Of the many privileges of being a pastor who works with youth, one of my favorites is being a part of a young person’s decision to be baptized. Now that I have stepped into the realm of children’s ministry as well as youth and college, in addition to having three children of my own under the age of six, a very common question I get is when church members’ children should be baptized.
As a Southern Baptist Church, my church’s commitment to believer baptism makes this question especially relevant. Since we don’t recognize infant baptism, every parent is basically struggling with the same issue; when is the right time? The short answer is, when a person becomes a Christian, they are ready to be baptized. However, for small children, it is a little more complicated. Here are seven dos and don’ts for parents in preparing to pursue baptism for their children:
- Do make sure your child knows they are a sinner.This means they need to know what sin is, that they have done it, and it angers and saddens God. Some church kids really don’t get this. If you ask them if they are a sinner and they say something like, “No, but my sister is!” It is probably best to wait.
- Do make sure they know why Jesus died.Children brought up in the church may have no problem accepting Jesus died and came back to life. But do they really know why? Do they know that only Jesus could die to take their sin away? It couldn’t be anyone else or any other way.
- Do observe signs of repentance and a changed mindset.I have seen, though rare, very young children exhibit a change of mind and heart after their decision to follow Christ. No, they don’t become perfect children or stop making you want to pull your hair out, but they have a much greater remorse for their bad actions and great hope in Christ.
- Don’t make it all about their behavior and being a better son/daughter.You don’t want to say something like, “You can’t be baptized- you don’t listen to me enough.” However, you can say something like, “You understand that being a Christian means really being sorry when we do the wrong thing, right?” There is a fine line between this point and the previous one, but that is why the parent having a biblical doctrine of conversion is important.
- Do have a meeting between you, your child, and the church leadership.I always have a meeting with the family before I do or don’t baptize their family member. This has been a great way for me to articulate the Gospel to the whole family, not just the baptizee. I want to do all I can to make sure the person I am baptizing is saved and not going into an emotional decision. This is also the time when I make sure the whole family knows that water baptism doesn’t save anybody, it is an outward symbol of an inward truth.
- Don’t allow yourself or your child to make an emotional decision based on what you or others are doing.It is very common, for parents converted later in life, for their children to want to be baptized with them. Be very cautious about that. It is also a common practice at Christian events like church camps to have some pastor from who knows where walk into a lake and invite kids to come forward to be baptized. These spontaneous baptisms, though well intended, are not a good idea and can be harmful to your child’s doctrine later on in life.
- Don’t be afraid to wait.Young adults who grow up in church are leaving the faith at an alarming rate all across the country. It is not a bad idea to wait until your child is well into his teens, maybe even an adult, to make sure he or she is making a mature decision. At the same time, Jesus’s emphasis on child-like faith probably meant child-like faith. The Gospel is not easy, but it is simple. Even a child can grasp it. Sometimes holding them back too long can convince them it is knowledge and works they need, not faith.
To put it briefly: is your child saved? Does your child know and believe the Gospel? Biblically, when people believe the Gospel, they are baptized very soon after. However, for any new believer, it is important for their church to affirm their conversion by making sure they know the good news of Jesus Christ. For children, that gap can be longer than others.
I believe I gave my life to Christ when I was 4, but my parents waited until I was 12 before I was baptized. I am glad they did. To this day, I rely heavily on parents to inform me on whether or not their child is truly saved and ready to be baptized. A child’s salvation and baptism is a beautiful thing. It reminds us of the child-like faith it takes to believe the Gospel of Christ.