Faith Formation: Baptism of the Lord
By Scott Hughes
This resource is meant to be used in connection with the worship resources for the Baptism of the Lord Sunday (January 12). The underlying question for this session is, "How might we live as one of the baptized in 2020?"
This session uses the same Scriptures and themes as the previous Sunday’s worship service. The preferred pattern is for participants to experience the worship service first, followed by group study during the week that follows.
By deliberately connecting the themes and Scripture from corporate worship to the small-group experience, participants will be more fully formed into disciples of Jesus Christ. People learn best when they are in conversations with others.
The role of the group leader is not to be the “answer” person or the person with the most biblical knowledge. Instead of providing the “right answer,” a good facilitator helps the group members ask the right questions. Facilitators should familiarize themselves with the format, questions, and possible answers ahead of time.
Other group dynamics to consider:
- Group size should consist of six to eight people. If there are more than eight participants, consider adding more time for the group to meet and/or more groups. Each person added to the group will create more relationship dynamics to be managed; each person might not have enough time to share.
- If the group is larger than eight participants, it is advised to split into even smaller groups within the group as needed so that all participants get a chance to talk. This will also keep one or two voices from dominating the discussion.
- It is highly advisable to use a group covenant to provide expectations of participants’ roles and manner of speech. Specific items to include should be confidentiality and speaking only for oneself. Another idea to foster dialogue is the “three-before-me” rule. That rule states that participants must wait until at least three other participants have spoken before they can speak again. For examples, see Sample Guidelines.
- A proper learning environment can often be judged by whether all participants are willing to risk sharing their perspectives, no matter how popular or unpopular.
- If your group meets in a church building, be sure the chairs are soft and the group is set up in a circle. Use tables for food only. If participants meet in a home, make sure there are plenty of seating areas and be sure to limit distractions, such as pets. If your group is meeting in a coffee shop or restaurant, be sure the space will be comfortable and quiet enough for conversation.
Introduction to the Format
There is a pattern for each week. The times are suggestions and are loosely based on an hour timeframe. The times should be modified, as needed. Each session will consist of the following elements:
Fellowship – Snacks or a Meal (10 minutes with snacks; longer, obviously, if there is a meal)
Gathering Time (5-10 minutes). Each session will begin with an opening question to foster dialogue and help the participants settle in to the theme for the week. These questions are meant to be done in micro groups of two or three people.
Group Dialogue (Approximately 30 minutes). This guide does not include a lot of questions. The intent is for group dialogue and not merely giving the correct answer. During the dialogue sections, you will see guidance and possible answers to the given questions with brackets [ ]. These are only possible answers and are not meant to be exhaustive of other answers. It is a helpful practice to allow participants plenty of time to process these questions internally. Don’t be afraid of silence.
Prayer (10 minutes). Allow each participant who would like to do so to lift up a person or situation he or she would like the group to be in prayer over. Following each request, the leader will pray, “Lord, in your mercy…,” and the participants will respond, “Hear our prayers.” If the situation is warranted and if the participant is willing, surround the participant and lay hands on him/her and allow those who are willing to do so to pray for this person and/or situation.
Sending Forth (2 minutes). Ask for a volunteer to send the group out with the printed blessing; or read the prayer in unison.
Baptism of the Lord – Well Pleased
Fellowship – Snacks (10 minutes)
Gathering Time (5-10 minutes). In pairs or groups of three, have participants discuss the following: “Share what you remember of your baptism. Who was there? Who was the pastor? What were you aware of in terms of what baptism meant for your life?"
Group Dialogue (Approximately 30 minutes)
Read Matthew 3:13-17
- Why do you think John the Baptist tried to deter Jesus from being baptized (v. 14)? [The verse displays John’s humility and feelings of unworthiness compared with Jesus.]
- What happened after Jesus’ baptism? Why might this be significant? [We hear similar words from God in Matthew 17:5. Though this all seemed one event, there seems to be two separate actions. The first is baptism by John. The second is the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove and the affirmation from God.]
- What might it meant that Jesus’ baptism by John would “fulfill all righteousness”? [Throughout Matthew, we read of fulfilling the prophets or Scripture. Here, Matthew speaks of Jesus’ baptism fulfilling righteousness. This would highlight Jesus’ role as a king who performs his task righteously (Wisdom of Solomon 1:1-2).]
- If you participated in a Remembrance of Baptism service, discuss your reflections about any insights you received and how baptism serves as the foundation for your discipleship.
- If Jesus was without sin, why do you think he was baptized? [This displays Jesus’ profound identification with the people. It also shows the nature of baptism is an initiation into a movement. Just as Jesus is formally being initiated and carrying forward the ministry of John the Baptist (which picks up on the ministry of the prophets), so our baptisms initiate us into the story of what God is going in the world – redemption.]
- In this coming year, how might we learn to live out our baptismal promises anew? [See page 34 of the United Methodist Hymnal: “repent of sin . . . accept the freedom and power God gives you . . . put your whole trust in his grace . . .”]
Prayer (10 minutes). Share prayer requests and respond appropriately.
Sending Forth (2 minutes). Ask for a volunteer to lead the group or read the following prayer in unison:
Faithful God, we give you thanks for sending your Son Jesus Christ who has identified with us and for the Holy Spirit who empowers us to be part of the ministry of the redemption of the world. May we live as the baptized people of God in all we do and say. Amen.
The Meaning of Baptism in the United Methodist Church (free PDF): www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/the-meaning-of-baptism-in-the-united-methodist-church
How to Start Small Groups – free teaching series: www.umcdiscipleship.org/articles/how-to-start-small-groups
Discipleship Ministries: www.umcdiscipleship.org
See All the People: www.seeallthepeople.org
Scott Hughes is the Executive Director of Congregational Vitality & Intentional Discipleship, Elder in the North Georgia Conference, M.Div. Asbury Theological Seminary, D. Min. Southern Methodist University, co-host of the Small Groups in the Wesleyan Way podcast, creator of the Courageous Conversations project, and facilitator of the How to Start Small Groups teaching series.