By Ward Shope
A few weeks ago, a woman called to ask if she would be welcome to visit our church. It’s not a common question, but one that we hear from time to time. Of course, anyone is welcome to join us Sunday mornings for worship and Sunday School, or what we call School of Discipleship. We have a number of visitors every week, and we are happy to have them whether they are believers checking us out, seekers who are interested in the gospel, or skeptics who want to find out what we are really saying.
Her second question, however, pursued the same line. Would you be willing to baptize my daughter? It was a factual question, and I gave a factual answer. We baptize children of those who have come under our care by joining the church membership. This led to her third question, about how one became a member. While I was a little uncomfortable about the direction of the conversation, I gave her another factual answer about how people become members and the conversation ended.
When I hung up the phone, I began to scratch my head. I was missing something. On one level, I was a little irritated. This person had probably never stepped into our church and was already talking about membership and baptism. As a church, we strive to be relational – just as God is relational. One doesn’t join our church without getting to know others, or until we get to know them and their relationship with the Lord. Frequently, this can take anywhere from several months to a couple of years or more. We want to make sure we share faith in Jesus and in the commitment to our fellowship here. Somehow in this brief phone call, we had skipped from visiting to membership at light speed. Maybe this person was just using the church to get her child baptized??? Yes, that was it.
And still my conscience was unsettled. There was something this woman was communicating by wanting to have her child baptized. And that’s when I realized I had missed it. She may have asked factual questions, but some kind of spiritual hunger was at work. I don’t know what baptism represented to her, but somehow she believed God was tied up in it. Why hadn’t I asked her why she wanted her child baptized? That question could have led to all kinds of discussions about faith, the grace of God, the righteousness of Christ that pardons our sins and moves us into a personal relationship with the Father. That eventually may have led to how God gathers a supportive community for us as we each work out our relationship with Him and encourage our children to pursue Christ themselves.
I spent the next several minutes repenting of my obsession with facts and praying for this woman and her child – who didn’t hear the gospel from me. I’d like another chance. And it struck me that Jesus didn’t make the same mistake when a woman avoiding a relationship with Him went to get water from a well on a hot afternoon (John 4). God give me sensitivity to hear the hunger.