As good ol’ Reformed Presbyterians, we know that our children are members of the covenant community. We treat them as “insiders,” expecting them to join us as we pray, as we sing, and as we listen to the sermon. We say with enthusiasm, “Our children are part of the visible church!” Even as they enjoy the blessings of being part of God’s people, we look forward to the day when they can articulate the gospel and they say, “Yes, I believe!”
However, we parents can get a little uneasy about this transition. The Holy Spirit doesn’t always work on our timetable, and children do not automatically come to a full confession of faith at a certain age. It is challenging for us to know when a child is ready to take the step to join the body of Christ at the Table. Torn between our eagerness to respond to their growing faith and our inability to peer with certainty into their hearts, we struggle to guide them with confidence through the process of becoming communing members of the church. We wonder whether there is an age too young to come to the table. Alternatively, we do not want to doubt the work of the Holy Spirit by asking our children to wait.
Many times, I wish the Lord had given us a series of pamphlets. There could be the pamphlet entitled, “Teaching Your Children To Get Along,” and another, “Seven Keys To Help Your Child Develop a Good Work Ethic.” Certainly, we would love to have one entitled, “How To Know When Your Child Is Ready To Take Communion.” However, God simply doesn’t work that way. He has given us all we need to know in His Word, the Bible, and then He calls us into relationship with Himself, to grow in wisdom and understanding. Pamphlets might give us easy steps, but then we would be smack in the middle of our comfort zone, simply following the steps, missing the call to abide in Christ and seek Him—and missing the opportunity to tap into the deep places in our children’s hearts.
So, how do we know when our child is ready to become a communing member of the church? Well, my friend, as in so many things, there is no guarantee and no real checklist. Mom and Dad can’t look at the calendar and decide it’s about the right time. No, this is where you lean into relationships: your relationship with the Lord, your child’s relationship with the Lord, and your relationship with your precious child.
Do you know there is an alternative spelling for relationship? Yes, there sure is! T-I-M-E. You must spend time with your child to see the clues that the Lord is at work! After dinner, when you are having family devotions, you may see a once distracted child more curious and engaged. At bedtime, questions about life and death, heaven and hell, and yes, even salvation come tumbling out. Have you spent time memorizing the “First Catechism” questions? If so, great! As the Holy Spirit is at work in your child’s heart, you will notice him or her putting the pieces together concerning the questions of sin, justification, and sanctification. In church, they begin to see the mystery as the elements are passed and begin to whisper, “I want to do this. When can I have the Lord’s Supper too?”
Oh, the joy of the parent who gets to answer these questions! The joy of the parent invited into the heart of their child! Let the conversations begin! But you may wonder what conversations you should even begin exploring with your child.
I think there are several topics that are helpful to engage your child at this stage. First, a child needs to know what is the nature of man: made in the image of God, for the glory of God, yet broken by sin. Talk about sin with your children. Help them know that everyone is born a sinner without hope, except for the saving grace of God. Ask them what sins they struggle with and perhaps share with them your own struggles against sin. Tell them the hope you have, even though you still sin. Talk about the beauty and freedom that comes with repentance. How do you repent and why? Understanding repentance is especially important because of the warning not to take part in communion in an unworthy manner. Understanding what it means to be human includes knowing one’s purpose. Hopefully, your child has heard that man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Now is the time to discuss what exactly that means and how it is walked out.
In addition, a child needs to know who God is—the Creator and Ruler of all things—sovereign and good. Your child needs to know that God is holy and just and therefore He must punish sin. Explore with your child the mystery of the Trinity and the mystery of Jesus coming to earth, fully God and fully man at the same time. Talk about how the Holy Spirit is the One who gives you a new heart! It is God, this perfect, holy, loving God, who is seeking to draw your little boy or little girl to Himself right now! Make sure this dear child of yours understands that there is nothing they can do to earn salvation. There is nothing they can do to make God love them more than He does. Their good behavior will not earn them a relationship with God. All they can do is believe! And they can’t even believe on their own! A child who understands these things and says, “Yes! I believe!” is ready to explore the blessings and responsibilities of church membership.
You see, when God calls His people to Himself, He also calls them to His family, the church. And this is what the whole conversation is about. It’s not just about having a piece of bread and a sip of juice, although the significance of that alone is huge. It is your child making vows before God to His people. Vows to live his or her life, with the help of the Holy Spirit, for the glory of God. Vows to be part of the worship, to be true to the Bible, and to serve the church. These are weighty vows. This is an exciting time, but it can be a little frightening too. After all, your child is preparing to meet with some of the elders of your church! He or she will have to stand in front of the whole church and take vows. The willingness to do this isn’t a full proof sign of readiness, but it’s a pretty good hint that they may be ready to take this great big step.
Mom and Dad, enjoy this time with your child. Do not be afraid of missing something or saying the wrong thing. Pray. Listen. Read God’s Word together. Pray some more. Yes, you are to disciple your child and to train them up, but ultimately this is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit uses you and your church body to draw His own. Trust your session when they say, “Yes, your child is ready.” Trust your session if they say, “Not yet.” That is not a failure; it is an opportunity to learn and grow some more! Our children are indeed part of the covenant community, and together we teach them, encourage them, and eventually welcome them as full communing members.
Established in the Faith by John C. Kwasny
Preparing for the Table by Lisa Updike