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Dedication Vows

22 Sep

Dedication Vows

what we promise and why it matters

This is not a post about the debates surrounding infant baptism and baby dedications within Christian traditions.  Rather, this is a post meant to encourage those serving families in the Church to examine the role of dedication/baptism in the life of their congregation.  This discussion doesn’t exist in a vacuum and, as often is the case, the following thoughts were prompted by a recent real-life situation.  As you read about it, consider what your response might be…

On Thursday morning, I logged into Facebook (you can find and friend me HERE) to find this message from a ministry friend of mine:

Hey all, we have a situation in our church where unwed (but living together) parents want to dedicate their baby in church. Mom also wants to get baptized. Mom is also already volunteering in Children’s Ministry. Our Sr. Pastor has decided not to dedicate the baby without talking to mom and dad first to make sure they understand that living together outside of marriage is a sin. Then he also brought up the point that he didn’t want mom volunteering in Children’s Ministry while living with a man outside of marriage. Have you dealt with any of these things? How did you handle them? Does your church have a policy on this yet?

Question 1: What is a baby dedication?

The first question you’ll have to tackle, when thinking through your response, has to do with what dedication is in your context.  If dedication, at your church, is a moment when a congregation simply thanks God for the blessing of new life and offers a prayer for the family, then answering the question above becomes a whole lot easier.  However, some churches see dedication and/or baptism as a covenant between the congregation and the family, which has the potential to make things a little trickier.  So, in your context, what is a baby dedication?  Would everyone in leadership at your church agree with your understanding of dedication/baptism?

Question 2: What are you willing to risk?

I believe that those of us called into ministering to families should have some idea of what our goals in ministry are.  Simply put, it’s really hard to hit a target if you don’t know what you’re aiming for.  Considering the situation above, a few of the risks associated with saying “no” in the scenario are clear: the family might leave the church, the baby won’t be dedicated, friends of the family may be upset, others in a similar situation could feel judged, etc.  Though we should always try to handle situations like this with mercy and grace, it’s always good to consider the risks involved – we pray for best case scenarios, but want to take into account what could go poorly before we respond.

Question 3: What are your options?

If you church has never faced a similar situation, you may want to consider what options you’d have if this scenario presented itself.  If baby dedication/baptism services aren’t open to unconventional families, has your church considered having a “celebration of new life” option as a way to celebrate a child’s birth without the formality of vows or the perceived “blessing” of a lifestyle that your church is uncomfortable with?  Some churches take a weekend each fall to celebrate babies born during that year.  An option like this gives a staff something to point to for a family who might not be ready for a dedication service but still wants to be a church that feels inclusive to those who want to honor the birth of their child.

A response, within a context

In our church’s context, infant baptism/dedication requires a family to make vows with the congregation as we promise to raise up a child in the faith together.  For a single mom, these vows might be easy to say yes to.  For a couple living together outside of marriage, it might be a little trickier.  The questions we ask of parents, in front of the congregation, are:

  • Do you trust in Jesus Christ and acknowledge that he alone is your lord and savior?
  • Do you turn away from evil and sin and their power in your life?
  • Will you be faithful and active members of the church?
  • Will you bring your child up in the faith, opening the Scriptures with him/her/them and teaching them the way of Jesus?
The conversation that I might have with parents, who haven’t made vows to each other to raise a child together, would probably be less focused on the questions above and more focused on what stands in the way of them getting married.  A couple that is hesitant to make vows and promises to each other should also be wary of making vows and promises with a congregation.  My response, in my context, would start with those questions and move forward from there.  The language of partnership in my church is all over the place; beginning a conversation with the idea of partnering fits our ministry context well and might lead to the parents deciding for themselves if dedication/baptism is the right next step for them.
Statistically speaking, today’s parents are less likely to enter into the convenant of marriage than the generations before them.  With that in mind, churches should consider how they might respond to a situation like this before they face it so that they can handle it with the questions about in mind.
If you’ve faced a similar situation, or want to point out something I missed, we’d love to see your thoughts in the comments section!
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6 Comments

Posted by on September 22, 2012 in Kidmin, Thoughts

 

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6 responses to “Dedication Vows

  1. yowassup

    September 22, 2012 at 9:20 am

    this is FABULOUS, anthony! not only that, but these are great questions to ask in essentially any sticky situation (except maybe if you are faced with deciding whether or not to move out of the way of a snowplow moving too quickly toward you).

    my favorite line was: “a couple that is hesitant to make vows and promises to each other should also be wary of making vows and promises with a congregation.” i think that is the core question that lies at the heart of the matter, although obviously, i would be asking them about it rather than stating it. good job, ap!

    the icing on the cake was getting to watch the hilarious jen aniston video ad for smartwater at the bottom of your post. 😀

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  2. Tim Miller

    September 22, 2012 at 10:17 am

    Tough, tough conversations ahead. Time for Truth and for Grace And hopeully Joy.
    I (we) view dedication of a baby as a promise by the parents, with the support of the congregation, to raise the child in a manner that would allow the child to come to know Jesus as Savior and Lord. The Savior part is easy (for us, not for our Savior). The Lordship part is hard for all of us. But these parents should have a long thoughtful conversation about whether or not they will chose to live in obedience to God’s Word. This may be just what they need to get them to their next right steps in their walk with God.

    It reminds me of a conversation I had once with a guy who wanted to serve in children’s ministry, but liked a little weed before bed. The question I asked was, Do you want to serve kids, or serve God. In order to serve God we must walk in obedience. Does this couple believe they can walk in obedience to God and not be married? Doubtfull, but posible.

    Baby dedication is often something we do to show that we are part of a club, I mean church. But it can be a great time to loveingly bring a family closer to God as they learn to give more of what they know about themselves to more of what they know about God.

    I think I will bring this topic to our pastoral staff for some interesting conversation.

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  3. Laura

    September 22, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    I love thought provoking conversations like this one. It makes me stop and pause over WHAT is it that I think is right. What I am thinking is that I have it wrong, I should be more thoughtful regarding WHO I think is right. That Who, of course, being Jesus. To be cliched, what would Jesus do? Would He stop this couple, who seem to want to raise this child up in a faith filled atmosphere, from the ceremony of dedication? Would He view the ritual more important than the relationship. My guess, by who He chose to associate with, is no. He’d ask which of us, who belong to “the club” are free of sin. Because of my insane tendency to commit sin daily, I feel myself wanting to bring this couple and their child into the church community. I don’t want to wait until they are “fixed” cuz I don’t want to be part of a church that doesn’t open their arms to sinners. Seriously, who then would be able to attend that type of church? Who then would be able to serve in this type of church? Not one of us.

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    • yowassup

      September 22, 2012 at 8:51 pm

      i think those are good points, laura, but i have a feeling that if asked the questions about their commitment to the church in light of their commitment to each other, it would come out that they actually view this as a ritual, not a relationship. in which case, the minister would then have an opportunity to point out that this isn’t meant to be the case…and it would open doors to introducing them to a deeper relationship with jesus. sometimes, boundaries don’t just keep people out, they can actually welcome people in by showing them where the doorknob is.

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  4. Aanna Smalley

    September 22, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    So glad to see this post. As we continue figuring this out, this gives us good additional points to think about.

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