Are You a Baptist ‘Kid’?


Yesterday as we were travelling from The Great Lakes thru to Muswellbrook I was discussing with Danelle Steve’s post about where children fit in regards to membership in Baptist churches.

Steve writes:

Sunday morning service included the welcoming of 6 new members at church. This included a family of 5 from the Philippines and made for an exciting service.

On the way home my children floored me. “Dad, are we church members? We listened to what you said (by way of introduction). You talked about membership as belonging, and membership as participation. So we can be members. Right?”

As baptists, we have a number of rites of “theological” passage: membership, baptism and communion. Historically, they are not generally reserved for children. But looking at my kids, I’m suddenly not actually saw why not. If my kids participate and feel they belong, why can’t they be members?

The post prompted some interesting conversation and I thought I’d flesh it out a little here. Having been a long term ‘baptist’ (small ‘b’ intentional) I am interested in this subject and more broadly how we organise ourselves as the church.

My bottom line statement on this issue would be that if we don’t engage children in our churches in every way that is reasonably possible then we lose the contribution of one part of the body and we suffer because of that.

Of course that statement does have the ‘reasonably possible’ caveat attached and that is where we start to enter grey areas.

Steve mentioned participation and belonging as key elements of membership and I would agree strongly here, but would also add ‘responsibility’. My favourite biblical metaphor for the church is that of extended family where every person is valued and has a role to play. In the family (in its best sense) there is a sense of feeling connected, a willingness to get involved and a recognition that we have certain responsibilities and even obligations.

I am in favour of children:

– taking communion when they declare that they know and love God

– being baptised when they are ready and can articulate (however simply) their faith journey.

– becoming members of the church in some way

The last one is more nuanced than the first two, partly because there are legal obligations involved with membership. We also need to pay attention to the child’s stages of faith, social and cognitive development. The question Steve asks is an important one. How do we engage kids in the life and decision making of the church in a way that both values them and protects them?

If we don’t have their input we are poorer for it – but kids also see the world thru a very small lens so we need to guide them.

As we have travelled we have made most of our decisions as a family, however there have been times when as parents we have simply had to make decisions for our children as they would not have the necessary cognitive development to do so competently. Ellie wanted to fly across to the US… so we could go to Disneyland… She didn’t get all of our adult reasoning, but she knows we think that is a really bad reason to spend $12K!

Kids will ‘get’ some of what we discuss as churches, but much of what happens in church meetings will be over their heads or completely irrelevant to who they are.

So, do we adjust the way we do meetings and decision making to include them?…

One of the challenges of our Baptist system has been described well here by Neo-Baptist. The implicitly adversarial approach of our meeting procedure is highlighted and the question is asked ‘how do we do things better?’

I think Neo-baptist’s point is that we need to allow people room to think, discuss and discern without the ‘vote’ hanging over them. To arrive at a meeting to vote is quite naturally to ask people to take a side before entering and then to allow debate to ensue. This can bring out the worst in church meetings as people fight for their position (and some don’t fight clean).

This is an environment where kids would not be safe and no one where they would want to be. In fact lets face it – very few adults would feel safe or want to be there!

As I write this I am wondering if the best way for issues to be considered is by family groups within the church. We as a family can discuss and consider an issue and then come to a meeting to offer what we believe is the best way forward and to listen to the conclusions that other families have reached as they have had similar discussions.

I don’t see that we can ever avoid ‘meetings’ per se, but we can frame them differently so that they become more in line with what the original Baptists intended – a collective discerning of the will of God rather than a system of political maneuvering and ultimately voting.

Even as I write this I am aware that some of it is quite idealistic and that the real world is more messy. We have had some difficult situations recently where the only solution has been to use the political process to win the day. While I hold my ideals, I am also pragmatic enough to know that sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do… cause if you don’t the consequences will be worse. But my thinking is that if we start with our best ideals in mind then we may at least do a reasonable job. If we start from the point of believing that all hope is lost then that will affect the process too.

