by Kal Otis
From the minute a couple discovers that they are about to become new parents, their already busy life spins out of control. The next nine months fly by in a blur with work, doctor appointments, painting, shopping, showers, intense reading, birthing classes and crash courses in effective parenting. What drives couples to such heights of activity, and even sometimes insanity, is a deep seeded desire to be the best set of parents this world has ever known. The baby finally arrives and this gift of life awakens feelings of love, awe, responsibility, wonder, protectiveness, fear and uncertainty. After a while, life happens and soon parents are chasing after every available moment to keep up with daily routine. Parenting skills are often born out of necessity rather than intentional priorities.
There is a vast difference between what the world and the Bible define as parenting. Deuteronomy 6: 6-7 sheds light on the fact that parenting is an ongoing process that occurs as life happens. It also shows us the importance of a wider, committed, Christ-fearing community in helping parents to raise godly children. The Lord desires that all His children be eternity bound (III John 4), and that when He builds the house (Psalms127: 1) it sets a firm foundation and provides fertile ground to “train up a child (Proverbs 22:6).” The Bible is rich with instructions and the church is best positioned to partner with parents in their calling to be great stewards of this gift of life. So how does the church begin to partner with parents?
Our staff realized that we needed a strategic plan to achieve this partnership. We found our answer in revamping how we did baby dedications. I want to warn you, if you choose to do this it will not be an overnight process. It takes tremendous staff teamwork, but the end result is powerful for the sake of both parents and the Kingdom!
Brainstorm: Start by making a list of goals. What do you want to achieve? Why change what you are doing now? How can you use this event to teach parents to be actively involved in their child’s life for the next eighteen years? How can you inspire and empower them to be Godly parents? How can you help them set spiritual goals for themselves and their children for the next eighteen years? How can you help parents achieve those goals? How will you inform parents (and continue to remind them) of what the children, student and family ministry’s mission, goals and objectives are as it relates to the spiritual upbringing of their children? Do the parents understand that the church wants to partner and support them and what that means?
Integrate, Align and Change: From the above list of questions, you may have concluded that it is vital that all levels of staff be involved in this process. An integrated approach ensures that the staff aligns what they have to offer for the sake of children, teens and parents to achieve the same end result. Recently, I conducted a workshop on this topic and that alignment is where most church staff get stuck. This requires everyone to evaluate, dump and most of the time, change what they have been doing for years to be aligned! But it is a vital step. Parenting is an exhausting and overwhelming calling, and life’s routine robs all of us of what our focus needs to be. Our ultimate goal is to ensure that both parents and their children had the opportunity to have a personal relationship with their Savior Jesus Christ and learn how to grow and maintain that relationship. This meant we needed to find a platform to encourage parents to make daily decisions pointing them and their children to Jesus. It was also evident that parents would need a network to keep them accountable, focused and encouraged.
As you might have already deduced, we needed to impart a lot of information to the parents. The best solution was to create a few classes that the parents would attend before the actual Family and Baby Dedication Celebration.
Let me talk you through what our entire process looks like:
A parent or parent-to-be registers to dedicate their baby or child. We prefer to call it Family Dedication. You will have to decide how many times you will offer a Family Dedication Celebration Service in a year. The size of your church, the number of babies or children, volunteer availability and space are some factors to consider. You will want to gather information during this time to create certificates as well as gauge their availability to attend orientation classes. Provide a list of classes and dates for the whole year, as well as the dedication dates.
Two, One Hour Classes
Once registration is completed, couples have to attend a series of classes taught by staff, in a linear manner and complete their homework. In order to advance to the next class they must complete the homework. The class content and homework is developed from the staff’s brainstorming session. The homework questions are designed for the parents to discuss and answer together. Parents are asked to share parts of their homework with a few, hand-chosen family and friends that will commit to becoming an active part of the baby and couple’s life. Some of the questions include: What spiritual and character traits do you want to see in your child by the time he or she turns eighteen years old? How will you pattern your lifestyle to achieve these goals? Write letters to your child that you will read to them on every birthday until they turn eighteen. How will you invest in your own relationship with each other and with God? They are encouraged to become part of a small group, attend marriage enrichment conferences every year and volunteer at church.
Provide opportunities in this class for parents to network with each other. We all need constant support and practical help and this group can provide it for each other.
Invite parents to take a tour of the children and student ministry environments. Share the ministry vision and goals and your desire to partner with them in raising their children for the next eighteen years. Help them understand how you have aligned various departments to work together to achieve the same goals they have identified in their homework.
Family Dedication Celebration Service
Some churches choose to integrate the dedication service as part of the regular church services. A few changes to the actual ceremony can make that possible. On the other hand, some choose to create a memorable experience, designed as a separate intimate time and setting for those dedicating their children.
If you are looking to design a service just for this purpose, here are a few ideas:
Set the front of the room with round tables that seat ten with rows of chairs at the back of the room. Each family dedicating their child is assigned a table. Families are asked to invite friends and family, including those who may not know the Lord. As part of their homework, parents select four to six people to be a significant part of their child’s life. Those are invited to sit at their table while the rest of their invitees sit at the back of the room. Decorate the space, provide snacks and plan on providing childcare. You may choose to include skits, special music, videos, personal slide show, scripture reading, message and prayer of dedication as part of the service. You may want to build in some time for the parents to read parts of their homework to those sitting at their table.
You may be wondering if I have lost my mind or if it is possible to pull off such an event that requires the cooperation of the entire church staff. There was a time when I felt the same. After reading a few submitted homework letters by parents for their baby, I was fueled with passion and energy and so will you! This event is crafted to be a beautiful beginning of a life-long partnership between the church and a family to raise God loving and fearing families that will change our world for Christ. Your part does not end once the event ends but is the first step towards providing on-going ministry to families. Holding parents accountable as well as encouraging and equipping them can help your church set a path of meaningful ministry that meets the needs of the people at a perfect time in their life. This event has caused our staff to evaluate what we have been doing in other areas of ministry and to recognize missed ministry opportunities. The end result is that we have started to embark on some new journeys by creating events that allow us to partner with parents in a very effective manner. Yes, this is a lot of work but I cannot emphasize enough that the results will bless you, your staff, your church and your relationships, but most of all it will change a life for eternity!
As Family Pastor, Kal leads teams that are multigenerational and multifunctional. She is passionate about equipping others. A published author, she has been involved in evaluating churches and assisting leadership to align all areas of ministry towards a common vision.