What is Keeping You from Being Baptized?

The president of the Southern Baptist Convention, J.D. Greear, has challenged all Southern Baptist churches to baptize on September 8. I join him in issuing this call to our Louisiana Baptist churches. If you do not have someone ready to be baptized, you still have a couple of weeks. Work hard! If you still do not have someone on September 8, let me encourage you to preach on the subject of baptism. As a pastor, some years ago, I made an intentional commitment to preach on baptism at least once a year.

Your sermon could go something like this.

Acts 8 is a beautiful story of evangelism. Philip, led of the Holy Spirit, comes upon a high ranking Ethiopian. Philip preached Jesus to him. Evidently, the man believed in Jesus. Immediately a conversation about baptism ensued thus also making this story a beautiful story about baptism.

Notice these principles in this brief account of baptism.

Baptism serves as a specific starting point.

We don’t get every part of the conversation between Philip and the Ethiopian, but we do know that Philip preached Jesus to this man. We probably ought to assume that the Ethiopian either knew something about the Christians being baptized or that Philip had brought this up in conversation. The Ethiopian asked, “Look, there’s water! What would keep me from being baptized?

  • Belief and Baptism are inseparably linked in the Book of Acts. Here are some examples:
    • Acts 2:41—The Day of Pentecost when 3,000 believed
    • Acts 8:12—Samaritans who believed as the result of Philip’s preaching
    • Acts 8:38—The Ethiopian Official
    • Acts 9:18—The conversion of Paul
    • Acts 10:48—Gentiles believe and were baptized
    • Acts 16:15—Lydia and her family
    • Acts 16:33—The jailer and his family
    • Acts 18:8—Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, along with this whole household; and many of the Corinthians, when they heard, believed and were baptized.

Why is baptism important? It is a starting point in your discipleship. If you find it easy to say “no” here, it is very likely that you will find it easy to say “no” in lots of other places.

Baptism serves as a symbolic look-back point.

Our baptism is our vow. Here is how we look back on our baptism.

  1. Baptism should reflect that we have died to sin.
  2. Baptism should reflect that we have come to life.
  3. Baptism should reflect that we have made a “once-and-for-all” commitment to Christ.
  • Baptism and Behavior ought to be inseparably linked.

Baptism serves as a celebratory invitational point.

The text tells us that the man rejoices. I have feeling that Philip rejoiced also.

This is part of the reason that we insist on public baptism. Baptism ought to be a celebration. Let’s be honest about something. As Christians, we don’t get a lot of opportunities to celebrate success. Though ultimately we win, and we rejoice in that, we don’t usually feel like we are winning. Baptism gives the church the opportunity to celebrate the victory.

Let’s close with two questions for everyone who reads this today?

  • What is keeping you from being baptized?
  • Are you being true to your baptismal vows?

Sweat Equity

It all began with the stark reality that you need more space. Your family grew and your house seemed to shrink. On a sleepless night, you binge-watch HGTV and you see the allure of open-concept living complete with shiplap, marble countertops, and lots more room. Suddenly, you remember a term your dad talked about, “Sweat Equity!” It came like a sudden eureka! “I can self-contract and build my dream house!” All you need to do is watch some DIY videos on YouTube, invest a little good old-fashioned sweat equity and voila – you’re doing a live broadcast with Chip and Joanna Gaines on the front lawn of your new home. However, you soon discover it takes more than a little sweat equity – it takes barrels of it.  And there’s no way to avoid it – no sweat equity – no dream house.

Jesus tells us the harvest is plentiful but the laborers – not so much. By definition labor implies sweat equity.  It will take effort, lots of effort, to gather the promised harvest. It’s not always fun. We have to be willing the get our hands dirty. It takes time, usually more than we planned. We have to understand that we will never gather the harvest Jesus has prepared unless we’re willing to invest some sweat equity. No sweat equity – no harvest.

Without question our numbers are down. Most, if not all, of the major indicators tell us we have fewer people in worship. Fewer people in Sunday School and small groups. Fewer people being baptized. However, the issue is not the people who are not coming – it’s the lack of people who are going.

Why is sweat equity so important?

  1. Sweat equity indicates value. When you believe that something or someone has value, you’re willing to invest your time and effort to secure them. Your sweat equity tells them they are important. If we want to see people saved, baptized and set on the road to discipleship, it’s going to cost us something.
  2. Sweat equity requires desire.The old sports adage says “you have to want it.” We talk about the harvest. We study the harvest. We gaze at the harvest. But do we really want it? If so, this God-honoring desire will drive us to invest our sweat equity to bring in the ready harvest.
  3. Sweat equity yields an exciting reward. All of the prayers, all of the effort is worth it when the harvest responds to God’s gift of grace! The angels celebrate. Hearts are changed. Families restored. The pews begin to fill up with new people. It’s rewarding to those who go as well as those who come.

In February 2019, Louisiana Baptists launched a statewide effort to seed God’s truth inside every heart and every home almost every day. Literally hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens have had a seed of God’s truth sown in their hearts through Here for You, Louisiana Baptists multi-media evangelism strategy. Scripture-based commercials have aired during the Super Bowl, the Final Four and on broadcast TV.  Social media and our partnership with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s Internet Evangelism strategy are engaging people on their smart phones, tablets and computers. Billboards dot the landscape of some of our smaller cities and rural areas letting people know Louisiana Baptists are “Here for You.”

Only one question remains, are we willing to invest the sweat equity required to gather the harvest these efforts can generate? God will not waste His Word so let’s not waste this opportunity.

Visit HereforYou.org and share your favorite commercial with your “ONE” and others via your social media platforms. Pray for people to see the billboards, the commercials and visit the website and view the gospel presentation. Discover how your church can connect with Here for You by visiting LouisianaBaptists.org/HereForYou and entering the password, luke1432. There you’ll find specific ways, ideas, and resources you can use to help your community make the connection with your church and ultimately, the Gospel.

You can also dig deep and give some “lagniappe” to the Georgia Barnette State Missions Offering (GeorgiaBarnette.org/Giving). A portion of this offering goes toward the Here For You multimedia strategy.

The harvest is waiting – just as Jesus promised – for those willing to invest the sweat equity to bring them in. Who’s up for a little perspiration?

Getting Ready for the Louisiana Baptist Convention Annual Meeting

We are three months out from the two day annual meeting of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Now is the time for you to make plans to attend. This year we are meeting in Alexandria at the Riverfront Center on November 11 and 12.

We just completed a planning meeting for the Convention. Our theme is RENEW. We have some new things to celebrate, and we want to renew our commitment to our common work. We have new leaders who are planning to be with us. The International Mission Board has a new president in Dr. Paul Chitwood. We will be blessed to hear him on Monday night. We have a new president at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in Dr. Jamie Dew. Dr. Dew will be with us on Tuesday morning. For these two reasons alone, I want you to come to this year’s convention. We want to connect with these new leaders. We want to form strong relationships with them.

Of course, this year will be my first convention as your new executive-director. I will be able by then to share with you some things I have been hearing in my listening sessions around the state.

Isaiah 40:31 reminds us that “those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength.” Join me in praying that this year’s Convention will prove to be an occasion of genuine renewal—personal renewal and corporate renewal for our common work.

How to Add Missions to What You Are Already Doing

If you survey the average church goer and ask if their church is involved in missions, it would be safe to assume that many are. Some would respond that yes, they are taking trips around the world to share God’s love and others would say that they give to various mission offerings.

We see that missions is the work of God through the church by which the gospel of Jesus Christ is extended in word and deed to all people in the world.If a person is born again, they have been given a very specific assignment by God. Matthew 28:19–20 reads19 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, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, evento the end of the age.”

Jesus has commanded every believer to take the gospel into all of the world. To make the easy transition of adding missions to what you are already doing, it is important to help students understand the biblical basis for missions. Help them to see why we should do this in addition to what we should be doing.

The first 11 chapters of Genesis are the introduction for the missions story. With the call of Abram in Genesis 12, the missionary theme gets underway. God called Abram to leave his country and promised to make a great nation beginning with him. The missions message continues throughout Bible. Matthew 4:18-20 shows Jesus calling His disciples to “Follow Him,” so that they could fish for people. Immediately the disciples left their nets and followed him.

We see here that a disciple is a follower of Jesus and missions discipleship is the lifelong process of equipping individuals to share the gospel of Jesus Christ to all people.

