Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Sprinkle or Dunk? Celebrating students coming to faith.

Last Sunday night was an unbelievable experience for our people at Irving Bible Church. After our afternoon worship gathering around a thousand of us gathered to celebrate the salvation of 25 people. The atmosphere was truly electric as people crowded on stairs, balconies and bleachers to cheer on people proclaiming their faith through baptism. Of these 25 people 17 of them were middle school and high school students.

It was particularly significant to me because it's been 10 years since I baptized anyone. I'm ordained baptist, therefore the first 11 years of ministry I performed believers baptism by immersion. In fact there was a time I baptized a 350 pound man. I almost drowned. After that experience I was wishing we just simply sprinkled or poured, that would have been much safer.

In 2001 I went on staff at a Presbyterian church whose tradition was of course infant baptism.
My point isn't to argue believer's baptism verses infant baptism. But I do want to challenge us as youth leaders to think through celebrating God's grace when students come to faith.

Listen, I understand the Biblical evidence to support infant baptism as a sign of the covenant and fully supported and embraced it as a pastor at my previous church, however I did struggle with how to appropriately celebrate a teen's coming to faith. It is a special time when a child of the covenant (a child baptized as an infant) embraces the gospel of their parents as their own. It should be celebrated with the entire church community.

I realized Sunday night how much I and the body missed out on celebrating God's salvation because there wasn't an effective, appropriate way to celebrate. After one is baptized as an infant there's no second baptism when a person comes to faith. That's fine, my concern is how do we as youth leaders help students embrace and share the transformation in their lives when they come to faith?

So let me pose the question this way, how are you bringing the community together to celebrate middle school and high school students coming to faith? Is that even on your radar or when a student embraces the gospel does it just kind of melt in with the rest of your programming. It gives God glory and us joy when the community of faith celebrates those who move from death to life.

BTW, my daughter (who I baptized Sunday night) understands and embraces the gospel and doesn't really remember a time she didn't know Jesus, she must be a child of the covenant.


  1. Good question! My wife was raised baptist, but we attend a PCA church here in Athens now and she challenges me on this often. I'll be honest I'd never really thought about it until recently. I certainly believe in baptizing infants, but we do need a way to celebrate when a teen (or anyone baptized as a child) comes to faith later in life. What, in your opinion, should a church like Perimeter, where we saw students coming to Christ, do?

  2. Honestly I never came up with a good solution.

    In the covenant tradition we are encouraged to baptize adults (or students) who have never been baptized. It wouldn't be that difficult to figure out a more celebratory way to do that with the body. Perhaps a time set aside for the student to share their story on video or live? We need to remember it's a big deal when God saves someone.

    As far a a covenant child coming to faith perhaps the same kind of thing. Story really resonates with people. What if we just made a way for students to share their story and bring people around to pray for them? I'm not sure that's enough.

    Hace, did you have a "conversion experience"? And if you did how was that celebrated?

  3. I did have a "conversion experience" that I look back on as the distinct time that I began my relationship with Christ, but I was very young- 5 or 6. At the time nothing was done to celebrate in terms of a church-wide acknowledgment. A few years later I joined the church after going through a children's new members class and joined by public profession of faith, which was a public "celebration" of sorts.
    To be honest until recently it never occurred to me that my conversion wasn't publicly "celebrated" (largely because I was never exposed to that for kids/teens, of course). But now that I've been a part of some high school and college students coming to Christ I obviously see the importance of corporately celebrating their new life in Christ.

  4. Humm, well as you continue to lead in the church my guess is that you will figure it out.

    Let me know when you do.