I recently baptized our eight-year-old daughter. Many have approached me asking questions regarding how to know when is the best time to baptize your children. Here are seven things I tell them to keep in mind.
1. Jesus saves and Jesus determines the times and places
As parents, it is our most pressing desire and prayer for our kids to be saved. But remember, salvation is of the Lord—beginning, middle, and end. I was not brought up in church but saved later in life and so am living proof Jesus determines the time and place of our salvation. As much as we may want to force or speed up salvation when it concerns our children, Jesus calls the shots. Pray for their salvation and trust Jesus in the timing.
2. Be under good teaching
Faith comes from hearing the word of God, and as a young person I was not exposed to good gospel teaching. So for my children, it was very important that week after week we were under sound biblical teaching and the proclamation of Christ’s gospel.
My younger daughter has lived in three countries, and we have been a part of four churches (in Texas, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Washington). In each place, we faithfully attended the local church for community, and when not receiving gospel teaching, we would listen to the podcasts of churches in the U.S. to make sure we were under good teaching. My wife, Marci, and I feel very strongly about being connected to a local church, while making sure our family is under good teaching.
3. Look for a change in heart
In 2010, our family went to Australia for Christmas. While there, we planned to be in Sydney for Christmas services with our good friends at Hillsong Church. On Christmas Eve, our daughter first raised her hand and confessed to have a desire to know Jesus Christ. Almost immediately, Marci and I could see a change in her nature. She showed an acknowledgement and distaste for sin and sinful things that was not there before this profession of faith she made in Australia. She desired to pray—something she had never shown interest in before—and she desired to attend church. Whereas before our Australia trip we required her to attend church with us, she now longed to attend church on her own.
4. Wait and train
Soon after our trip to Australia, our daughter began asking about being baptized. She said that her older sister got baptized when she was 8, and now she wanted to be baptized. So I began asking her the important question, “Why do you want to be baptized?”
Over the past two years, the answers to this question changed. At first, her answers were cute. She wanted to be “on stage and on the big screen at church.” Then she said that she wanted to “because [her] sister did.” Each time she would give one of these answers, I would use the opportunity as a teaching moment to reply, “Honey, the meaning of baptism is a display or showing your faith in Jesus Christ to the church. Being baptized signifies the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and that we too will enjoy death, burial, and resurrection with Jesus as he is our Lord and Savior.”
In the summer of 2012, by God’s providence, Mars Hill Church went through a great series called Jesus Loves His Church. The sermon one week was on baptism, and Pastor Mark did a super job teaching the meaning of baptism. For this week, I allowed our daughter to stay in service to hear the message instead of heading off to Kids Ministry. The sermon brought up good discussion and I think was a pivotal message in her understanding of faith.
5. Baptism is not required for salvation
Christians are saved by faith, not baptism. Baptism is a covenant sign and represents the reality of Jesus circumcising the believer’s heart. As with all covenant signs, baptism is a kind of physical sermon that shows the inward spiritual blessing of regeneration.
“In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” Colossians 2:11–12
6. Baptism is important for evangelism
Baptism is a great display of faith to believers and unbelievers. When my older daughter was baptized in Texas, we invited grandparents, friends, and neighbors. Some were Christians, and others were not. Our younger daughter’s baptism was specifically scheduled during one grandparent’s visit. Once you see that Jesus has changed her heart and begin to plan your child’s baptism, focus on the evangelistic aspect. When we are baptized, we are demonstrating to others our faith. Convey to your children that their baptism may be used by Jesus to save others. After my eight-year-old’s baptism, one of the elder candidates came forward saying his two kids saw the baptism and had begun to ask him questions about baptism. He and I recently baptized his two kids.
7. Baptism is an important day
That Sunday morning of my daughter’s baptism brought many varying emotions—extreme joy, excitement, a humble fear of the Lord. In fact, she later told me that my hand shook as I placed it on her in the baptismal. It was a heavy moment, but in a good way. I knew without a doubt that Jesus had saved my girl. I was privileged to baptize her. And I’m privileged to continue to pastor her as she grows in faith and godliness.
Sutton Turner is the executive pastor of Mars Hill Church.