Okay, here I posted about my personal rule. Kids have to meet with me or a pastor before they get baptized. I just want to make sure that kids know what they’re doing or why they’re doing it. However, since coming to Gateway I’ve had to become a little more flexible. I think there is room for compromise here, I just haven’t spent enough time thinking about it. So for now, it is what it is. However, I do anticipate changes by next summer. Perhaps you have some good ideas for me to consider.
In this post I shared how Gateway does baptisms. On average we’ll have 100-125 people baptized at one of our baptism services. Of that number, about half sign up in advance or go through a class. The other half are last minute decisions or people inspired to do so during the service. I really like this. There are a lot of people who God calls their number on this day and the resulting baptism is powerful.
The only thing I don’t like about this is the number of kids who show up to be baptized without having gone through a class. We do have people available to pray with kids and I and some others who work with the kids are available to talk to kids, but it isn’t nearly as good of an experience as the baptism class. What usually ends up happening is a parent really feels inspired to be baptized and often times they decided to make it a family thing… kids and all. Other times a child may just see all the excitement going on and decide that they want to do it on that day. Therefore, we have more kids than I’m happy with getting baptized without the class.
One solution is to offer a post-baptism class. It would basically be the baptism class for those who were just baptized. I think it would be a good experience and it would add value to what they just did. However, I still think it would be strange for some of the kid who would come to faith at the post-baptism class. I’m also a reasonable man. I think we’d be lucky to get 20% of the families to come back to the class. I know that most of the people who come to the baptism class do becasue they think it is required.
The other solution is to just make the baptism class a requirement. I’m not sure how well that would go over, but it may end up being necessary. The baptism service is pretty amazing and so many people are making difficult decisions. There may be some caution toward saying “no” to a family where the parent or parents are struggling with the decision to do it anyway. So, we may just have to find that fine line between being intentional with how we do this for kids and being the open environment that we’ve created for people to easily make this decision if God is moving them in this direction.
What do you think?
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I totally understand how this puts you in a difficult position. I know for us as parents, our biggest challenge is wondering when our kid’s faith will become their own. We don’t want kids that only love Jesus because we tell them it’s the right thing to do. We want to teach them who Christ IS and what he has done for us. We also want to teach them how to listen for God’s Holy Spirit and respond every time he calls us to move. I struggled so much when Reagan said it was time for him to baptized because I didn’t want him to do it for the wrong reasons. But as I wrestled with it, I felt the heavy hand of God upon me and the verse from Matthew 19:14 that says, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Reagan has such a stronger faith than we do. He knows God answers prayers 100% of the time. He doesn’t wrestle with God’s goodness or the evils in this world like I do from time to time. I then realized that I was standing in God’s way. I was doing exactly what I pray my children won’t do – hear the voice of the Lord and disobey him. I don’t know how it works for all families, but the fact that Reagan wanted to do it WITHOUT all the fan fair (meaning, not one of his friends were there, it was freezing cold and he had no change of clothes, no grandparents, no big celebration), makes me believe this is exactly what the Lord wanted for my son. He didn’t care about all the extra things we did for Bailey, he just felt like that day was his day to make his faith known to everyone. He went to school the next day and told his entire class about his special day and how excited he was. He heard the Lord’s call and he responded. I was the one who wasn’t sure about it. I felt convicted that I was not modeling the things I try to teach them.
We would in no way be offended if you had said no because we trust your discernment. We also would be happy to bring Reagan in for a class. I think that’s a great idea.
You’ve got a hard one here…
I’m not sure I’d allow them to be baptized without meeting with me or a leader at least a week beforehand. I know that sounds rigid, but I’ve talked to too many kids that have no earthly idea what they are doing. I think it robs them of the spiritual experience of baptism if they have no idea what they’re doing…right?
I would only caution a “all-in-one” approach. We can’t box the Holy Spirit in like that. He calls everyone different and at different times. I really appreciate the fact that my son had a much more supernatural calling than my daughter. Some kids wait until they are older, some wait until they are grown ups. I have seen 4 year olds get baptized who really get it.
The Lord moves in ALL people, yes, even in children. Use the gift of discernment and yes, if at all possible, go through the class. But to deny a child the opportunity to get baptized (after you have spoken to him/her and asked them “the questions”) I feel is more harmful than good. I think it sends them a really bad message. At the end of the day, if it comes down to it that Little Jane wants to have “the spiritual expereice” (and who’s to say a child couldn’t have a spiritual experience just as powerful as a teenager or an adult?) why couldn’t she rededicate her life when she gets older. Maybe only 2 out of 10 walk ups might actually “get it”, but to turn even those two away would not be helpful.
