By Lead Pastor, Brian Wipf
If you’re a parent, I’m guessing your children have looked at you with eager eyes when the communion trays are past. You can read their minds, can’t you? “Crackers! Juice! Isn’t this a small reward you can give me for sitting through that long of a service?” It’s hard to know how to include your children in the observance of the Lord’s Supper. There are many questions:
- When’s the right time or right age for them to participate?
- Should they be able to recite some verses or know some information first?
- Do the FBC elders and pastors think it’s OK for my kids to participate?
- And if I say “not yet” does that hurt their faith? How do I deal with their disappointment?
Korby and I have had to work through many of the same questions for our boys and as one of the pastors and elders here at FBC, I do have some thoughts to help you process and think through how best to include your children in this time of worship. So, the following article touches on a few important considerations for you to think about.
One of the biggest challenges discerning when a child should participate in the Lord’s Supper is determining whether they have individuated faith. That simply means that they have taken on the faith as their own. Do they believe in Christ as an individual? Have they been born again? Have they incorporated faith in Christ themselves or are they just going through the motions?
Formal church practices and observances like the Lord’s Supper are not just an expression of faith, but an affirmation of faith. But (and here’s the critical question), what does prematurely participating in these practices do? Is there any spiritual damage done if we practice these religious observances when our heart hasn’t first gone through a transformation?
I think there is potential danger in this. Here’s the danger: people (including children) who have not first taken a step of faith form the wrong impression about their life and standing before God by participating in acts like the Lord’s Supper. By taking the Lord’s Supper we’re tempted to make the conclusion that, “We’re all good!” and “I’m already in!” But maybe we’re not; maybe our kids are not all good. If our kids still need to be born again by God, but we permit communion participation or baptism, will they not think they have already taken that step of faith? Have we not just made it harder for us to call our children to life-saving repentance if we’ve already implied that they have life-saving faith?
Korby and I did not allow our children to participate in the Lord’s Supper until our kids could do two things. First of all, they had to be able to articulate the Gospel. Praise God, children can understand the gospel!
We are sinners before God; we deserve his punishment because we are guilty of sin. But God made a way for our sins to be forgiven so we can be brought back to God. He sent his Son, Jesus, to die on the cross to pay my penalty. He took my place. And I get God’s forgiveness when I receive it as a gift. Instead of working for it, God brings me back to him when I put my faith in him.
I wanted to hear that message from my boys before I started treating them like they know Christ. They had to say it in their way and I would ask age-appropriate questions (I wasn’t trying to stump them) to do my best to discern if they understood the most important message in all of life. I wasn’t about to let my kids take communion as a snack; too much was at stake.
Secondly, I wanted to know if they believed it. Did they believe they were sinners? Did they believe Jesus died on the cross? I don’t just want to know if they know it; I want to know if they embrace it. Do they love the message of the cross? Do they love God for his grace? Are they sobered by their sins? It’s one thing to know; it’s another thing to believe.
So, there wasn’t a magical age for that. It depends on the children. I wasn’t content with a 5 year old response; that seemed too young for them to be able to express their own, genuine faith in God. But ultimately, I was more concerned about the spiritual maturity and understanding they had than hitting an arbitrary age.
I’m aware there are more questions to answer:
- How do I go about that discerning process?
- How do I teach them the gospel to understand and believe?
- How do I manage their disappointment and behavior during communion?
Those are good questions and I’m happy to help with them. Settle first how you incorporate the Lord’s Supper into the discipleship of your children. Don’t be deterred from the right thing for your children’s faith because of your fear of managing their disappointment.