For a myriad of reasons, a substantial number of Christian adults who grew up in late 20th century America professed Christ as Lord at a young age. Some remember it, and some do not. Some moved forward assured of their salvation. Some began to doubt whether they had truly been saved at all. Photographs from a baptism and assurance from parents often added to the confusion many felt as they tried to discern whether they had truly made an eternal decision for Christ or not.
Fifteen years into a fresh century, the generation that spent a portion of their adolescence wrestling with the scary thought that they might not be saved is looking for ways to make sure their children have a different come-to-faith experience. They’ve realized the line between prematurely urging a child toward salvation and hindering a child’s genuine desire to know Jesus is thin and often blurry. Churches and pastors have realized this, too, and make concerted efforts to help parents guide their children to a true relationship with Christ that will spur them on into spiritual maturity instead of into a false security that stunts their children a few years later.
Children’s ministers from four churches offered the TEXAN a look into how they navigate adding children to church membership rolls and how they guide those children through understanding, receiving and professing salvation in Christ. All of them agreed that parents play a pivotal role in preparing their children for a profession of faith and then discipling them in that faith.
Jamie Brooks, children’s pastor at MacArthur Boulevard Baptist Church in Irving, said that instead of offering a traditional class directed by church leadership in response to a child’s interest in following Christ, they equip and support parents and guardians for that role. He said that the church currently uses Next Step for Kids (NSfK), produced by Harvest Children’s Ministry, to guide families as they escort children toward a commitment to Jesus. The curriculum discusses being a new believer and being involved in the church family. Brooks said it also opens the door to conversations about baptism, serving, witnessing, other religions and other topics.
“We communicate to parents that this is not a checklist for salvation in their children,” Brooks said. “It is, however, a great tool to see if a love for the things of the Lord is developing out of a response to accepting Him as savior and king,” Brooks said. “For children in need of a spiritual leader to fill this role, we will partner a committed and qualified mentor with them. In addition to NSfK, we have a guide to lead parents through conversations about the purpose of the church, the qualifications for membership and the expectations accompanying membership.”
Brooks said while some children have already accepted Christ when they join the church with their families, the majority of children become members by profession of faith. Brooks says the church takes seriously its role of making certain that new members—no matter their age—understand what it truly means to follow Christ and to live for him.
“For a child coming to us as a professing Christian, it is important that we hear his/her testimony from the parents and the child,” Brooks said. “As pastors, we hold the responsibility of church membership gravely, and therefore hold even children to the standard of verbal/written testimony and life fruit. In these conversations, we are affirming the biblical truth that church membership follows a faith commitment proclaimed through baptism. In all of these conversations we have with children, we want to proclaim that church membership, baptism, communion, etc. is the outflow of a personal response to Christ’s lordship and not the process to achieve salvation.”
Brooks meets with families while they work through the NSfK curriculum, listening for children to be able to express why they need to be saved, how they are saved and what it means to trust and follow Jesus as king. Only when a child can clearly articulate those things can he or she be baptized.
Jeffie Burns, children’s ministry director at Harmony Hill Baptist Church in Lufkin, said baptism follows a children’s new believers class at their church as well.
“We require one parent/guardian/grandparent to attend the class with the child, and then they have to come in and speak with me or the family life pastor before baptism is scheduled,” Burns said. “In the past, so many people say, ‘I was saved and/or baptized as a child but I didn’t understand.’ We don’t want that to happen, so we have this process to know that we know.”
Burns said that during the class they talk with parents and children about what salvation and baptism mean, being careful to make sure that the children do not associate the act of being baptized with actual salvation from sin. In addition to the class, the church saw a need to produce take-home information that parents can use with their children to make sure they fully understand the decision before making it. The curriculum they produced includes the gospel, the ABCs of salvation, information about baptism and a family discussion guide.
The class, Burns said, gives parents the confidence to work through their child’s desire to be saved and baptized.
“I think parents really want the opportunity to lead their child to Christ,” Burns said. “They just are scared. They think there is a ‘special’ thing they have to say or do. This class, we feel, makes them more relaxed about talking to their kids about salvation and baptism. We always try to make sure we are equipping parents; they make the difference!”
Chris Gary, minister to children at Central Baptist Church in College Station, agrees that parents often shy away from helping their children in this arena out of fear.
“Parents are scared to death of messing up their kids, so they tend not to have these conversations with their kids or push them to the church,” Gary said. “We must help parents be involved in the spiritual growth of their kids. They are the primary teachers for their kids, and we are to equip them for success.”
At Central, that equipping comes by way of a two-step approach.
“Any child that makes a decision meets with our senior pastor and is given a Survival Kit for Kids to work on with their parents,” Gary said. “After they finish it they meet again with the senior pastor to go over it. When they leave that meeting, my office gives them another devotional book, Passing the Baton.
Gary said that if a church is currently without a new members plan for children and wants to begin a class, he would suggest using the Survival Kit for Kids content (available through LifeWay), which his church uses in one-on-one settings with families, as the material for a six-week class. Working one-on-one with families, he said, allows his church to be flexible about the age at which a child can begin the process of professing faith and being baptized. Brooks said MacArthur Boulevard’s family-driven and paced process allows them the same flexibility. At Harmony Hill, the church asks that children not be baptized before the third grade, though some exceptions have been made.
Whatever direction a church decides to go, Gary said, some sort of training and equipping for children is essential.
“If you are not discipling them,” Gary said, “then you are not helping a child get a good foundation as they begin their walk with Jesus.”
Cedar Hill’s Hillcrest Baptist Church minister to children Keri Meek said discipling children has often led to reaching parents at her church. She said her favorite part of Hillcrest’s four-week class for newly believing children is week one where, after a time of breakfast and fellowship, the children go with teachers to the Kid Faith room and the parents remain with her.
“We sit in a circle and begin what I feel is the sweetest time of fellowship with these parents,” Meek said. “I start the time off with telling them a little about me and my family—how long we have been at the church, when I became a Christian, how I continue to grow in my faith. I then ask each parent to share the same. It has been a huge eye opener to me that we have many parents who were not raised in a Christian home and are so eager to know how to raise their child up with a biblical worldview. There have also been instances where a parent shares that they have never been baptized but through hearing everyone share they realize they need to be baptized too.”
And sometimes, this first week of discipleship with the children even leads to the salvation of a mom, dad, grandparent or guardian—stories that Meeks says become her “very favorite.”
“God is using this time with these parents to draw them to him,” Meek said. “I am able then to meet with that parent and share the gospel with them and lead them to their Savior.”