Like many other ministry leaders, baptism for elementary age kids is something we evaluate often. Most of the time we're asking ourselves, "How can we make this better?"
There are 3 key aspects to the baptism process that we pay close attention to: The Child's Understanding; the Parent's Perspective; the Ongoing Conversation.
The Child's Understanding
We want to do a great job 'vetting' kids who express interest in baptism to ensure that they have made a faith decision and are able to articulate that decision in their own words.
For some kids, the story of their steps toward salvation are clear. They can give an account for a time, place and/or circumstance that brought about their decision to follow Christ. Through conversation, they seem to have a clear understanding of their decision to pursue Jesus and their desire to be baptized.
For other kids, the account is more vague. Their ability to recount the details of a decision to make Jesus their "boss and best friend" are not as clear. They seem to have a good understanding of the gospel. They have an ownership in their own sin and need for Jesus. But their story is not as clear-cut.
I've invested a lot of time learning from other great leaders like Greg Baird, Jim Wideman, and JT Witcher to improve my ability to discern when a child has a level of understanding appropriate for the step of baptism.
But, I've found that this step alone is only one aspect of the baptism process for a child. There are two other aspects that have taken our baptism process from good to great.
The Parent Perspective
Parents can have a mixed bag of emotions when it comes to the prospect of baptism for their child. There are a few questions I consistently encounter ...
- Are they ready?
- How do I know this is 'real'?
- How do I help them?
Parents are very proud and excited at the prospect of their child's baptism. Like seeing an 'A' on a report card, their child's desire for baptism is an indication they are on the right track. The excitement is hard to resist. After walking 3 of my own children through this process, I can identify.
Yet, as a ministry leader, I want to temper that excitement enough to help parents discern whether their child is actually ready or if more time would be beneficial. And this can be a tricky thing.
Some parents are receptive to the idea that more time is needed to allow their child to sort through their 'why'. Others may not see the need. I've found that this conversation can be a minefield unless there is some aspect of the baptism conversation that we have together.
So we made a change last year.
Over the past year we've hosted a Baptism Workshop for parents and kids. Just as in the past, this step is required before any child 5th grade and younger is baptized in our church. But in the past, we've separated parents and kids to have two different conversations.
The Kid conversation is where we unpacked salvation and baptism. We asked questions to discern their understanding and sought to see what mom or dad already saw.
The Parent conversations are where we talked about parenting and what they can expect moving forward. How they can continue to conversation to foster an everyday faith in their child.
But we found this wasn't getting us where we wanted to go. The truth is... parents are better equipped when they have a shared experience with their child. With shared experiences comes common language that helps the conversation continue. By separating parent and child, we weren't able to give them a common language.
So we made a change to set families up for better conversations in the aftermath. And the outcome has been good so far.
The Ongoing Conversation
When we made the shift we broke our Baptism Workshop into two segments.
The first segment is Salvation. Using NP's We Believe dialogue, we unpack Salvation very clearly and simply. Once this part is presented, we shift gears. Now parent & child is given a window of time. This can vary but generally 10-12 minutes. This time is provided so the parent can share with the child their own Salvation story. The time when they chose to believe and receive Jesus.
Parents are forewarned prior to the class so they are prepared. But we give them the opportunity to share their own journey. And once they're done, they ask their child the same thing, "When did you choose to Believe and Receive?"
For some families, the child's articulation of their story is a re-run. Mom or dad have already heard it. Or maybe they were a part of it! Nonetheless, the opportunity to tell the story again is a good exercise for the child as it further solidifies their ability to tell their story.
We've had the most feedback on this aspect of the workshop from parents. They love the opportunity to share their own experience.
What about a parent who doesn't know Christ? I've encountered this only a few times. And honestly... I wish I saw it more! In advance communications to parents who register their child for baptism, we share the parent's role in the workshop and the opportunity they will have to share their own testimony. I invite them to let me know in advance if they do not have a salvation story to share so that I can step in and help. With those opportunities, I sit with that family during that part of the workshop and I share my own salvation story. These have actually been some of my more memorable experiences because there is a moment of intimacy where it's clear the parent is wrestling with their faith.
The second segment of the workshop is Baptism. We simply explain what baptism is and why it's important. We share a little of the symbolism but generally keep this aspect pretty quick and light.
We wrap up the workshop by counseling with each family personally. In that conversation the parent gets to listen to their child as I ask questions. And I always start with, "When did you choose to Believe & Receive?" I give them the opportunity to share their story with me just as they shared it with their parent.
By doing this, I create the opportunity to point out where more time can be taken and more conversation can be focused to help the solidify the child's understanding. Sometimes that means I recommend the family wait for baptism. And parents can see the reason's why a little more clearly. Other times we move forward with baptism but the parent has a good understanding of how to target conversations in the future.
By and large this has been the most fun way to lead families through the Baptism process. And I'm excited about the way we've set parents up for ongoing dialogue about an everyday faith.
Gina McClain is a speaker, writer and children's ministry director at Faith Promise Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. For the original article, visit ginamcclain.com.
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