FIRST-PERSON: My first baptismal service
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (BP) -- On the Lord's Day, March 1, 1981, a new church was inaugurated at a small church building in Albany, Calif., near UC Berkeley.
The small sanctuary was only half-filled with my family of five, friends and visitors -- a total of 23 people. Not knowing what to expect as a young pastor, I had prepared everything for the inaugural service, including printing (by faith) 50 Sunday bulletins, setting up refreshments and, of course, preaching the sermon.
On top of that, I included the two biblical ordinances of the church, the Lord's Supper and baptism. Needless to say, it was a full program.
Moreover, this was my first baptismal service in pastoral ministry. Three college students I had ministered to in Los Angeles wanted me to baptize them at the inaugural worship service.
It was an unforgettable moment. As I waded into the baptistery, I reflected on my own experience of being baptized at Kaumana Drive Baptist Church in Hilo, Hawaii, in October 1972, just a year before going to the mainland to study at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas.
During seminary, I had learned about the importance of baptism in the history of Baptists. I had frequently observed the baptismal services led by the late W.A. Criswell at First Baptist Church in Dallas. I could not believe I was now participating in administering this sacred command of Jesus.
As I prepared to immerse the first candidate into the water, I found myself imitating Dr. Criswell's gentle and gracious manner.
Three months later we received an offer from the East Bay Baptist Association to move, rent-free, to a larger church building on the border of Berkeley and Oakland, hence the name Berkland Baptist Church was born. Over the next 10 years the church grew from my family of five to over 500 active church members. We were one of the pioneers of collegiate church planting, making disciples through the ministry of intercessory prayer, inductive Bible studies and building lifelong co-working relationships.
By God's grace we were able to baptize more than 700 new believers. The California Southern Baptist Convention recognized Berkland as one of its fastest-growing churches and the Home Mission Board (now the North American Mission Board) invited me to the SBC annual meeting in St. Louis in 1987 to share a two-minute testimony of our church growth. The media team came to record a film of our campus ministries at Berkeley and Stanford titled, "Catching the Spirit."
After 10 years of fruitful pastoral ministry in Berkeley, my wife Rebekah and I felt God's call to move to Cambridge, Mass., to plant a new branch church in 1991, BBC-East, while our very first homegrown disciple, pastor Andy Pak, would take over as the lead pastor of the Berkeley church, BBC-West. Even though thousands of miles away, our vision from the very beginning was to plant churches on multi-site campuses, but still remain one family, united in one spirit.
Only God knew this was just the beginning of multiple church plants within the university community both at home and abroad. Upon graduation from college, many of those baptized in our churches joined the church staff as homegrown workers. Over the years, they have gone out to serve as campus directors, church planters, pastors and missionaries to fulfill the Great Commission.
Even in our retirement, Rebekah and I have been committed to raising up leaders for the 21st century. My wife, who serves as the Southern Baptist chaplain at Harvard University, recently earned her doctoral ministry degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Her dissertation was a culmination of over three decades of planting churches. She has been the most instrumental Bible teacher and disciple-maker of our collegiate ministries from the beginning of our church in Berkeley in 1981. Through her in-depth, lifelong pursuit of the meaning of what a church is, we have built a family of God through our eternal relationships in Christ.
Now we pass the baton to the next generation of pastors and missionaries that they may obey our Lord's command to baptize disciples of all nations in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.