Children can understand that they belong to the family of God from an early age. Parents, teachers, and pastors should continually affirm and reinforce the child's sense of belonging in the community of believers. Pastors do this by acknowledging the child's presence when the entire church family worships together and involving them in worship instead of ignoring their presence. Involving children in service projects also binds them to the community.
A Child's Faith Development
The faith of a child develops in clear stages. At first a child's faith is experienced faith. During the primary/junior years, children develop a belonging faith. At this stage, faith is still experienced--it cannot be examined and discussed. But just as kids develop an interest in joining clubs, they begin to see the church family as a community. Parents, pastors, and teachers need to reinforce in children positive values for belonging to the community of believers. They need to answer the children's questions about what their church believes and instruct them in what it means to be a baptized member of the church.
At ages 8-12 children are naturally joiners. They want to join their church and take part in church life. Kids need an opportunity to act on this desire to participate. There are many ways they participate, one of which is baptism.
Too many wrongly believe that children should not be baptized until they are of an age to understand fully the beliefs of their church. But by then kids may be more into pre-adolescent rebellion than into joining.
When Children Are Too Young for Baptism
Some children request baptism at age 8 or earlier. Parents, pastors, and teachers should take such requests seriously. The baptismal class for 8-year-olds can meet monthly or bimonthly for two years. Children should have a chance to study all the beliefs of the church as is developmentally appropriate. They will not get into word studies or into abstract concepts, but they need to know at least the Bible stories relevant to the concept.
Baptismal lessons for children need to be in two parts:
(a). Establishing a relationship with Jesus (understanding how they are saved),
(b). Studying major beliefs in addition to salvation.
This will need a minimum of 20 lessons. The lessons should involve active study that relates the beliefs to life.
Parents should not assume that the church is responsible for grounding their child in Adventist beliefs. They should ask the pastor how many classes he/she takes children through, what topics they will take up, and when they plan for the baptism. If the pastor plans for only 10-12 lessons, the parents can continue the lessons at home. In some cases, the parents may need to do all the preparation for baptism.
Baptismal Vows for Children
North American Division Children's Ministries Statement on Children and Baptism. Issued June 1, 1998.