At our church, we practice full immersion baptism, so we dunk you. You go all the way in and come all the way out. We bring the children into the service for baptisms so they can see their friends and other church members get baptized.
A few years ago, we were having a baptism day, and my children’s pastor asked me to hang close to one of our first-grade girls. She was a foster child with a very tough story, and she had a hard time focusing, sitting still, and engaging. She was also a runner – you know the kind – so my children’s pastor asked me to sit with her during the baptisms.
This was the first time she had seen a baptism, and she was very concerned about the people who were getting baptized. She had lots of questions:
“Do they have to put their head underwater too?”
“Yes, they will go all the way under and come all the way back up.”
“Do I have to get baptized?”
“Only if or when you want to.”
“Wait, aren’t they wearing a bathing suit?”
“They are wearing their clothes.”
“But Ms. Brittany, won’t their clothes get wet?”
*Me, whispering, trying not to distract those around us in the front of the sanctuary but also trying to honor her curiosity about what she was watching* “Yes, sweet girl, their clothes will get wet.”
“EVEN THEIR UNDERWEAR?”
She blurted out this question in such horror and with such volume that all of the other kids around us heard and at least half the sanctuary heard it too. I tried to help her bring her volume down while continuing to answer the non-stop questions she had throughout the baptisms. “Why do you get baptized?” “Will they be wet forever?” “Is the water cold?” “How do they get that big tub in the sanctuary?” “How old do you have to be to be baptized?” She was more engaged in those 5-10 minutes of being able to ask questions about what she was seeing than I had ever seen her.
After watching baptisms, our children’s pastor takes time to help explain baptism on a child’s developmental level and let kids ask more questions if they have them. (Psst – here are a few tips for talking with kids about baptism.)
As concrete thinkers who are trying to discover the world and their place in it, elementary kids have a lot of questions. But they don’t often feel confident enough to say them out loud. When kids know they can ask questions without consequence or judgment, it builds trust, and it’s healthy for kids to see that sometimes we as adults don’t have all the answers either. The time of Q&A that my children’s pastor offers after each baptism Sunday is one of my favorite times in children’s ministry. I love hearing kids’ questions about this important practice in the church, and I appreciate how our children’s pastor creates a safe space for kids to feel comfortable asking their questions.
You and your team can encourage kids’ questions with a simple routine that lets them know it’s OK to have questions about the Bible, faith, and church.
Before beginning your regular review questions or other small group activities (or maybe even part way through teaching the lesson), ask this simple question: “Do you have any questions about today’s Bible story?” Remind kids they may want to ask a question if they are curious about something, if part of the Bible story made them wonder about something, or if they didn’t understand something.
Give kids a few moments to think and ask. If no one has any questions, move on with your regular activities. If someone has a question, take the time to listen and respond. Invite other kids to share their thoughts or responses to the question. If you know the answer, share it with the group. If you don’t know the answer, say so! It’s OK to say, “I don’t know! But I’ll get back to you next week.” When kids see that adults don’t have all the answers either, they learn that faith is an ongoing journey.
We must offer space for kids to explore the questions they have about their faith so that we can help them discover the answers. Albert Einstein said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” Curiosity and questioning help kids develop their Biblical imagination and help them process and integrate their faith with their daily lives.
P.S. That same little girl who had all those questions about baptism (“EVEN YOUR UNDERWEAR?!?”) got baptized just last year. What an honor and sweet privilege it was to watch her questions and concerns turn into understanding and belief.