When babies are born they don’t know everything, neither can they do everything! They need help. The same happens with spiritual babies after their new birth, the baptism.
I learned this the hard way, one night, a few days after my son Jose Cortes III was born. As I heard him crying through the little TV monitor on the side table of our bedroom, I woke up my wife and said, “Baby, Jose III is crying, he is probably hungry.” My wife Joanne replied in her sleep, “…he is not hungry, I just fed him, it’s your turn to check on him.” So there I went, ready to comfort my little boy in the middle of the night.
As I got to his room, I tried to smile at him and talk to him, you know the way people talk to babies. “What’s happening to my little Bubbah baby, papa loves yoouuuu!” You know how people get with babies, I did all of that and the more I talked to him, the more he cried! He was not having any of my baby talk. Finally I noticed he was wet, softly picked him up, and placed him on the brand new changing table. After I undid and removed his diaper, I positioned myself really close to him, put my finger on his chest and began to baby talk again, as he now smiled at me. Just as I felt my 5 day old baby and I were having the best bonding time ever, some type of warm fluid shot with tremendous accuracy freezing my smile, as it hit my face and mouth. I could not believe it, I don’t ever remember having had that experience before in my life. I was unhappy for a moment, left the baby on the changing table, something my wife scolded me for later on, and ran for the bathroom to wash my mouth and face. As I came back, I saw my baby totally helpless and still dirty on top of that changing table. I could have yelled at him, I could have said harsh words, I could have shaken him, as some parents do causing their babies irreparable “shaken baby syndrome”, but I realized he had just been born and all he needed was my love and my help.
When babies are born they can make a mess and lots of noise, but they can’t talk, eat on their own, clean themselves, and walk, among many other things. This is why babies need upmost care, love, instruction, equipping, and the opportunity to start developing their abilities in order to grow, mature, and one day reproduce. The same applies to spiritual babies, baptism is the birth, and the discipleship journey is the growth process, which leads the new believer to become stronger in the faith and to reproduce.
Evangelism Outcome #3 - Intentional Discipleship of all Members
For the last three years (2015-2018) we surveyed and discussed with thousands of pastors, members, and church leaders, Five Outcomes that could revolutionize mission and evangelism across North America. This time I would like to focus on the third one:
3. Intentional Discipleship of ALL Members: 88 percent scored this outcome 7 or higher in a 1-10 scale. One of the setbacks of believing that baptism is the graduation or a final step, rather than a beginning, is that once people get baptized we believe that our work is done and we forget all about them. Perhaps one of the reasons why some of the people we baptize end up leaving the church. According to some of our latest statistics, we lose 39 for every 100 we baptize. This is why it is so important that each church develops an intentional discipleship path for the newly baptized and also for existing members.
Equipping our members to partner with and count on the presence of the Holy Spirit as we grow in Christ, and allowing them to learn our Biblical beliefs as gifts from God, rather than as a check list for baptism, will be vital in the discipleship journey. Small Groups and Life Groups will also provide some of the healthiest and safest settings not only for reaching new converts, but for helping new and veteran believers to experience life, prayer, praise, Bible study, and the importance of a witnessing lifestyle in the workplace and neighborhood, together.
Through the years there have been some who think that discipleship is the mere knowledge of our 28 Fundamental Beliefs and while I believe this is key and that we have the most complete and comprehensive package of beliefs of any church, it must be clear that knowledge alone does not make someone a disciple. A disciple of Jesus constantly learns His teachings, loves and serves people, leads sinners to salvation by grace, and reproduces by mentoring and empowering new believers to become disciples.
Understanding that new converts are not finished products but babies in the faith, who need love, care, and equipping, could help the church to sharply increase the survival rate of those who have just been born in the faith. Perhaps, this would keep them from dying of “spiritual shaken baby syndrome” at the hands of church members who still have not understood the value of a soul. An intentional discipleship path would perhaps make the greatest difference between those who stay and those who leave the church after baptism. Besides, it could also help transform the lives of longtime church members who are simply warming pews or arguing their theological pet peeves, without having contributed in leading a single person to Christ in decades.
Next time you see someone being baptized into your church family, keep in mind that babies don’t know everything and they cannot do a whole lot on their own, and that’s why God created parents, older brothers, sisters and a church family. Please don’t shake him, don’t yell at her, even if they get you dirty. Don’t forget, your church family does not exist to neglect spiritual newborns but to love them, teach them, equip them, and help them become disciples who will make more disciples.
Jose Cortes III, the 5 day old baby that shot warm fluids into my mouth as I was trying to clean him up that night that shall forever live in infamy, is about to turn 13 and now he can talk, eat on his own, take his own showers, play several instruments and sports, and even help us to clean the house every Friday, and he is not done yet. Can’t wait to see what else God is going to do with him.
What can your church do to set up an intentional discipleship path for the benefit of its new converts and longtime members?
1 See Secretariat Report for North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists Year-End Meeting 2016, www.nadsecretariat.org/2016-nad-yearend-meeting/
Pastor Jose Cortes Jr., is an Associate Director of the Ministerial Association and leads Evangelism, Church Planting, and Adventist/Global Mission for the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists.