Many years ago I read an amusing story that has always stuck with me. I don’t remember most of the details precisely, but it went something like this:
One day a young man named Johnny Cupcake took a journey to a small hamlet called Castle’s Shadow. As he entered through the town’s gate, he noticed a young maiden crying nearby. He approached her and asked, “My dear, fair maiden, why are you so distraught?”
Looking up at Johnny the maiden forced a weak smile. “Oh, the things that have happened to me. First, my brother went out to milk the cows. One of them kicked him and broke both of his legs. Then, my mother was drawing water from the well. She fell in and broke her head. Next, my father was out in the field planting corn. Suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the east and blew him away. An earthquake has shaken our land which toppled our barn and caused a lantern to tip and burn down the house. And everyone in town has refused to provide any food for me and my family.”
Johnny, moved deeply with compassion and feeling as if his heart might burst, cried out, “Oh, my dear young lady. This is so troubling to my heart. You have had a remarkably tragic life.”
The maiden sat up with surprise and looked at him with a glare in her eye. “Tragic life? ” she exclaimed. “These things happened just this morning!”
Sometimes I Could Scream
Doesn’t children’s ministry sometimes feel that way. You know those mornings.
You’re running late for church, and when you get there, the worksheets that the church secretary normally has ready for you are nowhere to be found, and she’s seemingly joined them in the same location, so you run off to find someone to get you a key to the supply room — where the copier lives — just as one of your parents, who is also a member of the worship team, asks if she can drop off her son early for class, since her husband is sick at home and she needs to get to rehearsal — so feeling helpless to say “no,” you reluctantly accept oversight for her son as you try to rush him along while you continue looking for someone with a key, when glancing at your feet you suddenly notice that one of your shoes has a style and color different from its mate, but you decide you’ll just have to set a new fashion trend, and then another parent asks you why all of the bathroom doors are locked, and you almost say what you’re thinking, but …
Let’s face it. Children’s ministry is important and rewarding work. But some days it can be really tough, too.
5 Unique Challenges
And baptism preparation for young children can present some unique challenges. We’ll review 5 areas where difficulties can lurk and look at some ways to make things a little more manageable. The 5 areas are time pressures, costs, in-class challenges, teaching materials, and child readiness.
Time pressures come in two varieties, finding the time you need to plan for baptism training and figuring out a time when you can schedule a class to actually teach the children under your care about baptism.
The fact that you are reading this article suggests that you are probably in the midst of the planning phase for baptism training. You’ll either need to find a curriculum or prepare your own lessons.
You’ll save the most time if you can find a good curriculum without taking too much time to do a search. Unfortunately, that can be easier said than done. There’s very little to choose from when it comes to baptism preparation. And the materials you do find may not be exactly what you are looking for. That’s why I ended up writing my own materials for my children.
On the other hand, you’ll need to allow plenty of preparation time if you decide to write your own lessons — probably at least a few weeks (assuming you can only work on this part time each week). Of course, you’ll want to examine what the Bible teaches about baptism. You may also want to consult with other believers, either through things they’ve written or in person, about the purpose and significance of baptism. Helping a child to have a solid understanding of baptism is important enough that you don’t want to cut your preparation.
Of course, you can also blend these two approaches by purchasing a curriculum that comes pretty close to what you want. Then you can supplement it with your own material to make it more like what you want.
The other time pressure, figuring out a time to hold your baptism preparation class(es), can be a challenge. Since baptism preparation will be something you’ll do with only some of the kids in your church, it may not be practical to include it as part of your normal Sunday School classes. Additionally, the children involved will likely vary in age.
To make it easiest on yourself and the parents, you’ll want to try to schedule the class near or at a time when the parents will likely already be at church. This might be right before or after the Sunday service. Or you might schedule it during an evening mid-week service. It might even work to run a special class during the normal Sunday School class time that only includes those children who will be getting baptized.
In many churches the budget is always a concern. Costs of Sunday School curriculum represent a sizable expense, and curriculum costs for baptism preparation can represent an additional significant burden.
