Bringin’ baptism back
I gotta be honest. The first time I was baptized, I did so because my younger brother was getting lots of attention due to his own desire to get dunked—and I heard that the water was like a hot tub. I signed up, got lots of attention myself, and realized the hot tub rumors were true. My mom took a picture, and we all went home. It was special to us, but I’m sure no one outside the Gulley family remembers it.
Most of the baptisms I’ve witnessed in my years of growing up in church were about the same: nice, sweet, and memorable to the parties involved.
But I’ve since learned that baptisms can be one of the most thrilling dynamics that happens in church—and a fantastic tool to share the gospel among college students!
Sarah didn’t grow up in a Christian home. Her first love was soccer. She came to Baylor to play—but recently injured her leg. It sent her into a depression, and she was battling suicidal thoughts. She went to an open worship service on campus, heard the gospel, and prayed for Jesus to rescue her. She got a flyer about the mission trip our college ministry hosts and called us up; several days later she was out on the streets preaching the gospel and praying for the sick!
I walked in on a late night team meeting where she was confessing her sin to the entire group and telling them of the life she never wanted to return to. While there, she and several others started asking me about baptism and wondered if it could happen on the trip. I asked them to wait until we got back to Waco so they could invite friends and family to be a part.
When I walked into the service that night, I noticed some “old” people there (in college world, that means older than twenty-four) and a bunch of fit ladies in the back. It was the Baylor coaching staff and the entire team! Tons of other new faces were there to see their friend get soaked but were not sure what to expect on that night.
After a short worship set, I asked a simple question: “How many of you have a tendency to lose things?” Almost everybody’s hand went up. After a couple of personal confessions, I went on to summarize Luke 15. In all three parables, something was lost, something was found, and a celebration ensued.
I described how baptism is a public display of an inward reality for those who were lost but are now found in Jesus. I noted that we had ten people who were going to be baptized that night, but if there was anyone who had not given their life to Christ or had not been baptized yet, tonight could be their night too. (Note: we went to great lengths to make sure their decision was not motivated by emotionalism, a need to honor parents’ wishes, and did not provoke someone’s need for a photo op!)
Tons of students moved toward the baptistery so they could see better. But the entire Baylor soccer team stood on the steps, merely feet away from Sarah as she got into the baptistery, took the mic, and shared her testimony with everyone.
She ended by saying: “To all my teammates, I love you guys like crazy. I know you’re all in different places in your faith journey, but I want you to know the Jesus that I now know!” The athletic chaplain from Baylor was there with me and had the privilege of saying, “Buried with Him in baptism and raised to walk in newness of life!”
What happened next reminded me of the Luke 15:25 party thrown for the prodigal son once he returned from his broken life: “And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.” Hundreds of people went crazy for Sarah! One by one, different individuals came into the water and went public with their faith—and the same celebration erupted. Our visitors were floored at the passion and compassion they were witnessing!
Five people. Ten people.
People didn’t want to stop!
Maddie Phenix, one of my college staff members, was backstage when students flooded in. “There were multiple times Carl was gonna shut it down, but then one or two more people would come running down the hall to us,” Maddie said. “At the end, it looked like there had been a pool party backstage it was so wet.”
At the end of the night, we lined up over thirty people on the stage who had gone public with their love for Jesus. We got around them and prayed for them to live a bold life for the sake of the gospel!
We have now done two of these “baptism bash” parties, and they are quickly becoming a fan favorite among our college students. They bring their friends—not for the attention or the hot tub but to to hear the testimonies, see the baptisms, and be a part of the redemption party. What would happen if college ministries around the nation decided to bring baptisms back and truly captured the power of a transformed life?
The Luke 15 party won’t stop. Can’t stop.