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A Key Sign of Spiritual Health and Disciple-making Vitality ©


I returned home from a month of renewal leave last Monday (Aug. 19), and quickly found myself re-immersed in the regular routine of the episcopal office. There were predictable emails awaiting me about this initiative or that problem. A slew of articles and emails about the future of the church clamored for my attention. Various mission projects and training events made presentation for my support and/or active involvement as a bishop.
 
One very different email caught my attention. It told a story of discipleship transformation. Entitled “Glory Be,” the email told the following story. 

“Jessica and Quinton first began visiting with her teenage son, Seth, about 6 months ago. They sat on the very back row for a while. (A favorite spot for visitors!) Jessica’s mother, Peggy, soon joined them and they moved up to the balcony. They have since added Jessica’s other son, Tyler, and his girlfriend, Corina. Along the way, they have brought different family members or guests to worship with them. They have spent the last six months taking it all in...learning as much as they could and seeking to find their place. On July 4th, after much prayer, they did just that. Before I married Jessica and Quinton the morning of July 4th, Jessica, Quinton, Peggy, Seth, and Corina all professed their faith in Jesus Christ and joined our church family. Then, on July 9th, Corina gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Faith Lee. Her first official outing was coming to church just five days later. They could not wait for her to meet her church family. During our “howdy doody time," they came and asked if I would baptize Faith the following week. I, of course, said YES! On Tuesday, I received a message from Jessica that, again- after much prayer, Tyler (the baby’s daddy) would be professing his faith Sunday, joining the church, and the entire family of six wants to be baptized before we baptize baby Faith. They felt it very important that they do this themselves before standing before God and all of you to baptize Faith.” 

Pastor Amy Anderson (First UMC Mart) closed with the following words, “Brothers and Sisters...THIS is God at work in our midst. THIS is transformation. THIS is the work of the Kingdom.”  To this I add my own personal heartfelt “Amen!”  Professions of faith (and baptism) are a key sign of spiritual health and disciple-making vitality.
 
Recently, as we (the Cabinet) reviewed the WIG data from the end of July (year-to-date), the Central Texas conference is currently at 63 percent of our professions of faith goal with 58 percent of the year completed (at the end of the measuring period). This is both reason to celebrate and motivation to redouble our efforts to share the good news of the gospel. God knows(!!), along with most us, that in a time of rancor, killings and chaos, we all desperately need the new life which Christ alone fully offers.

The very next day, another email caught my attention. It was on the same critical disciple-making path. The article came from Mike Ramsdell’s consistently outstanding Smith Center for Evangelism, Mission and Church Growth blog. Mike shares the following story: 

“While on vacation a couple of years ago, my wife and I went to a Sunday morning church service. The building was nice, people were friendly and the attendance was good. The pastor was on vacation and the young associate pastor preached in his place.
 
He shared that he did some research on how many professions of faith and baptisms the church had in the previous few years and he wanted to preach on the importance of this and celebrate those who had professed faith and been baptized (he also included confirmation and infant baptism in the conversation).
 
He openly broke down in tears as he told his church that there had been no professions of faith and no baptisms for more than a decade. He then said, "I hope I have a job when the senior pastor gets back”, as he challenged the church with “this is unacceptable, we are not a real church if we don’t have professions of faith and baptisms!” 

After reading I sat quietly for a few minutes and prayed. The un-named associate pastor is absolutely right. “WE are not a real church if we don’t have professions of faith and baptisms.”  I can’t help but wonder how it might transform our Administrative Council/Board meetings if we spent time focusing on how we have more professions of faith and baptisms?
 
Mike went on to comment on how integrating professions of faith and baptisms into our goals, strategy and culture as a church, as a mission post for the advancing kingdom of God, is central to who we are and what we are about.  He went on to add: 

“It’s much easier to celebrate vitality around the number of backpacks given out, how the community garden is working, and how many people the food bank serves each week (I believe in and celebrate these ministries). We do this part of church life amazingly well. . . . As a conference the number of professions of faith most churches have is strikingly few. This is often the case because the church does not place a high value on professions of faith and has little strategy or focus on connecting with the unchurched much less bringing the unchurched into a life in Christ. They might serve the unchurched, but the unchurched are seldom invited into the relationship with Christ that undergirds the very service the church is giving.
 
When churches don’t define professions of faith and baptisms as a core to vitality, they will decline, lose effectiveness, and eventually become irrelevant. Even though mission is a key part of being a church, if churches don’t focus as well on professions of faith, they won’t have anyone to do mission. . . . Few things will change a church more quickly than visible, celebrated professions of faith and baptisms becoming a central focus of a Church.” 

Mike finished off with a quote from John Wesley: 

Unless one begins on the inward principle of personal faith, all good works are not more than a foundation of sand. However, to claim faith but not be zealous of good works was equally erroneous. - John Wesley 

Once again I add my own hearty Amen! Professions of faith are a key sign of spiritual health and disciple-making vitality. But you need to remain well established and rooted in faith and not shift away from the hope given in the good news that you heard. This message has been preached throughout all creation under heaven. And I, Paul, became a servant of this good news.” (Colossians 1:23, CEB)