A recent statistic sates that the average church attender frequents the church twice a month. If you really think about it, you begin to understand that we as leaders have to make the most of the time that we have with our students. Once we reach them with the gospel and teach them about how God is at work in the world, we can begin to share a biblical worldview and global perspective with our students.

If you are not able to have year round missions discipleship in your student groups, here are ways that leaders can add missions to what you are already doing:

Missionary Speakers

Begin by examining your network. Do you have a connection to a North American Mission Board or International Mission Board? Has a missionary been sent from your church? Many times your local association or state convention can point you in the direction of what missionaries are on their stateside assignment. This can be done by Skype or in person.

Weeks of Prayer

Teach students about the state, national and international weeks of prayer. Many times state convention, Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering student lessons are written to correspond with these weeks. Help students understand the importance of giving to these offerings by showing them videos, pictures, and information of how this money is used to further God’s Kingdom.

Mission Camps

When planning for summer camp, do you have options to select one with a strong missions emphasis? Is the particular camp leading students to understanding how they can move from just learning about missions to engaging in mission action and witnessing?

Mission Projects

Getting students to understand the needs of their community is key to their understanding of missions. Three questions that you can ask yourself are: What people live in the area, what resources are available in my church/association, and what other ministries exist in the community. When you ask these questions you may discover many different types of community missions existing in your community such as: tutoring, food ministry, clothes closet, literacy training, and so much more!

Mission Trips

A great way to infect people with a heart for the world is through firsthand exposure to missions and missionaries through short-term mission experiences. Missions becomes real to people when they go. If your group is preparing for a trip mission team training is vital. CARRY ON by Libby Quigg (chapter 7) explains how this is done. The International Mission Board website also has great resources.

Share a Missions Story

Has a team in your church arrived home from serving on the mission field? Invite them to share their experience with the students and recall how they saw God at work. This gives the team time to debrief and allows the student to know that all members can pray, some give, and some go.

Students on Mission

Did you know that WMU is offering a new way to target co-ed group leaders looking for ways to teach and engage students in missions? Missions Journey: Students curriculum has been released and it includes a missions story, video, debrief, activity, and prayer time. This is an excellent resource for ways to drop in undated and relevant missions material.

As we are going, telling and making disciples of all nations explore ways we can teach others what it means to cultivate a missions lifestyle. Let’s join God at work and have some missions fun!

The Sunday School Challenge – Step 9

Step 9: Re-Launch

Do it again! It is tempting to just coast. Besides, we worked hard. Can’t we just enjoy the “fruits of our labor”? There is a season for everything. As soon as the celebration has concluded, it is time to start evaluating and planning for the next Sunday School Challenge. Your biggest question might be “why do it again?” And the answer is, your church members want to just coast, too. They also have lives away from the church. They have pressures in their lives and sometimes they just want one area of their life to be “less stressful.” That excuse works if church and faith are not a crucial part of your existence and life on this earth.

Life is a cycle. There is an ebb and a flow to things. One thing remains true: the Great Commission is never finished. Until we draw our last breath or God calls us home, we still have work to do. Sunday School is the church organized. It is the churches’ best strategy to reach and enroll new people; disciple people through teaching that changes lives; and involve members and guests in ongoing ministry. Along the way, staff and key leaders have to keep the machinery working by starting new classes, enlisting and training new leaders, managing and maintaining facilities, maintaining a budget, and so much more. The Sunday School Challenge makes sure we don’t forget the life changing aspects of our ministry when all of the administrative stuff screams for attention.

Hopefully you have celebrated what God has accomplished in your church and community. You have affirmed and rewarded leaders and members for their participation and accomplishments. You took the time to evaluate your process. Now, it’s time to put another date on the calendar…the next Sunday School Challenge. If you don’t calendar it, it will never happen.

Pray. Pray that God will guide each of you as you plan and strategize how best to use your resources for Kingdom work. Every time you do the Sunday School Challenge, it becomes a little easier to do it again. People become accustomed to the transitions and timing of things. Just don’t let it become mundane. Keep it fresh. Throw in a few new wrinkles.

In our culture today, the world needs stories of God’s transforming power. They need to see God’s people, doing God’s work and glorifying God for all He has done. Something so simple and yet so powerful. That is the Sunday School Challenge.

