By Allen Palmeri
SMITHVILLE—The joy of being baptized was written all over 15 faces from two Kansas City churches July 25 who chose Smithville Lake as the setting for a memorable celebration.
The people of Northland Baptist Church and Fellowship of Grace met at Little Platte Park for a picnic fellowship and baptism worship service on a Sunday afternoon that ended with multiple immersions by the two related congregations.
As shadows began to filter out over the water, Northland, the mother church that runs about 300 in Sunday worship, baptized 11. Fellowship of Grace, the daughter church that numbers around 130, baptized 4. The pastor of the younger church, Michael Porter, called being at the lake for it all a “really exciting” place.
“By the nature of what we’re doing here, it caused a lot of people to think about baptism,” said Northland Pastor Matt Marrs. “It’s been on their minds. They know it’s something they need to do. [On July 18] I preached a very clear message on why baptism is important.
“Because of our position, and rightly so, that baptism is symbolic and is not necessary for salvation, by making that case so strongly we almost give people permission to not be baptized. So I preached a very clear message and I just said, ‘This is important. It doesn’t save you, but it’s an extremely important first step. You don’t have to be baptized to go to heaven, but you have to be baptized to really be fully obedient to God.’ Because of that, some people stepped up and said, ‘Hey, I need to do that.’”
Fellowship of Grace will mark its fourth anniversary Oct. 1 as a church plant where lives are being transformed. Porter said the flock has come full circle with unbelievers coming and being converted, getting baptized as believers, starting to serve, and taking on leadership roles in the church’s small group structure.
“That’s real exciting, to see people go through the whole process, not just a little piece of it,” Porter said. “But it’s taken four years for us. It just takes time to develop people.”
The July 25 setting was filled with young families and children participating in picnic-type activities. The youthful atmosphere flowed naturally into a praise and worship time led by a 13-member group of Northland and Fellowship of Grace singers and musicians. Among the children enjoying his freedom was Ethan Rogers, 3, who happily played a pair of drumsticks in the air as his father, Joe, the regular drummer for the Northland band, kept cranking out the real thing.
Marrs, 38, said the youthful face of the two churches could be explained by his beginning at Northland at the tender age of 27. Statistically, he said, a senior pastor with a young family will tend to draw people in their 20s. He also noted that some of the older Northland families, simply because of the logistics that are involved in driving to a distant park and subjecting themselves to the heat and humidity, were less likely to come out on this particular evening.
“We didn’t do anything particularly unique to say we’re going to target young families,” Marrs said. “We just happened to be a young family. We could get more young leaders engaged in ministry that would attract that.
“This is pretty representative of both of our churches. Fellowship of Grace attracts a lot of young families by their music style and the venue where they began meeting in the comedy club. We attract probably young families more by the nature of our staff being very young. Two of our associate pastors are in their 20s.”
Another way that Northland acquires a youthful presence is by doing Vacation Bible School (VBS) in more than just one location.
“We just did three simultaneously last week—one on our site and two in the community, in apartment complexes,” said Marrs as he gazed at the people filling their plates with food under the picnic shelter at Little Platte Park. “There are actually some people out here tonight from those apartment complexes. We brought our bus out so people would not have to make the drive and pay $5 to get in (the park).”
Porter, the Fellowship of Grace pastor who also serves as the drummer in their praise band, said he has learned “to be mindful and flexible to God’s plan.” God is at work, the pastor said. He must direct things, and He has, with the church continuing to gather at Congress Middle School in the Northland.
At the end of the baptismal service, Marrs thanked God for a beautiful night and beautiful friendships in Jesus even as the two churches grew closer. He then gave thanks for each baptized person, “how Your Holy Spirit drew them to You, how You opened their hearts to the Gospel, and You brought them to a place where they were willing and ready to put their faith in Jesus.
“And now, Lord, we pray that You’ll help them to continue to grow in their faith. Help them continue in their walk. Help them to grow deeper in their knowledge and understanding of You. Help them grow in their service. Help them to grow bolder in their witness. Father, we look forward to the wonderful things you are going to do through each of these people. We thank You, in the name of Jesus, that tonight we were able to share in this special event in their life.”