Also, it can be hard to plan exactly how many student copies you need of a curriculum. There’s likely some minimum number of copies you’ll have to buy, and you’ll have to be sure to have enough copies on hand to accommodate every child. This means you’ll probably have some initial costs. Then each time you hold classes you might have additional costs for additional student copies, if your supply is running low.
You might contemplate “getting by” with curriculum materials by ordering only a small number of materials, and then making “emergency” copies if you really need them. However, this is technically a violation of copyright laws, and if you do not pay royalties to the publisher — in some fashion — for the “emergency” copies you make, you will be violating the law.
One solution to this problem is to see if you can arrange with the publisher of the materials to allow you to make copies and pay for them after the fact. Another approach is to buy materials that allow you to make unlimited copies. Either of these approaches can simplify the planning for how many copies you’ll need for class.
Finally, keep in mind that making copies also have a cost, even though we tend to forget that. So when you consider the cost of a curriculum, don’t forget to account for the costs associated with printing and/or copying materials.
The Challenge of Different Ages
Because children don’t make a commitment to Christ at the same age, usually your baptism preparation class will have a pretty wide range of ages. In addition to the normal challenges you get when you teach a room full of children, you’ll have the additional challenge of appealing to the different tastes that result from different maturity levels. Ideally, you’ll want to find a way to teach about baptism so that the youngest child in class readily grasps what you are saying while the oldest child still stays engaged.
Your choice of curriculum can make a big difference in how effectively you appeal to such a broad range. As you consider which curriculum to use, or as you prepare your own materials, try to evaluate how broadly the materials are likely to appeal to various ages.
Because stories generally have a broad appeal, baptism preparation that revolves around a story has a good chance of having broad appeal. It will also be helpful if the materials provide different supplementary activities for different ages. For example, a single lesson could include a worksheet for younger children and a separate worksheet for older children.
In a future article we’ll discuss some ideas you can use to help keep older children engaged in a curriculum that may be targeted to a little younger crowd.
The Teaching Materials
Of course the actual materials you use for teaching your class will play a big role in how effective your teaching will be. We’ve already touched on some areas you’ll want to consider, but here’s a more thorough list:
– Are the materials engaging? Are the topics presented in a way that children will find interesting, and are the topics clearly presented?
– Is the content Biblically sound? This is a vital characteristic for your preparation materials.
– What activities do the materials include? Do the activities relate directly to the topics? Or are the activities somewhat loosely related to the lessons?
– Are worksheets included? Do they provide good support for the content of the lessons? Are they challenging enough for their intended ages? Or will they be too difficult (and frustrating) for the children for whom they are intended?
– How easy is it to obtain the printed materials? Are the pages well laid out and attractive. Do they include color and other elements to help attract and keep children’s attention?
There will be no perfect teaching materials. So you’ll likely have to decide which elements are most important to you and choose materials that most closely match your priorities.
Child readiness is an extremely important aspect of baptism preparation. Baptism is a ceremony that should be undertaken by believers. As such, you’ll want to be aware of the possibility that a child in your class has not entered into a personal relationship with Christ. Further, it may turn out that even if given the opportunity to turn to Christ, the child may not yet be mature enough to make a sincere commitment.
If it is apparent that a child has not entered into a personal relationship with Christ, the child should not be baptized. To do so would only encourage a false sense of security in thinking that she or he has received salvation.
So a challenge you’ll have as you prepare children for baptism is to watch for signs that one of the children may not be ready. And when you realize this situation, you’ll have the task of discussing this situation with the child’s parents.
In a future article we’ll discuss how the curriculum you choose can be a valuable tool in this regard. If written properly, the curriculum can both reveal that a child is not ready and help you in approaching the child’s parents about the situation.
The challenges we’ve just discussed can easily distract from the effectiveness of your teaching. However, by thinking through them ahead of time and planning around them, you can minimize their impact on your baptism preparation class. And in all of your class preparation and execution, keep this in mind: God controls both our challenges and our successes. As your prepare, pray. Then trust God to guide you and your students as you help them prepare for their baptism.
Coming Up: In our next mini newsletter article we will cover
Baptism Preparation – 4 Ways to Deal with Children of So Many Different Ages.