Beyond Behavior Modification
Yesterday my three teenage children were baptized. It was a milestone moment... Holy and Sacred and Fun and Beautiful... and I was privileged to be a part of the ceremony as they made a public proclamation of their faith. But I believe Paige and I were most excited to know that deep inside, their faith had become REAL. I had waited with my wife (sometimes anxiously) as we watched our kids over several years, take their time to step into their faith without being pushed.
I can’t help but wonder how many kids prematurely jump into a swimming pool or lake or river at church summer camp? I can’t help but be concerned that as a Chrisitan culture, we may be urging our kids to consider a life long faith decision like we do an athletic team tryout, or a school play audition. Should their faith come down to nothing more than an emotional reaction to Hell or the lingering effects of remote spiritual euphoria due to a six-day camp experience with their peers each summer.
I know mine did.
As a teen and preteen, I was under tremendous pressure to conform, to fit in with my church-going peers. Our parents were anxious for us to embrace their faith and when our church did its annual summer baptisms... if you were anywhere near the age of 11-18 you were sweating bullets. The talks, the encouragements, the whispered reminders that you needed to sign up for the baptism class etc... I felt like I had to get baptized, my main concern wasn’t if I was ready, or believed or felt excited to share my faith... but when and how I would get dunked.
Twenty five years later... I regret that.
I was baptized as a young teen, not out of my love for Jesus or my authentic faith-filled life... but simply out of my fear of rejection if I didn’t. I went on to “modify my behavior” for another decade and a half before the wheels came off. I had learned to “fake” my faith to earn the acceptance of others and to avoid the lengthy “exhortations” of Christian well-meaning parents who were simply scared themselves.
As a parent... I made it clear to my kids... don’t get baptized until you really truly want to and genuinely mean it. No assumptions of faith by proximity, (kids being believers because their parents are) no implied preferential treatment if you do, no suggested disrespect if you don’t.
As parents in ministry, the last thing we wanted... was to create another generation of conflicted, pseudo genuine believers out of our own kids. We have been extra cautious to allow our children to take some time and seriously consider if they were ready to die to their own preferences for life and come follow Jesus wherever He might lead them. For that is the simple reality of accepting Jesus as “LORD” of your life.
Parents, my encouragement to you is not to make your kids wait just because I did. Or to overly obsess about the best time and place of your children’s baptisms. As an Anglican I have great respect for child baptism as a valid and sacred sign of covenant with one’s parents, a local congregation and God to bring your child into the saving knowledge of faith in Jesus. I’m not here to debate the drizzled, dunked or sprayed aspects of Baptism or the specifics of when, where and how to observe this sacrament of faith. You will need to follow that detail as between you and God and your family.
My personal sense for my family was the need to wait for our kids to embrace their faith as young adults or adults who have sorted out their own feelings, and beliefs and values to a point where un-prompted, they recognize the scriptural command of baptism as essential for their life.
Let’s not simply rush to gain another ”convert” for our own personal comfort. Let’s allow God’s Holy Spirit to stir up in our own families the awareness and urgency of embracing Jesus for a lifetime for themselves. I believe the authentic motivation of a personal relationship with their Creator is much more valuable than the temporary sensation of a sinners prayer and a good religious dunking. I’ve met too many “rushed” youth converts who later split the church scene and Jesus, never ever to return.
For some kids, their faith comes quickly and authentically. My wife was saved and baptized at a very young age, and it was real and authentic. Only God can confirm to each parent and family where each of their children really are in their faith journey. Don’t hesitate to wait patiently for God to work in the lives of your own. Don’t manipulate the events of their lives to bring them to a premature point of simply following a religious observance.
The power of the Holy Spirit is sufficient to engage and instruct and guide you in the proper timing and place for each of your children to experience, embrace and express their faith authentically. It’s worth the wait, definitely.