That’s just my two cents. =)
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We are in the midst of baptism preparations as well. We only do baptisms once a year. (lot’s of reasons- none of them theological- all logistical) so there is a TON of people who submit their registrations- share their stories, etc and we require the same for kids– and a class as well. I always open up the class with the fact that – there is always a slight bit of sadness when those of us on the baptism team read adult registrations who talk about getting baptises as a child andn not remembering it- or it was not the right reason, etc. So we absolutely, positively require a class. I have never met a parent regret waiting- but I have met some who have regretted moving too soon.
Thanks for sharing your process…..
I love the idea of a post-baptism class for kids and families who feel God’s spirit moving in the midst of seeing their friends and other believers baptized.
Stopping people from being baptized due to process seems against what Jesus has called us to.
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I’m really wrestling with this one people. I see both sides. Honestly I do. Unfortunately, I know parents. Not all parents, but certainly the majority. I will offer a post baptism class for their kids, but the majority will not come to it. It’s just not as high of a priority. The priority is the baptism. So if I make the class required, they’ll come. If the come to the class, both the parent and the child will walk away with a clear understanding of faith and what it means to live for Christ. It’s a set up for a win. It won’t always be a win, but the set up is there. On the other side, if I’m okay with kids getting baptized without going through the class, some kids won’t really know what they’re doing. Some will assume (as scores of adults do) that baptism itself is a spiritual step and that they’re okay with God becasue the were baptized. Does me allowing kids to be baptized without a really thorough explanation set up kids (and some parents) for confusion or a misconception of what has really happened? I don’t want to get in the way or hinder anyone, but I don’t want to send anyone down a path of wrong thinking.
There’s a line here somewhere, a balance. It may not be perfect for either side, but it’s something I could be okay with. I’m just not sure I’m okay with where things are right now.
I know it’s a hard one, but it might be more beneficial if all opinions shared held the same opinion on Baptism (which is impossible). Each church, denomination, and individual brings their own thoughts on baptism, right?
For me the issue isn’t the process, but rather a desire to make sure each person (kid, in this case because it’s my responsibility) has an adequate understanding of what’s happening. And with kids, that understanding can vary from kid to kid between many different ages…
Kenny -I totally understand what your doing, and why it’s being done. At this point I’d probably do the same thing, and I think you’re right about there needing to be a balance in their somewhere.
Now if only parents were mature enough believers to gauge these issues about their kids all by themselves…
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Hey Kenny (and all following this blog). I appreciate your wrestling with this issue. It seems like you’re not alone (based on the comments). I have found a great deal of peace in reading Acts 2 in it’s early church context. As you know, this is the first recorded sermon we have from Peter and the earliest “Christian” church. After telling them about Jesus and some of the basics of what he’s done, is doing, and is going to do, the Bible says:
“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far offâ€”for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”
The interesting thing about this passage is that the people hearing this had NO idea what it was going to mean for them to follow Christ and make him their Savior. Their whole idea of what “Savior” meant was skewed. They thought it was primarily military/political not spiritual. Yet, when they asked Peter what they should do, he said get baptized. The early church hadn’t even worked out the doctrines of salvation, christology, theology, etc. All they new was that the Holy Spirit had convicted them in their hearts and they needed to do something.
So 3000 people who didn’t really “get it” let alone “understand it” were baptized. It was the responsibility of the early church to help them work out their salvation and teach them what that decision really meant, AFTER they were already baptized. They didn’t go through a class, they weren’t required to answer questions or anything like that. Rather, if they were convicted by the Holy Spirit after having heard the Gospel preached, they were baptized.
Don’t get me wrong, classes are great. I am working on preparing materials for just such a class. But these first Christians (and the rest of the Baptism stories in Acts) were not accompanied by a great deal of teaching (that we know of). So, I think it’s perfectly acceptable (maybe not preferable though) to allow kids who haven’t gone through a class to be baptized. You can make the class a requirement, but they just do it on the other side of the water. I think we have precedent in Acts for such a practice. What do you think?
