Perhaps the most common question that Christian parents bring to their minister involves the readiness of their child to be baptized. Sometimes the question is mere formality. This is, the parents have already decided that the child should be baptized and they are simply asking the minister to put his stamp of approval on the decision. At other times parents are genuinely confused about whether their child is ready to be baptized or not. This is particularly true when the child who has expressed the desire to be baptized is eight, nine or even eleven years old.
There are three indications that a child is ready to make the adult decision to become a Christian. These are presented in the order in which they generally appear.
CHANGE IN BEHAVIOR...
Does our child participate meaningfully in all aspects of worship? We as Christians understand that praising God is the fundamental requirement of our relationship with Him; therefore we take seriously the worship services of the church. Children who still play with toys, color during the sermon, giggle or talk during the Lord's Supper are not demonstrating the mature behavior required of Christians. The first indication the child is ready to be baptized is his ability to consistently participate in all aspects of the worship service.
Every child who spends 30 minutes looking up passages on conversion can recite the steps of salvation. Memorization comes easy at young ages and parents should not assume that a child is ready to be baptized just because he/she can quote the relevant verses in the New Testament. When a child asks to be baptized, welcome the interest and follow up with some open-ended questions that do not have obvious answers. For example: What does repentance mean? What sins are you confessing? How are sins washed away? How will your life change once you are a Christian?
This should not be an interrogation but a conversation where we probe the depth of their understanding. We should praise their interest in God's will and openly express how pleased we are that they have asked about becoming a Christian. Taking time to study does not mean that we are not taking them seriously. In fact, we can explain that the really important decisions in life are always made after careful though and preparation.
Insight is demonstrated when a child can combine factual knowledge and the significance of that information. Most children have the urge to do the right thing. However, salvation is an abstract concept, and the ability to think in abstractions does not even appear in children until around puberty.
One indication of a child's ability to think abstractly is when he can explain the meaning of proverbs. For example, to interpret the saying "Rolling stones collect no moss," a child must have the ability to think abstractly. That is, he knows the rolling stones and moss represent something other than rocks and a green plant.
INTEREST IN THE FUTURE..
One of the most difficult processes for children to develop is the mental ability to project themselves into the future. This is one reason teenagers take risks - they cannot see clearly how "forbidden behaviors" can damage their lives ten years down the road. Because becoming a Christian is a lifetime commitment, they need help in considering ways that being Christ-like will impact their future. Read the Gospels with them so they know Jesus and ask them if they understand what "being like Jesus" means. When He is kind to lepers - explain that they must be kind to the outcasts at school. When he is forgiving of those who hurt Him - explain that they must be forgiving toward those who hurt them.
These are not fool-proof steps to guarantee a child's readiness for baptism, but they certainly move us in the right direction. Once you have taken these steps and your child is about to become a Christian have him/her write a letter to themselves explaining all the reasons for this decision. Put the letter away for safe keeping so when the child is older, both you and he/she can visit that important time in life again. Remember that spiritual training does not begin and end with conversion. We lead our children to the heavenly Father and we show them the Christian Way after they have made their personal commitment to Him.
By: Gary Jones and Jan Richardson VIA: Christian Bible Teacher, December 1992
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