take me, cleanse me, use me to bless others in spite of my flaws.”
“Next you find a couple of friends who like your ministry idea. Sit down together and brainstorm what you want to do, when to do it, how to do it and where to do it. Remember, our church has a lot of musical talent so most of your ministry will be outside the four walls of the church building. Maybe in parks, nursing homes, street corners, etc. Plan all that with your partners.”
“I can already think of some friends who will do this with me.”
“Third, find any member of the church board to be your mentor. Your mentor doesn’t do your ministry for you, or even with you. But they listen to your plans, make suggestions, connect you with helpful people, touch base with you from time to time and report to the church board what God is doing through your lives and ministry. You can find a list of all the church board members and their phone numbers in the church bulletin. Find one you can relate to best and ask them if they’ll be your mentor for this ministry. Do you know any of these people?” I held up a church bulletin.
“Yeah, I know some of them.”
“Then finally go after your flock, the people you are ministering to and lead them to Jesus and into His final movement! How does that sound?”
“Great! We’ll go for it!” Amanda smiled. I smiled, gave her a thumbs up and got up to preach.
To start or grow an evangelistic culture in a church family we need to provide an easy way to start groups. No long proposals, detailed budgets, lengthy committee meetings. Just a simple four connections approach that produces and reproduces healthy cells in the body.
“So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them…” Romans 12:5-6a.
Jesus is coming again soon. Don’t allow yourself to get distracted by the critics, cynics, skeptics or scoffers. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Fill your mind with His Word. Activate those in the church who are most receptive. And let the Holy Spirit start a fire that goes through your whole community and beyond until Jesus breaks through the sky and says “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” Matthew 25:21, 23.
For more insights check out www.LetsGoAdventistPodcast.org