NAPLES, Florida (BP)—It’s hard to imagine ministry contexts more different than First Baptist Church of Naples, Florida, and Foundation Church of Soldotna, Alaska—especially this past Sunday, April 16.
The ministry staff at First Baptist Naples baptized people into the Gulf of Mexico, where the temperature had just cooled from the day’s earlier high of about 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
At Foundation Church in Alaska, pastor Roy Phillips baptized new believers in a feeding trough packed into a former shoe store at a mall. Outside, the weather was barely creeping above freezing.
Yet despite the differences (and the distance of over 3,500 miles) between Foundation Church and First Baptist Naples, at least two things remained the same for the two churches: both shared the gospel of Jesus Christ, and both celebrated new life in Christ for professing believers through baptism as part of Baptism Sunday (also called Fill the Tank Sunday) in Southern Baptist churches nationwide.
While the stories of the men, women, and children who were baptized were as varied as the ministry contexts, a new relationship with Jesus was the common link.
“Baptism Sunday gives Southern Baptists a focused reminder of Jesus’ call for us to live out the Great Commission and it gives us an opportunity to celebrate God’s work of salvation in the lives of people who have come to know Christ,” said Tim Dowdy, vice president of evangelism at the North American Mission Board.
At FBC Naples, five of the 93 baptisms on Sunday were high school athletes who came to faith in Christ through one of the church’s pastors who had been an athletic trainer at their school. Now they are sharing the gospel and inviting their friends to church.
“I grew up in the church, and I felt like I needed to take that next step to truly grow and build that connection with God,” said Robin Lubin, one of those five athletes who was baptized on Sunday. “With graduation coming up and stepping into the real world, I wanted to make sure I’m building a genuine relationship with God. And that next step for me was to be baptized.”
Daniel Scroggins, who serves as the director of next steps at FBC Naples, said Sunday’s baptisms highlighted an exciting move of God in the church in recent months. Many of the church’s 93 baptisms on Sunday came after lay people shared their faith in their offices and neighborhoods.
“There are many inspiring stories in our church,” Scroggins said. “It’s amazing to see church members, not just pastors, actively sharing their faith. As a result, numerous people from various workplaces and neighborhoods were baptized.”
New life in a new Alaska church
Foundation Church, which started meeting last November and officially launched on Easter Sunday, baptized four on Fill the Tank Sunday after announcing it for the first time just two weeks earlier. To Phillips’s surprise, a 75-year-old woman came forward that morning and said she wanted to be baptized. She had been baptized as a child but didn’t believe her faith had been her own at the time. A 14-year-old boy also responded to the call to be baptized that morning.
Later that week, Phillips’s 7-year-old son asked to be baptized. Then, on Sunday morning, a woman in her 50s came forward with the desire to be baptized.
“Witnessing baptisms is incredibly powerful, not only for the individuals being baptized but also for newcomers who may not be familiar with church or have never seen a baptism before,” Phillips said. “It provides hope and shows that lives are truly being changed, inspiring others to be a part of this transformative journey.”
The Texas water leak that wasn’t
Gladewater Baptist Church in Gladewater, Texas, didn’t baptize anyone on Fill the Tank Sunday. Instead, they gave the local water company a break.
A week earlier, Pastor Tim Williams had a concerning voicemail from the water company. Something had to be wrong with the church’s water system. They likely had a leak.
But there was no leak, the church had simply been filling the baptismal tank more than usual. The church baptized three college students since the end of February. All that extra water caught the attention of the water company.
“I went to the meter,” Williams said. “There was no leak. It was 100 percent because I filled the baptistry so many times. I guess that’s a good phone call to get from the water company.”
Williams serves as the director of Baptist Student Ministries at nearby Northeast Texas Community College. The church voted to replant the church last fall and will officially relaunch in October. The church has baptized six in the past 15 months, which is more than it had baptized in the previous decade. Many of those baptisms have come from college students.
“I want to encourage people that Gen Z is not unreachable,” Williams said. “In fact, they’re really seeing hope. We go verse-by-verse at the BSM and at church. I don’t do anything flashy. There’s nothing glamorous.”
North Carolina church takes step of faith
For Pastor Robert Hefner, encouraging his congregation, Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Pleasant Grove, North Carolina, to take part in Fill the Tank Sunday felt a bit like a step of faith. He didn’t want it to feel gimmicky to the congregation, but he was excited to see how the congregation might respond.
“I would love to see you do a work in people’s lives,” Hefner said to God. “I believe you long to see a move in and among your church. I want to take this step as a church family and watch you work.”
So that’s what Hefner and Pleasant Grove Baptist Church did—and God moved. The church baptized nine on Fill the Tank Sunday, including people from a variety of backgrounds and ages.
“There has been a sense that God is up to something very specifically in the lives of some people across our church family,” Hefner said. “I’ve tried to be sensitive to that and been a little bit more intentional with gospel invitations and encouraging gospel conversations, and I’ve been mentioning it more over the last month and a half. We’ve done that intentionally in anticipation of what God might do and in giving people a clear next step. We’ve seen some helpful fruit come from it.”
Hefner pointed to one woman who had been referred to the church for grief counseling. As a member of the church’s counseling team walked with her through the grieving process, she also learned more about a relationship with Jesus. In time, she started attending worship services at Pleasant Grove Baptist, too. Pleasant Grove baptized her on Fill the Tank Sunday. The church also baptized several students on Sunday.
“The celebration in our sanctuary was powerful,” Hefner said. “I was behind the scenes in the baptistry area, watching the tears, joy, excitement, and anxiousness. It’s hard to quantify what God did just in the worship service, in the spirit of joy that God gave us yesterday.”
Published April 20, 2023