Growing up in a Christian home has its mix of blessings and curses. The blessings are obviously the security and stability of a family whose foundation is firmly planted in the Word of God. The curses are the problems that come as a result of being swept along the river of the faith of the parents. This paper is written with these problems in mind. For as I deal with considering the faith of the pre-adolescent children of my congregation, and my family, I seek to address the question, “When are children ready to make the faith commitment of their life?” My own journey will weigh heavily on the direction of this thesis so let me begin by painting a picture of my experience growing up in the church.
As far back as I recall, my family was deeply involved in the life of the church. My father was a church leader. Among my best friends was the son of the church chairman and another was the pastor’s son. We spent much time together both at the church and at each of our homes. Each of our parents played a role in our formative years. This was our extended family. We were more like cousins than friends, for each of our natural extended families were hundreds of miles away.
We were no different from the other kids but the bond we had held us closer to the influence of the church. So when it came to making a decision for Christ, there really was no decision. What other choice was there? So at age five, the three of us responded to the request of our Children’s Chapel teacher and prayed that Jesus would come into our hearts. Was there a change in our lives? No, we were simply following the ‘natural’ order of events for children in the church.
Several years later, when we were twelve, our Sunday School class met in the pastor’s study for baptism and membership class. Again, expectations dictated that by this time in our life it was time to take this step. So one Sunday evening the three of us boys, along with others in our class, stepped into the water and were baptized. Were we demonstrating to the world that we were now dead in our sins and raised into new life in Christ? No, we were following the sequence of events of all the church kids that went before us. It was a right of passage into the next level of life in the church. Were we forced or coerced into doing this? No, we desired to take these steps because it was the proper thing to do.
As I grew in my understanding and faith, I came to resent the actions of the church. I perceived the events as irresponsible and meaningless. I felt that I had been misled and was given a false sense of my position in Christ. I concluded that I was not saved during those early years and I objected to the practice of child evangelism. This state of hostility toward my church lasted for about three years during my late teens as I struggled with my own identity and my relationship with God.
Now I am a father of two children and a leader and a pastor in a congregation. In light of my own spiritual development I am asking the question, “How do I measure a child’s spiritual readiness?” or more specifically, “How do I know when a child is ready to make a decision for Christ and for baptism?” So it is with this question in mind that I enter into this study of the development of faith in pre-adolescent children.
Psychological Development Theory
Those of us who work or live with adolescents know first-hand that they are at once impossible to live with and a joy to have around. They are moody, critical, combative, and absent-minded; they are also creative, energetic, and impassioned about the world and their place in it. However, research on pre-adolescent development has shown clearly that the surface behaviors of early adolescents provide poor clues as to what is really going on inside them, in their minds and souls. The common perception of students in middle schools is that they are...