By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
MARTIN — First Baptist Church in Martin did not have a large crusade or revival this past year. Nor did the church rely on the latest, greatest witnessing tool to come down the pike.
Yet, for the first time in its 141-year history, First Baptist baptized 50 people in a 12-month period. The church’s previous high in a single year had been 49, according to Pastor Mike Sams.
What’s more, the baptisms came from every age group in the church — from young children all the way to an 85-year-old man who was baptized earlier this summer — Sams said.
“We have baptized people from every generation that makes up our church,” he observed. “That’s been really neat.”
The record number of baptisms has come from “a steady flow of ministry,” the pastor observed.
“We remind our members that they are all ministers and that they minister in different places whether it be in an office, at a school, or in a hospital. Wherever you’re planted, that’s your missions field,” Sams said.
He is a firm believer in “gospel conversations.” God puts people in places where they can engage with other people in spiritual conversations, Sams said. That enables individuals to engage in conversations which may result in inviting people to church or a life group or Sunday School class, he added.
The pastor noted that First Baptist members have “connections and relationships I do not have. When they are being Christ to those people and are loving them it opens the doors to gospel conversations.”
And, the results of those conversations have been evident at First Baptist this past year, the pastor said. “People are bringing people to church and they hear the gospel. The Holy Spirit is using it to bring people to Christ.”
The decisions that have been made are not the result of a “big thing or event.” They are being made as conversations are held and relationships are built, Sams stressed.
Sams also noted that the expansion of the church’s ministry staff has played a key role. When he became pastor nearly nine years ago, the church had a combination youth/children’s minister. The church now has a staff minister for each of the ministries.
“That has allowed us to put a lot of energy into our children’s ministry,” Sams said, noting that the church now has a large number of younger families with children.
In addition to the youth ministry, the church also has a part-time college pastor. First Baptist is strategically located to the University of Tennessee — Martin. The church has a special ministry on Wednesday nights to reach college students and Sams takes an active role in that ministry. He and the college pastor work hard to build relationships with the students and that leads to gospel conversations with them, Sams said.
In addition to college students coming to know Christ, he has seen college students who were already Christians desire to grow in their relationship with Christ.
“It’s so good to see God work in their lives,” Sams said.
All of this has taken place during the year Sams has served as chair of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board’s board of directors. He has had an up close look at the convention-adopted Five Objectives which includes a major emphasis on evangelism and discipleship.
Serving as chair “sharpened my focus,” Sams acknowledged. He noted that serving as chair also “exposed me to people who have a heart for Tennessee. These people have made me a better minister and given me a new resolve to reach both the world and Tennessee with the gospel.”
Sams observed that culture has changed over the last few years and “we see the lostness in our state and the world. There is an urgent cry for the church to be about the ministry of Christ.”
Sams does not expect the emphasis on gospel conversations to end now. First Baptist has started its new church year and already has about four baptisms scheduled to take place in October.
“People are looking for relationships and community — something that is real and genuine,” he said. “When they get around Christians it begins to have an impact. That’s what we’ve seen.”
Sams gives all the credit and glory to God. “The Lord has been gracious and good to us this past year.”