As part of Baptism Sunday alongside other Southern Baptists, Mercy Church has several names slated of those to enter the baptistry Sept. 12. But it’s those unplanned baptisms, said Pastor Spence Shelton, that require an extra level of training for volunteers.
Of course, anyone who wants to be baptized that day – planned or not – will have the chance to do so. However, Shelton added, it’s more important for them to have a clear understanding of the gospel and be certain they’re not following a purely emotional response to the service.
Those volunteers, he said, all serve in roles such as small group leaders or as elders.
“Selecting the right volunteer is a big deal because we want them to have an understanding on the role of baptism and be able to discuss it,” Shelton said. “We’ve trained them on how to communicate and ask questions to assess if that person believes the gospel and for baptism to be the next step.”
Coincidentally, Mercy Church will also celebrate its sixth anniversary Sept. 12. COVID-19 impacted the number of baptisms in 2020 compared to years past for the church, but Shelton said that has led to an emphasis on soul-winning with the congregation.
“We’ve re-emphasized personal evangelism and the mission of God over the summer, and I believe Baptism Sunday will bear some of that fruit!” he said.
Ephesians 2:1-10 serves as “a clear, textbook explanation of the gospel” and thus will be the scripture volunteers will reference in walking people through to an understanding of baptism, he said.
Mercy Church has held baptism services in the past where others were invited to be baptized. At those gatherings there have been times when a volunteer felt an individual didn’t completely understand the situation, so that person was directed to another pastor or staff member for further conversation.
A prompting to come forward that doesn’t result in baptism that hour or day doesn’t negate the individual’s decision, Shelton said.
“We’re not saying ‘no’ to them, but ‘not now,’” he said. “There’s a step before baptism, and if that person is fishing a little too hard to understand, we redirect them. Our baptism team members will have a clear understanding on if the person understands the gospel, which include questions about salvation and lordship.”
Often only a single additional conversation is required, and those who have been “redirected” to a ministry leader are thankful, he said.
The vast majority of the time, though, people understand their decision. Either way, Shelton is excited for this Sunday.
“I’m praying that people will trust Christ enough to publicly profess faith in Him,” he said, “and that they will trust Him to carry them through any anxieties connected with it. Most of all, we want to see Jesus glorified and that our church will celebrate well the hope of Christ.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Scott Barkley is national correspondent for Baptist Press.)