Should Churches Hold Baby Dedication Services: A Response to 9Marks

Posted: August 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

Recently the guys over at 9Marks (whom I am sincerely grateful for and agree with on many issues) have written about whether or not it is wise for churches to hold “baby dedication” services.  The tone with which they answered the question was fair and didn’t come across dogmatic.  They simply stated that they would “discourage it” and gave a couple of reasons why that would be the case.  Then they explained what they believe the best way to “dedicate” children would be.

As I read through the article my initial reaction was to disagree.  I am part of a church that does something like a baby dedication…as a matter of fact, it probably looks almost exactly like a baby dedication at any other church.  But, as I thought more about the practice in my own context, I realized that the way we approach this service and the way we talk about what is happening, may be different from what the 9Marks guys are talking about (or not). 

Looking at the response on the “Answers for Pastors” page, I initially thought I would take a few minutes and respond to their post.  Instead, it may be wise for me to talk about how we do our baby dedication services in our congregation (we do not call them baby dedication services) and see if some middle ground can be struck. 

First, instead of “baby dedications,” we have “Parent/Child Dedications.”  There may not seem to be much of a difference but we believe there is and it’s an important one!  The focus is placed, not so much on the child, but on the parents.  It is in this service where we rejoice over the new life that God has given these families, and our larger church family (not in terms of another covenant member, but in terms of another child to care for and point to Jesus).  At the same time we try to ensure responsibility for discipleship remains in the home.  So, we tend to focus more on the parents and what they must do rather than the child.

Understanding this distinction, let me walk you through our process.  Before the service is held we want to make sure the parents understand what the service is… and what it is not!  In order to do this, those who are participating must attend a class one week prior to the dedication service.  Once there in class, one of our pastors will walk the parents through some material that explains the gift of children, the weighty task of parenting, and the role of the church in coming alongside of the family.  At the same time, we try to make it clear that this is not a time when saving grace is conferred upon the child, nor is there anything mystical that is happening. 

Once the parents have gone through the class we are happy to have them invite family and friends the following week to our main worship gathering.  At this point we will have had certificates signed, as well as a small gift (usually the Jesus Storybook Bible) that is ready to be given to them.  When it is time for the dedication part of the service I will (as the Family Pastor) take the stage and explain how the Bible talks about children as a gift (contrary to much of our culture) and how great the responsibility is for the parents.  At this point I will also remind the congregation of the role they will play in rearing these little ones as they (the children) are continually around this body of believers.  A challenge to the parents to fulfill their parental duties is then issued.  Following that, a challenge to the congregation to pray for, encourage, and hold accountable these parents is also given.  And finally, the parents and their children are brought before the congregation, introduced, and prayed over. 

I find this to be a great way for all those involved to learn multiple things while at the same time saying something wonderfully true about parenting and children.  Let me list some of those things here:

1.  We seize an opportunity to once again place the primary responsibility for discipleship where it belongs:  in the home!  Richard Baxter once wrote that revival in a land would happen when we first witnessed revival in the home.  Anything we can do to help our parents understand the need to disciple their children is a positive thing.

2.  We proclaim to a watching world that children are no hindrance; rather they are a blessing straight from the mercy of God (Psalm 127:3).  Many in our culture see children as stifling to their dreams and aspirations.  At least having too many kids can be a hindrance.  As a church we want to recognize the blessing, not curse, that children are to us.

3.  During our service we are presented with a chance to let the larger congregation hear about the blessing of children and the responsibility of parenting.  They are then encouraged to pray for and support those with little ones that are part of our church family.  It has been said it takes a village to raise a child.  I think saying it takes a church to raise a child certainly has some truth within it!

4.  This is also a great chance to make the gospel clear.  We are not those who believe that infants are somehow “safe”, or in no need of salvation.  We believe that all are born dead in their sins and separated from a holy God (Psalm 51:1-5).  These children will one day need to repent of their sins and believe in Jesus.  If they do not, hell is where they will spend eternity.  When we have these children and their parents standing before our church, we can use this as a wonderful opportunity to explain the universal need for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

All these things can be done without a “Parent/Child Dedication.”  That is certainly true.  Just like we can disciple believers without core groups, Sunday School, or Wednesday night formal times of Bible Study.  All those things have been great tools for discipling those who are part of our churches.  In the same way, a well-run, clearly explained, and gospel-centered “Parent/Child Dedication” class and service can be a great tool for pointing our people to Jesus and parents to the high calling of discipling their kids.

Now, I do not totally want to reject the 9Marks answer about “baby dedications.”  I believe these types of services can be done in very unhealthy ways.  We have thought deeply, or tried to, about how we do our services precisely because we understand the inherent dangers.  We do not want to communicate that this somehow saves a child, or that this child is now part of God’s family, or any other untrue belief. And, it is true, many churches have gone about “baby dedications” in unhelpful ways.  When that has been the case, we agree with the 9Marks guys.  However, I would simply say that instead of casting off the idea of a dedication service, let’s work to see something healthy develop out the “child dedication” idea.

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