Part 7 explained how to bring a person who has shown a positive interest and conviction of the Holy Spirit to a decision for baptism upon completion of their studies. Part 8 shares strategies for use with students who want to postpone their decision or are wavering in their decision.
From time to time, the personal evangelist will encounter students who drag their feet in making a decision for baptism. Experience has shown, however, that most of these cases can be overcome through the wise use of key Bible verses and the right choice of words.
STRATEGIES FOR OVERCOMING INDECISION FOR BAPTISM
Here are some talking points you can use to inspire the student who is delaying baptism:
- “Once you make your decision, you will feel better. I have seen this happen to many others in my experience. Right now God is calling you. He said in Jeremiah 31:3, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with loving kindness I have drawn you.’ Do you believe that? Do you feel that right now in your heart? God is calling you, my friend.”
- “Did you know that with truth there is responsibility? God did not hold us accountable before we knew what was right. But now that you know, you have a different responsibility to God. God says through Paul in Acts 17:30–31a, ‘In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now [that you know the truth about Jesus Christ] he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice.’ I know you do not want to disappoint God.”
- “We should make decisions based on principle, not on feelings. If Jesus had made His choice based on His feelings of anxiety or fear, He may never have gone through with His sacrifice on the cross.”
- “If you don’t make the decision now, it will get harder and harder in the future. Here, read Hebrews 3:7b–9: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did.’ It always works this way. Right now the Holy Spirit is calling you, and I know that deep in your heart you know you should decide now for baptism. Don’t let Satan take advantage of you. If you make your decision now, God will give you peace, and He will work out the problems you think are impeding you.”
- “I recommend not waiting for your spouse, since I think you know that he/she is far from making a decision. If you wait, you might grow cold, and be sides, you will disappoint Jesus because He is asking you now to make your decision. Jesus didn’t disappoint us when He made His decision to accept the cross, and that was for our salvation, not His.”
- “Don’t be afraid of the water. I (or my pastor) have/has baptized many people and never had a problem with any of them. You will only be under the water for two to three seconds.” (Then you can take them through a physical practice right then and there to show them how it is done—this usually satisfies the student.)
As you work with the student in getting the decision, you need to work as the fisherman does once he has caught a fish on his hook: The experienced fisherman knows that if he pulls too hard on the line the hook could come out of the fish’s mouth and he will lose the fish. In order to avoid this, the wise fisherman relaxes the line for a few moments while the fish swims around frantically, tiring itself. Then the fisherman reels in the line a little more, repeating this sequence until the fish is in the net. The same principle can be used by the wise soul-winner in getting a decision: When the conversation begins to get tense and the student is still undecided, it is time to change the subject for a while and talk about something unrelated—perhaps using a little humor, or saying something complimentary. Then when the student is relaxed again, go back to the subject of his or her decision, using other reasoning and convincing arguments for baptism. This strategy is usually very successful.
Never tell the student that once they’re baptized God will immediately solve their problems. History has shown that sometimes God wants to test a new convert and therefore does not always resolve their problems at once—such as giving a job to replace the one they lost when they started keeping the Sabbath. There have been cases where a new convert lost his or her job and became quite destitute before God gave them another one. What you can say is that if they are faithful, God will eventually reward him or her—but at His own time. The important thing is to be faithful and trust God. Any sacrifice that he or she makes is nothing compared to the sacrifice Jesus made for us.
After the decision is made, you should have a prayer with him or her, thanking God for his or her decision. This is necessary in order to seal the decision—or at least makes it much more difficult to reverse the decision.
If the baptism is very near, like the following Sabbath, you can ask for their baptismal clothes to take with you in a closed bag. This makes it very difficult for the student to turn back.
Once the decision for baptism has been made, do not linger. Have your prayer together, reiterate the exact time of the baptism and the procedure, then bid goodbye and leave.
The night before the baptism you might want to call him or her to confirm that everything will proceed as originally discussed (or explain in detail any changes that have been made). Talk positively. Do not say, for example, “Just wondering if you’re still planning on going ahead with the baptism.” Never say anything that might leave room for the student to squeeze out of his or her commitment. The experience of seasoned soul-winners has shown that very few people who have been taken through the series of studies and have made a decision, even with difficulty, turn back on their faith after baptism. If they do, it is usually not because of any reason they gave for resisting baptism.
At the conclusion, it should be mentioned that baptism is not the end of studies. Do not stop studying with or visiting the new member(s) after baptism. Baptism is the beginning of a new life, and most members need further studies—for example, on discipleship, which is another series of studies. Remember, newborn babies need a lot of food to grow and become strong. Studies done at Andrews University in the 1980s revealed that new members often drop out because they haven’t formed new friendships in the church they were baptized into. According to the study, most new converts need seven new contacts in the congregation to cement their permanent stay in the church.
Also remember that you are an open letter to the student(s). As you teach the Bible, they will observe you more than you think—how clean your shoes and teeth are, how neatly you dress, how you control yourself from eating all the sweets on the table, how punctual and reliable you are, whether you keep your promises or forget them, whether you arrive late to your meetings or make a phone call indicating your realistic time of arrival, or whether you cancelled the studies often or kept your commitments. Your smile, your fire inside, the fruit of the spirit in you, your humility, your respect for the Word of God and for other religions, and for your guests—all these are sometimes as decisive as a good argument toward their decision to start learning from you.
Having said this, remember that friendship is not enough to maintain people in the church; they need theological roots and good tools too.
Final advice: study, study, study—not only for sharing better with others, but also for yourself and your own spiritual edification. You can only give what you have! Bring another one to Jesus.
Lamar Phillips is a retired minister and church administrator who served for thirty-nine years in six world divisions.