As always, the Louisiana Baptists, your local association, the SBC and Lifeway Christian Resources will be here to pray and offer assistance in accomplishing God’s mission for your church in your community.

Yours truly,
Sean Keith, Sunday School/Discipleship Strategist, Louisiana Baptist Convention

Advance

When I was in college, I was invited to attend an “Advance” sponsored by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I had been on retreats before, but I had never heard of an “Advance.” When I asked about the meaning of an “Advance,” my leader asked if I had ever been on a retreat. When I indicated that I had been on many retreats, my leader told me that an advance was like a retreat. My leader continued that Christians are never to retreat, but always to advance. As Christians, even when we go on a retreat, we do so in order to advance.

Paul said it this way to the church at Philippi. “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14 NIV) Christians do not run away from tough times; we run toward the prize for which God has called us. Christians do not panic, but instead we pray, trust God, and react with peace.

As we contemplate the back to school season and many of us get back to “normal routines,” let’s pray about how we might advance. Let’s advance first of all in our personal lives. Set some new goals spiritually. Then, let’s work together for the advance of the kingdom of God.

The Sunday School Challenge – Step 8

Step 8: Evaluate

What comes to your mind when I say the word “evaluate”? If the image is negative, I want to change that.  All too often, the images of inadequacy, failure or judgement, come to mind. But the kind of evaluation I want to describe helps us to improve, get better, and create greater opportunities for success.

Everyone feels inadequate at times, and, failure can make us want to never attempt something again. But often times, these are the very things that God uses to accomplish His greatest work. First of all, we can accomplish nothing for the Kingdom of God without Him. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me. John 15:5 (CSBBible) Secondly, failure just means there is always a better way. In addition, sometimes in our failure, God can accomplish even greater things. 13I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13 (CSBBible)

Too often, we believe our success depends on us, when it doesn’t. God is the one at work in us accomplishing His purpose. 13 For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose. Philippians 2:13 (CSBBible) The purpose of evaluation is to identify the ways that God works in us and the ways we prevent Him from working. God always accomplishes what He desires to accomplish. We need to determine how to “better join God” in fulfilling the Great Commission through our church. God is perfect, we are not. Together we can do so much more than just a few of us alone. This truth is, this is what makes the Sunday School Challenge a great tool for your church.

You need an honest evaluation of how to do the Sunday School Challenge better the next time. God is at work. Honestly, He is waiting for us to get ready to do His work and see His handiwork with in our churches and communities.

What worked? What didn’t work? How could we involve more people in praying and preparing for the Sunday School Challenge? Who are the right people to be the Sunday School Champions? Which classes are ready to push the limits and which ones need to make smaller steps? How do we get more buy-in from the people in the seats? Are there areas of our Sunday School Ministry that we need to focus on more than others?

Asking good questions gets better results, making sure everyone is on the same page and attempting to work together for greater results. A good evaluation process will ensure that the next time you do the Sunday School Challenge, you will be better prepared, more unified and focused. Below are some articles and tools that can help you to evaluate your Sunday School and the Challenge.

The Sunday School Challenge – Step 7

Step 7: Celebrate Victories/Successes

Let’s Party! Well not exactly. The reality is that in most churches we don’t celebrate enough. And what I mean by that is, we don’t tell people enough how much we appreciate them and all that they do for the church and the Kingdom of God. Even more importantly, we don’t celebrate what God has done. God is at work. Lives are being changed every day, all around us. We should celebrate what God has done, is doing and will do. Along the way, we need to show appreciation towards one another for the ways that God uses us.

Pastor, gather your Sunday School Champions and other leaders together and listen to all the stories of things that happened during the Challenge.  Plan to share these stories during your corporate celebration time. Use testimonies of lives changed, goals met, and show the value of what Sunday School/Small Groups can bring to the church and community.

It is strongly recommended that at the end of the Sunday School Challenge the church plans time to publicly celebrate all that God has done and all the work accomplished. People need to hear the outcome of their work. Were goals accomplished? What is the overall impact on the church and community? What specific stories can be shared and celebrated? Show appreciation for the things that were successful, but also, for the people who worked hard but did not accomplish their goals. The fact that a class set a goal and worked hard to achieve that goal should be celebrated and affirmed, too.

