It was a Divine appointment between two strangers who didn’t realize how much they’d need each other.
After months of Bible study, Kelli Hopper decided she needed “a new start for the new millennium.” So, on December 31, 1999, Kelli was baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. To this day, she remains a committed and active member of her local church in Kalamazoo, Michigan, serving on the local school committee, the social committee, and as a deaconess.
But in all her years of church attendance and participation, one thing was missing from Kelli’s religious experience — she had never led someone else into the message that had changed her life. While she was a cheerful witness for God in a general sense and wanted others to know the Truth for this time, when her pastor asked her to lead someone through a series of Bible studies, Kelli was terrified, yet willing to step out in faith.
Meanwhile, Corky Benny’s spiritual interest was awakened when her son, Joe, was baptized into the Muskegon Seventh-day Adventist Church in 2015. Joe wanted his mother to have the opportunity to learn the wonderful truths from God’s Word just as he had but, not living close enough to do the studies himself, he needed the help of someone from her hometown of Kalamazoo. So a meeting between Kelli and Corky was arranged.
For well over a year, Kelli and Corky met Wednesday mornings in the small library of the Kalamazoo Church. As they eagerly made their way through the “Landmarks of Prophecy” Bible study guides from Amazing Facts, Corky became more and more convinced of the truth revealed in Scripture and began applying biblical instruction to her life. Renewed in her walk with Christ and clearer in her understanding of Scripture, Corky sealed her decision for Jesus with baptism on March 25, 2017. And all God’s people said, “Amen!”
Now a typical testimony might end there: a church member led someone through a study of the Bible that resulted in a beautiful baptism. But baptism is never the end of the story. Often the warm glow of baptism is followed by the cold reality of work stress, family tension and recurring temptation. When the baptismal preparation Bible studies are completed, or the excitement of a church-wide public evangelism campaign subsides, new believers find themselves alone in a new church culture while feeling drawn back to old habits and practices. The stark reality is that nearly half of all those who join the Seventh-day Adventist Church eventually leave.
For this reason, discipleship must extend beyond baptism. Ellen White counsels, “After individuals have been converted to the truth, they need to be looked after. . . .these newly converted ones need nursing, — watchful attention, help, and encouragement. These should not be left alone, a prey to Satan's most powerful temptations; they need to be educated in regard to their duties, to be kindly dealt with, to be led along, and to be visited and prayed with.” (Evangelism, p. 351)
An understanding of our unique church history and mission, the development of vibrant personal devotion and family worship time, instruction in local church responsibilities, and training for effective soul-winning are just a few of the many areas of Christian life that are essential to genuine discipleship. Just as much attention and care should be given to believers after they join the church as it was to help them become members of the church in the first place.
The book of Acts records the zeal of the new converts who “gladly received” Peter’s preaching on the Day of Pentecost and were added to the church through baptism. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers (Acts 2:42 NKJV).
In the case of Kelli and Corky, they both enjoyed their study time together so much that they decided to just keep going. Immediately following Corky’s baptism, they read through the Discipleship Handbook, following the process outlined to help integrate Corky into her new church family. This resource was recently published through the General Conference Sabbath School and Personal Ministries departments with the purpose of guiding Seventh-day Adventist believers into a deeper walk with Christ, specifically in the context of a small group or a one-on-one mentorship format.
Today Kelli and Corky continue their study together in Christ’s Object Lessons, that powerful volume by Ellen G. White.
This model of ongoing fellowship and study beyond baptism is a vital key to new member retention. Those early believers weren’t merely church members on paper, they were true disciples of Jesus. As a result, the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:47 NKJV).
As we look forward to and hasten the coming of the Lord, may such be said of us as well. May we each be more than mere members, but true missionaries for Jesus, adding to the church daily those who are being saved.
The Discipleship Handbook is available at your local Adventist Book Center or online at https://www.adventistbookcenter.com/discipleship-handbook.html