I’ve been a pastor for ten years. One of the trickiest issues I’ve had to deal with is the salvation and baptism of children. I wish there were clear-cut, black-and-white, cut-and-dried rules for knowing when a child has truly trusted Christ and is ready for baptism. Ten years in as a pastor, I’m still looking for those rules. However, as I reflect on how I have handled this issue (both well and poorly), here are 10 thoughts about the salvation and baptism of children.
- Children can sin, and children can trust Jesus. The sin of a child may not look like the sin of a teenager or young adult, but sin is sin. Additionally, the faith of a child may not be as full or mature as the faith of an adult, but faith is faith.
- Children need to hear about repentance and faith. Ask a child to explain what it means to “invite Jesus into your heart.” I’d be willing to bet their answer is as vague and nebulous as the average adult. Repentance and faith are not only biblical terms, they’re also easier to understand. Don’t waste time telling children to “invite Jesus into their heart.” Instead, talk to children about repentance and faith.
- Parents and church leaders must work together. I’ve met some parents who want to have total control over the process of their child’s salvation. Others expect the church (pastor, Sunday school teacher, etc) to take the lead. In reality, children need to hear the gospel from their parents and at church.
- Curiosity is not the same as conviction. If you’re children are around church, they’re going to ask questions. They will ask questions about baptism and the Lord’s Supper. They will ask questions about death and heaven. These questions are great teachable moments, but curiosity alone does not mean a child has repented of sin and trusted Christ. Look for comprehension, conviction, and commitment.
- Any child can parrot memorized answers. Many pastors require children to come to their office and answer a series of questions relating to salvation and baptism. The motivation here is good, as these pastors are trying to gauge comprehension. However, almost any child over the age of 4 can parrot memorized answers.
- Some children are nervous to talk to the pastor. I always meet with parents and their children before baptism. As a young pastor, I was surprised that many children were terrified to come talk to me in my office. These were kids who knew the right answers, but they just got nervous and shut down when they came to visit.
- Children need to be discipled in the faith. Too many parents think of baptism as the “end.” They see baptism as the culmination of their efforts. These parents need to understand that baptism is the beginning, not the end. Once a child is baptized, the real work of teaching and discipleship begins.
- Children need to play a role in the life of the church. If we believe children can turn from sin, trust in Christ, and receive baptism … We must be prepared to include these children in the life of the church. I’m not just talking about nursery or Sunday school. We must give children opportunities to serve and give and contribute.
- Use caution with children from unchurched families. Many times, children hear the gospel at a church event (basketball league, VBS, etc). Some of these children come from families that do not attend church. I think pastors need to use caution with these children. Of course, share the gospel as clearly as possible. Of course, call children to repentance and faith. However, pastors should proceed cautiously when it comes to baptizing a child that will not be brought to church. A decision for Christ that will not be nurtured in the context of a local church can be incredibly confusing when that child becomes a teenager or a young adult.
- There is no need to rush baptism of children. Sometimes parents get so excited that little Jimmy or little Susie asked a question about heaven, they’re ready to fill the baptistery and call grandma. The salvation and baptism of a child is certainly an exciting thing, but there is no need to rush baptism. Parents should encourage their children to repent of sin and trust in Christ. When they are certain their child has experienced true conversion, then it’s time for baptism.
What are your thoughts about the salvation and baptism of children?
Originally published April 25, 2016 on landoncoleman.com.