My Christian baptism took place in a Roman Catholic baptistery in my infancy, but 40 years ago today I bowed my teenage head and asked Jesus Christ to be my Savior and Lord. I did so on a Tuesday evening at the small, unassuming Fardale Trinity Church in Mahwah, N.J.
I give thanks to the sovereign, gracious God who, having conceived my spiritual life through the waters of baptism, had now, by the Holy Spirit, brought it to birth by drawing me to commit my life in faith to Jesus Christ.
I also give thanks to a half dozen Christian businessmen who funded and organized a string of events — school assemblies addressing the escalating use of illicit drugs, a follow-up concert, and then a “Tuesday Night Prayer-Rap” — that kindled faith within me.
That prayer-rap introduced me to a hundred or so teenagers who were overflowing with enthusiasm for their Lord. It also introduced me to a Jesus who was far more compelling than the one I had encountered in my earlier years. By the end of the evening I felt confident that that Jesus was now living in my heart.
Those businessmen also purchased and gave away thousands of copies of The Cross and the Switchblade, by David Wilkerson, one of which crystallized for me, over the ensuing days’ reading, what it means to be a beloved child of God.
The efforts of this circle of men led to an immediate flood of teenage conversions, a few hundred in just two weeks’ time. Those converts started sharing their faith and that company multiplied. Over the next five years thousands followed.
In the meantime, a couple of those men added a weekly home Bible study for deeper education for their disciples. The numbers continued to grow. And our faith deepened and matured as our hunger for God feasted on spiritual meals.
Four decades later, I know of at least several of those teen converts who now serve as ministers of Word and Sacrament. Several others serve as overseas career mission workers. Many others serve as elders and/or deacons and/or church school teachers and/or youth group leaders and/or church musicians and/or church treasurers, and/or a host of other roles in and for the kingdom of God.
All resulting from the efforts of a few Christian businessmen.
Which begs the question: Where are their successors?
Of course, the specific methods need not be replicated. But the effort could be. Should be. Needs to be.
In a denomination that prides itself on being people of the book(s), our success in passing on the faith, nurturing disciples, and educating a new generation of leaders has become a bit erratic. Most efforts have been confined to the church school hour, facing the same students year in, year out, and accepting the assumption that one or two hours out of 168 will suffice to form the faith and character of our charges.
Of course, we know better.
But, most of us haven’t done much to improve the results.
As Arun Jones says, the heart of discipleship is teaching and learning the way of Christ (see p. 13).
David White says we educators (I am including pastors, elders, deacons and all Christians, along with the professional church educators) need to confront believers of all ages with the radical call of the gospel to live lives that are transformed by the gospel call (also p. 13). Amen.
But, that kind of discipleship results only when we determine in ourselves to live that way, and to invite others to do so with us.
It results only when we determine to cooperate with God’s New Covenant program of inscribing the Word in the hearts and minds of ourselves and others.
It happens only when that Word becomes flesh again – in us and them, for the world’s sake.
This past weekend found me back in New Jersey. I took a quick drive by the Fardale Trinity Church. It remains a small, unassuming building. But it houses the maternity ward where one young man’s Christian life was birthed on a Tuesday evening, 40 years ago. This man is grateful for that building. I’m grateful all the more for the half-dozen folks who “midwifed” me into this spiritual journey.