The recent holiday season gave me a little more time than usual to watch football on TV. As the regular season gave way to playoffs and bowl games, it seemed pre-game analysts spent increasing amounts of time discussing “what it will take to win” the next, tougher game. The more serious the consequence of the game, and the fewer games that remain, the more critical it seems to be able to think, and not just play.
Yet as I’ve listened to experts talk again and again about what it takes to be successful, it seems they often come back to the same basic advice. Focus on fundamentals. Block and tackle well. Everyone do your assignment. Establish the ground game. Everything else you need for success will flow from there.
In these big games, will there be an occasional trick play, or a key turnover, or a missed call that influences the game? Probably. But everyone seems to agree that the best you can do to prepare for victory is simply get back to the basics.
I found myself wondering if there is a reminder, even an exhortation, for churches to consider here. Among the most “basic” practices of Baptist churches as we follow the Lord and pursue his mission are celebrations of the Lord’s Supper and believer’s baptism. Yet these can sometimes seem like occasional, even rare, ceremonies, rather than the very blocking-and-tackling basics on which the rest of church life is built.
More than an occasional or routine ceremony, the Lord’s Supper was given to us to be a time of frequent, intimate church fellowship and worship, one that draws each participant to introspection and confession of sin, and to a carefully considered reminder of the price Jesus paid for that sin. The Lord’s Supper is, in itself, a symbol-rich proclamation of the gospel message, one that should, each time, lead us to humble worship and gratitude, and fresh motivation to live out our salvation and to share Jesus with others.
What if we got that “basic” right, every one of us, in every church, every time we celebrated the Lord’s Supper?
If we did, I think it would have a dramatic effect on the other, more neglected, “basic” of baptism. Think of it this way: What if a church were to schedule baptism celebrations as often as it scheduled Lord’s Supper celebrations? More importantly, what if that church adjusted all its other priorities with the goal of seeing at least one person baptized by that time?
In fact, what if the church filled its baptistery on that date, no matter what? If no one was ready to be baptized, the church would simply pray in lament over the unstirred waters, and ask the Lord to guide them to a different result next time.
If the core, blocking-and-tackling tasks of the church are to remember the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus, and continue his mission of seeking and saving the lost, then maybe we need to get back to the basics of the Lord’s Supper and baptism. Maybe we need to let them drive our churches’ priorities and resources and schedules more than the things that drive them now.
As the football analysts remind us at this time of year, the closer we get to the end, and the fewer days that remain, the more critical it is to reflect carefully on what it takes to be truly effective in our mission. That careful reflection will almost always lead us back to the basics, and then forward to victory.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.