Water Baptism Guide for Elders
Water baptism is more than a ritual. It’s a public declaration that reflects a personal faith in Jesus Christ. The word baptize is a transliteration of bapto, a term used in the first century to describe immersing a garment in bleach and then dye. The act of baptism symbolizes the cleansing of sin and becoming a new person through Christ.
A water baptism, or immersion, can be performed in a building, pool or natural body of water. This guide is for church leaders performing baptisms in a traditional church setting, typically in a large tank of water called a baptistry.
Guidelines for Performing Water Baptisms
- Have the candidates arrive early. The candidates should have already read the church’s instructions for baptism. At least an hour before the service begins, make sure the water in the baptismal is warm, the doors to the dressing rooms are unlocked, and there are enough gowns.
- Explain what the Bible teaches about baptism. Every candidate should know they have been born again and are being baptized because they are now a Christian. Explain that baptism is not the mode of salvation, but a public testimony of their obedience to God.
If a child is being baptized, let the parents decide whether they understand what they are doing. Young children may be shy and not able to tell you what they have verbalized at home. Give the parents scripture to discuss with the child prior to the baptism.
- Explain the procedures of baptism. If there is more than one candidate, split them up using other elders if necessary. If there is a large crowd, have everyone sit together and talk to them as a group. The elder in charge should take the lead and explain specific instructions.
A typical baptism routine includes having the candidate go to the dressing room, put a robe over their clothes, leave their shoes, socks and other belongings in the dressing room, and then proceed to the baptistry with their towels.
- Explain the role of family and friends. Let them know whether family and friends can go to the tank area with them, or back to the sanctuary before the service begins. Parents should stay with younger children until they have been baptized.
- Demonstrate how a baptism is performed. When everyone is outside the dressing area, use one candidate to demonstrate the procedure of baptism.
- Turn the person as if they were facing the congregation.
- Tell them when the pastor begins to speak you will turn them to the side and have them step forward.
- Hold their nose and wrist with one hand and place your other hand on the small of their back.
- Tell them to keep their legs straight, not bent, until you bring them back up.
- Help each candidate out of the tank and the next one in.
- Lead the candidates into the baptistry. Decide the order of candidates and give the pastor a list so he doesn’t call someone by the wrong name. Move the candidates into the tank area and make them as comfortable as possible. You may have a word of prayer with them at this time.
- Follow the pastor’s lead. Make sure you are ready when the pastor or elder gives you the signal. As soon as you are in the tank area, turn on the light so they know you are there.
- Ask another elder to assist you. Have another elder keep the candidates in order as they help them in and out of the tank. After they exit the tank, give them their towel and hang their robes on a hanger.
The assisting elder should lead those coming out of the water back to the dressing room. Do not leave people standing in wet clothes. If there are more than a few people being baptized, you may need more than one elder to help you.
- Never leave the candidates alone. After everyone is back in the dressing room and you have changed clothes, stay in the hallway until all of the candidates are heading back to the sanctuary. They should never be left alone. If women have been baptized, encourage a female assistant to stay with them.
- Return to the sanctuary. After all of the candidates have been baptized, congratulate each person and assure them of God’s blessing as a result of their obedience. Return to the sanctuary only after everyone has left the dressing area.
Although the process of baptism is simple, it’s an important milestone in the life of every Christian. Pastors, elders, deacons and ushers play a crucial role in this event and must take their responsibility very seriously.