Plan a special worship service and have testimonies from those who participated. Give a report. Pray for all of the life-changing things that happened such as decisions for Christ, new people enrolled, people who are regularly reading God’s Word, new people using their spiritual gifts in service, etc. But most importantly, worship God for all that He has done. Then, eat! Because that’s what Baptists do.

There are many ways to affirm Sunday School–it’s leaders and members, and to thank God for what He is doing. Have each Sunday School Champion share what they saw and experienced, from their perspective. Sometimes we need to change things up. Involve lots of people. It will take a lot of planning but the outcome could be huge. People need to see, hear and experience that God is working, and understand that they have been a part of it.

Here are a couple of articles you may want to peruse for ideas. Honestly, there isn’t much out there about this topic. Maybe that indicates we need to be doing this more.

The Sunday School Challenge – Step 6

Step 6: Regular Updates

How’s it going? In the Sunday School Challenge, regular updates by the Sunday School Champions are crucial to preventing interruptions bringing the best results. If there are not regular and consistent measurements taken, how do you know how it’s going?

Dental, vision and medical check-ups are a regular part of our lives for good reason. We need to know if we are making progress or things are getting worse. If we see things moving in the wrong direction, we can act quickly to try and steer things in the right direction.

Finding and identifying problems early enough in the Sunday School Challenge can prevent major mistakes, later. Not to mention the fact that Satan will be hard at work trying to destabilize our best efforts. Satan doesn’t want to see new people reached, lives changed and more people actively involved in Kingdom ministry.

Don’t think of updates as accountability. Today, that word carries lots of baggage. Instead, focus on helping every class and every leader to avoid pitfalls that will limit their effectiveness. Simply put, ask every leader “how’s it going”? You should already know their goals and plans.  Checking in weekly to ask will help keep up-to-date on progress. Your purpose is to encourage, pray and offer to help. Each class make the choice to plan and execute their plan.

To be honest, this might be the most difficult part of the Sunday School Challenge. When people discover that we are going to follow up every week to see how things are going, it might make them feel somewhat uncomfortable. My best advice is to “just ask.” Resist the temptation to not ask every week. Frankly, if you give in before you start, you can never move forward.

Once each Sunday School Champion gets a report from each class, he or she should inform the Pastor on how it’s going and what is being done to keep things going. The Pastor is responsible for the Big Picture. He needs to know how things are going generally—it most of the classes are struggling, he can encourage, support and engage from the pulpit and/or in each classroom. If things are going great, he can challenge and push them to greater heights. The Pastor needs an accurate gage of what is happening so he can step in and guide at those opportune moments.

A “win/win” is when everyone is working together to accomplish what only God can do. If the Pastor, Sunday School Champions, Sunday School leaders and members are focused and working together in obedience to God; only God knows what could happen. Frankly, that is what all of us would love to see.

The Sunday School Challenge – Step 5

Step 5: Good Planning

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” (Quote: Anonymous). Great goals are only the first step in achieving success in the Sunday School Challenge. A goal describes what you hope to accomplish. Your “action” plan describes HOW you will achieve your goal.

After setting goals, each class will develop a plan to accomplish the goals they have established with the help of their Sunday School Champion. Merriam Webster describes a plan as, “a method for achieving an end” or “a set of actions that have been thought of as a way to do or achieve something.” A plan is what each class will do in order to achieve each goal.

Specific tasks include calendaring dates and assigning responsibilities within each class. A plan must be specific. The class needs to know who is doing what and when it will happen. Half the work of achieving the desired results is getting started. The other half is the execution of those plans. Poor planning achieves poor results. No planning achieves no results.

A Guide for How to Plan

What specifically do you plan to do to achieve your goal?

When will you carry out this plan?

Who is responsible for each aspect/part of the plan?

Has a date been calendared?

Have responsibilities been delegated/assigned?

Your will versus your actions. By setting a goal, you have decided that you want more for your Sunday School class than expecting members to find a spot to squat, sit and soak. Now, you choose to lead your class to work together to accomplish what Goddesires. In order to accomplish that, you need a plan. Then, you need to work the plan.

I pray that God will do more than you can even think or imagine. When He does, give Him the Glory He deserves. Below are some links on how to plan and execute.