Bob is the children’s ministry coordinator at his church. He’s been holding class for a group of children in his church to prepare them for baptism. All of the children have expressed a clear understanding of the reality of their own salvation. Well … all of them except a young boy named Jason.
Jason can explain why Jesus died on a cross. And he can even describe what sin is. But Bob has noticed that Jason seems to miss the idea that he himself is a sinner in need of a Savior. Jason also seems to be confused about if he’s trusted Jesus to take away his sins. Sometimes Jason says he has, but other times Jason seems to treat it as “just all in fun.”
When Jason’s parents first signed up for baptism preparation, they were excited about their little boy getting baptized.
But Bob thinks Jason isn’t ready. How do you think Bob should handle this situation?
How would you handle this situation?
A Difficult Position to Be In
A children’s ministry teacher facing this circumstance is in a somewhat difficult situation. Obviously, if a child is not ready to be baptized, because she or he has not yet made a personal commitment to Christ, it is not in the child’s interest to baptize him or her.
Baptizing a child who has not yet accepted Christ’s gift of salvation turns the celebration of baptism into an empty ritual. And I firmly believe that empty rituals in a child’s life undermine sincere spirituality.
A child who takes part in an empty ritual probably will do so out of a sense of compulsion. And feeling compelled to participate in an activity that is intended to be a willing act of obedience to God can build resentment in a child. It can also encourage a child to live a life of fake spirituality.
Of course, approaching a child’s parents to suggest that their child should wait to be baptized isn’t necessarily easy. If they are convinced that their child is ready, your suggestions to the contrary may meet with some bit of resistance.
In a situation like this it’s important to keep things as peaceful as possible.
So your first step is to pray. Ask God to confirm in your heart that your perception of the child not being ready is accurate. Seek Him earnestly and be open to the possibility that you might be seeing things incorrectly. Also, pray for wisdom for you, the child’s parents, and other leaders in the church who might end up being affected.
Mention your concerns about the child’s readiness to the children’s ministry coordinator or your church pastor. If you are the pastor, perhaps consult with another leader in the church, someone who can be trusted to treat the matter confidentially. A second opinion can help confirm or contradict your perception of the situation and hopefully bring greater clarity.
When Talking to the Parents Becomes Necessary
If after doing these things you still believe the child is not ready, here are some further suggestions for when you talk to the child’s parents:
- Commit to keeping your focus on what’s best for the child. Keeping this focus can help you follow through with approaching the child’s parents. It can also help you keep calm if emotions start to get a little unsettled.
- Try to present the situation in a matter-of-fact way, as simply nothing more than the child needing a little additional time to mature. Point out that everyone matures in different areas at different speeds. Otherwise, it can be easy for a discussion in this area to wander into side topics that might be unnecessarily hurtful. For example, the suggestion that a child is not yet ready for baptism could be misinterpreted by parents – in the heat of a discussion – as a suggestion of some kind of spiritual inferiority. Keeping the discussion centered on the idea of their child simply needing more time and maturity can help avoid such wanderings.
- Try to have some specific examples of things their child has said that show a lack of enough maturity. Examples like this can help a parent who is reluctant to accept what you are saying to ultimately agree with your assessment. Without specifics, it may be hard for the child’s parents to accept your viewpoint.
It’s for the reasons I mentioned in suggestion 3 above that I think it’s essential to present a review of salvation as part of baptism preparation. In addition to helping you assess if all the children you are preparing are ready, the review of salvation can give you specific examples that show a child is not ready. In this way the salvation review acts as a tool both for assessment of a child’s readiness and for support if it becomes necessary discuss a child’s lack of readiness.
A valuable part of preparing children for baptism is not only helping them to be ready for this special ceremony. It’s also helping children wait if they’re not yet ready. Hopefully those instances where you have to make a child wait are few and far between. But when it’s necessary, assume this responsibility with gentleness. And do for the child what is best for her or him.
Coming Up: In our next mini newsletter article we will cover
Doing a Great Job of Preparing Children for Baptism.