Very good response Nick. I find a lot of common ground her. However, I think that this usually doesn’t apply. Of the kids who get baptized who haven’t gone through the baptism class, most of them are not like these people described in Acts. If asked why they want to be baptized, they will either shrug their shoulders, say “becasue mom wants me to” or say something about it looking like fun. These people in Acts didn’t have complete understanding. There were a lot of gaps. However, they had heard enough and they were asking, “what next?” That’s an important place to be. A lot of our adults getting baptized spontaneously at these services are at this place. They’ve heard enough and they’re saying, “what next?” The kids coming up randomly are not approaching baptism with this motivation.
So, these words we’re comforting. The baptism class doesn’t have to be a mandatory thing in all cases. But I don’t believe that Acts 2 supports most of these kids in this situation. So, I’m still wresting.
Good points. I definitely think that the reasons these kids give (mom wants me to, it looks fun, etc.) will be a perpetual problem for church leaders because we have a perpetual lack of understanding about its significance and purpose in the minds of parents. That’s one of the reasons I think it’s great that you’re including parents in the whole process. If we can help them understand, mentally, they are more capable of knowing whether or not their child is ready for baptism in the first place. They after all are the ones whoe will give the greatest account before God.
I wrestle with the idea of whether a kid who’s in 3rd, 4th, or even 5th grade sometimes is a good candidate for baptism. I know the stats from Barna about kids receiving Christ, but at the same time, kids are gullible and you can get them to believe anything. And in some ways our job is to brainwash them. So of course when they have the opportunity to become a Christian, many will because their mental faculties are not developed to the extent of a teenager or an adult. I truly believe we are telling them the truth, and I have no issue brainwashing them, but at the same time, I almost feel it’s appropriate to push the date of their baptism forward simply because I want them to have personal ownership and understanding of what it is exactly that they are doing.
Don’t get me wrong, I think kids need to have the opportunity to hear the gospel and to place faith in Christ, but for me in my tradition (and I believe in Scripture), baptism is more than just a “symbol” or an outward expression or whatever. I think Scripture teaches that whatever it is, something truly happens at baptism (a death to use Paul). Something happens in the heart, in the soul, that doesn’t happen at any other time. So if I say I believe that and I have kids who are now in their teens who were baptized when they were 8, 9, 10, 11 years old say, “I want to be re-baptized because I didn’t understand what it was about” I guess I have to question whether this is an isolate case and they are alone (they are not of course), or whether they didn’t have an adult in their life (parent or otherwise) who could explain it on their level, or they were just too yound period and should have been encouraged to wait.
Maybe some of this confusion stems from the understanding of baptism I have but maybe this is more than that. I don’t know. This is something I’m currently researching, looking at stages of faith, and some other books on children and spirituality. If you’ve got any book/study tool recommendations shoot them my way.
I’m sure this has been addressed in previous comments, but whenever baptism procedures are discussed, you have to take into account that there are a variety of understandings of baptism. First, you need to see what your denomination/faith community believes about baptism before setting any kind of procedure in place. You might even be surprised to find out what your church believes!
The spectrum can range anywhere from baptism seen as purely a symbol to baptism as an integral part of salvation. Who is more right than the other is not the issue. The issue is that you understand what your faith tradition believes and craft guidlines/procedures that are in accordance with those. Even more importantly, though, is that children and families understand what it means to follow Christ and continue in that (and there we have even more theological discussions!!)
I think one thing to take away from this discussion is that you cannot take what one church does and duplicate it at your church, especially when it comes to things like baptism, communion, salvation presentations, etc.
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I am totally working “brainwash” into my job description!
I must be honest. The word “brainwash” even closely associated to what I do in the realm of Children’s Ministry deeply disturbs me.
Kenny, didn’t mean to disturb you. I know “brainwash” often has negative connotations but here’s the definition I’m working from:
“Brainwashing (also known as thought reform or re-education) consists of any effort aimed at instilling certain attitudes and beliefs in a person â€” beliefs sometimes unwelcome or in conflict with the person’s prior beliefs and knowledge. Motives for brainwashing may include the aim of affecting that individual’s value system and subsequent thought-patterns and behaviors.”
This is quoted directly from Wikipedia.
This is what I do every Sunday. And when necessary I use torture (i.e. dodgeballs to the head, old graham crackers, etc.) and coercion (“I’ll page your mom and dad if you do that again”) and even water-boarding (though I try to limit this). Let me know your thoughts all. Good conversations.
I agree with you Henry that we can’t just take others stuff and take it into the pulpit and/or Sunday School room. But as I was told in Bible College the secret to successful ministry is “Beg, Borrow, and Steal.” In other words, don’t reinvent the wheel, make the wheel better and make it do what you want it to.