The following post was written by John Paul Basham, Student Ministry Specialist
The more I speak to Student Pastors around the country, the more I hear questions along the lines of, how to inject new life into a struggling ministry, or how to grow a ministry that has plateaued. Although there is no simple answer to any question like this, I do believe that there are some basic building blocks to any healthy ministry, and one of those is baptism.
In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus said: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always to the end of the age.”
The process of discipleship begins with belief in the gospel message. After this experience of belief and surrender, a person’s mind is opened and given access to a reality beyond that which the world can offer, and new believers are often asking what to do next! This is where a daily reading plan, a good daily devotional book, and some practical helps can go a long way, but we can’t forget baptism! Just to be clear, the Scriptures give no evidence for baptism having any salvific value, but there is a clear model of baptism being the first step in obedience after salvation.
Baptism can be one of the most life-giving practices for your student ministry because it is a declaration of who God is and what He has done in the lives of people. When believers enter the baptismal waters they are declaring victory over the bondage of sin, and they are testifying of God’s greatness to all those who are watching. As a student pastor, one of the things I most longed to see among my students was a desire to stand before their peers and proclaim the goodness of God, and baptism was one way of accomplishing that.
Here are 3 keys to leading your students in baptism:
Talk about it!
In talking about how people will come to know Jesus and place their faith in Him the BIble says, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Rom. 10:14) This is not only true of salvation, but also of Christian living. As a student pastor, you have to be constantly encouraging your students to take the next step in their faith. Be intentional about communicating the importance of Baptism in small group environments as well as from the stage. Make sure that your students have the opportunity to interact with Matt. 3:13-17 where Jesus is baptized, with Acts 2 where 3000 are saved and baptised in the same day, with the story of the Ethiopian Eunich in Acts 8:26-40, and the many other scriptures that guide us to baptism. These scriptures give the example that Christ has called us to follow, and after giving the example, we need to invite our students to follow in obedience.
Don’t leave your students floundering because they don’t know what to do next! Anytime you have students expressing a desire to take the next step in their faith, it is our job to empower them and equip them to do so. Remember that if you don’t give them guidance and counsel from the scriptures, the world will give them counsel from elsewhere. A follow-up plan doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does need to be consistent. A three week follow up plan can be incredibly effective and can be as simple as this:
- During a response time in a service or small group, a student expresses a desire to take the next step in their faith, whether this is for salvation, baptism, a call to ministry, or something else.
- A trained decision counselor walks them through the decision they are making and records their decision on an information card which has fields to record what decision they are making as well as gathers their contact information.
- Week 1 – Student receives a letter congratulating them on their decision and giving information/instructions on how to take the next step. In this case, specifically talking about baptism, the letter should give instructions on how to schedule baptism, when baptisms occur, and what they will need to bring when they do get baptised.
- Week 2 – Student receives a phone call from the student pastor to answer any questions they may have and help them schedule their baptism.
- Week 3 – Student receives one more letter offering help for scheduling their baptism and encouraging them to take this next step in their faith.
A system as simple as this can be extremely effective in helping students in your ministry move forward in this next step of faith, while also keeping their parents aware of what is going on in their student’s life.
One of the most exciting things that I have ever seen in a student worship gathering is a baptism service. There is an electricity and excitement that overtakes a room full of students when they have the opportunity to cheer on and celebrate their friends! This celebration serves multiple purposes, as it both bolsters the faith of those being baptised, and it encourages those who haven’t been baptised yet to step up to the plate. I have on several occasions, baptised students the same night that they were saved and the resulting celebration of their new found faith injected a gospel energy into the ministry that would not have been possible otherwise. (Please note that you should never baptise a student without the express permission of their parent or legal guardian.) And don’t think that you can’t do this because your student space doesn’t have a baptistry! I used a horse trough! You could even use a deep baby pool. Just think through the details like what students will wear, towels, changing space, plastic bags for wet clothes, and all of that before you launch in, and by all means run it by your leadership before you begin. Let us all, however, step up our game and intentionally lead our students in taking this first step of obedience through baptism!