Before I explain our process, let me offer two disclaimers. First, we recognize every situation is different, and every child is different. We try to be both firm and flexible in what we require of children and their parents. Second, this process is not set in stone as if we’ve discovered the perfect formula for preparing children for baptism. Our leadership is open to change, suggestions, and even criticism. We truly feel the weight of this responsibility, and we want to be faithful in this process.
With those disclaimers on the table, here is the process we use to prepare children for baptism at Immanuel.
- When a child (elementary age) expresses interest in being baptized, we give that child a book to work through with their parents or grandparents. We use Answers for New Christians by Robin Khoury. The book is written with a focus on younger elementary children, and it is easy to understand. We expect children to work through this book with a family member. We want parents to encourage their child to work through the book, but we don’t want them to force their child to work through the book. If a child is not interested in completing a short, simple study, we encourage the parents to hold off on baptism.
- When a child (elementary age) expresses interest in being baptized, we also give that child’s parents a book. We use Helping Children to Understand the Gospel by Sally Michael, Jill Nelson, and Bud Burk. This is a phenomenal resource for parents. The first half of the booklet helps parents know when and if their child is ready for baptism. The second half of the booklet contains 10 in-depth-devotions that summarize the gospel. We expect parents to read the first half of the booklet and to work through the second half of the booklet with their child.
- After a child has completed their book, and after the parents have completed their book, we set up a pastor meeting. This meeting involves one of our elders, the child, and their parents. We do not set this meeting up so that one of our elders can “lead the child to Christ.” We believe that is the job and privilege of the parent. We do set this meeting up so that one of our elders can determine if the child has experienced true conversion. We also set up this meeting so that one of our elders can make sure the parents understand that baptism is the beginning, not the end. Their work isn’t over, rather it’s just begun. We want parents to understand that it is their solemn responsibility to teach their child and keep them connected to a local church.
- When one of our elders and the parents of the child are both comfortable with baptizing the child, we take the child on a pre-baptism trip to the mysterious, secretive, baptistery. I use “mysterious” and “secretive” with sarcasm and sincerity. I’ve been in the baptistery many times, but it’s a new place for a child. This trip allows the child to see where they will get dressed and to walk through the empty baptistery. Hopefully this “dry run” removes the mystery associated with the place, and allows a child to focus on the significance of the event.
Again, we don’t presume to have this process mastered, and we’re always open to a better way of handling the baptism of children. If you have suggestions or criticisms, I’d love to hear them.
Originally published May 2, 2016 on landoncoleman.com.