So I would like to see us completely revisit how we listen to God as a church and how we make decisions. There will come times when it is necessary to have ‘a vote’ and that is ok, but there is much that will already be decided long before a meeting and a vote will simply be a legal requirement of a constituted body.

So… getting back to the question… can kids be members?

I would say absolutely, but as churches we need to ‘parent’ our little ones as we would our own children and involve them where possible and protect them where necessary. They don’t need to know all that goes on (good or bad) but they do need to be nurtured and valued in the community. They need to know that they can contribute and that they will be listened to. They need to know that sometimes their parents will not agree with them and they will choose not to run with their ideas. They need to know that sometimes their parents will get it right and sometimes they will mess it up.

In fact just giving thought to the place of kids in our midst actually challenges us to reframe some of how we do things and that is a good thing I reckon.

Of course we haven’t touched on the issues of ‘listening to leadership’ and running with their recommendations, or on how church size affects this process, because it does… I know from my varied experience of church community that there are many ways to make decisions and no-one has the mortgage on the best way.

Does this actually do anything to change our missional impetus in the world?… Well… It might… as we re-imagine ourselves not as a collection of power brokers but as an alternative community who listen to the voices of all – not just the influential – and who allow them a voice.

7 thoughts on “Are You a Baptist ‘Kid’?

  1. Love this post! I am loving watching Ethan in particular start to think through what church is and where he fits. Kids lack the social grace that (most) adults do, and it’s refreshing to see them ask questions and participate in church without a care in the world.

    Sitting with Ethan in church last Sunday, it came time for communion. He has never partaken or asked to before, other than to lick clean my communion glass. As the little trays came our way he asked me if he could have one, and I said “No they are for the adults who love Jesus(off the top of my head)”. You know how quiet church can be during the communion, well I felt like the entire congregation was listening and waiting to see what happened next…well bless his little heart, loudly and proudly he declared “Well I LOVE JESUS AND HE IS LIVING IN MY HEART”!! Who was I to argue with that reasoning….he drank his communion and it was followed by “Yuck….I don’t like that blood”.


  2. On second thought, social grace isn’t what I really mean – more like inhibitions, self-consciousness, boundaries…and just a tad of social grace 😉

  3. That’s great Bec!

    Funny thing though – I am reading this on my phone and couldn’t see Ethans words clearly so ‘yuck I don’t like that blood’ looked like something else for a while there!

    I’m thinking ‘I know kids lack social graces but far out those logans really say what they think!!!’

  4. Yeah that would’ve been a proud moment….! We tell hime to save that kind of language for when the grandparents are around, makes them really proud 😉

  5. I regularly try to look at our church services through the eyes of a child or through the eyes of someone who may come for the first time or through the eyes of someone of another faith looking at our Christian services on TV. I sometimes shake my head and think how would this relate? Could I honestly invite someone to this and feel they would be attracted to Jesus through this? Sometimes religion is being portrayed but not a relationship with Christ. Then sometimes we walk into a service. It is real. It may not be polished, the singing might not be good, not much in the way of musical talent and yet you feel you are welcome, you belong, you are cared about and you are loved. I think this is what people will notice and this is what I could invite people to and bring children to – a happy friendly atmosphere and people who say “you’re special”.

  6. It makes perfect sense to me that children should be ‘members’ of a church if they participate in what the church does to the measure of grace that God gives them to do so. The one issue is that children are often (not always) less stable than adults, so that even if they’ll act as Spirit-filled believers one week, the next they might sulk or do something daft. So it does require wisdom from those around the child to know where their heart really is.

    Interesting point you made about parenting, Hamo. I’d say parenting the adults may be a very good thing too – it can bring benefits to both sides of the equation.

    About Bec’s last post, I’ve noticed that people find it easier to participate where a church is a little less polished. Now if you want a slick service let entirely from the front then it won’t help. But if you’re in the business of growing people then getting them to actively participate in worship, prayer, using gifts etc during a meeting is important. Not having everything presented seemlessly will make them feel less awkward about making a mistake and less like an intruder into the program. This isn’t a license to do things badly, but it does challenge perfectionist tendencies.

    And it gives the kids room to take part too.

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