Dedications, Baptisms and the Problem with Children’s Devotional Books

gizatu2On the occasion of a child’s baptism, I like to give them a book of developmentally appropriate devotions. I’ve been using the same ones for a few  years. The books have pretty, hard covers. Simple art. Simple titles. The devotions share God’s basic promises and truths that children are wont to learn and be reminded. The same writer has churned out a few different versions of children’s devotional books. So, I can give a different version to children in the same family and hope that they might swap one day and read through more than one.

That our children’s ministry gives a devotional book to a young Christian says we value our personal time with God and we want them to learn this is a good way to grow in their faith. But every child’s devotional I have found needs a disclaimer at the beginning:

Read with caution! If it sounds like the writer of this book has God and the world totally figured out, she doesn’t. When you have questions about what the devotion says or what the Bible verse means, please ask an adult who loves you. Even though all the pronouns referring to God in this book are He, Him, and His, remember that you are made in God’s image, male and female! God cannot be fully contained or understood using all the words we have ever known. God will always be part Mystery.

There are some solid handles of faith that we want children to have. God loves them no matter what. Nothing can separate us from the Love of God. Even when we are afraid or unsure, God is with us and will help us through any tough time… to name a few. But there are some things about God we will never quite know fully and there are some things in life about which we cannot be certain. That’s why we say our relationship with God is built on faith and trust. It’s the church folks who embody these lessons, these truths. A devotional book won’t be enough to grow a child’s faith in all the ways he needs to grow.

When we dedicate a child in the church, we are not dedicating the child into service for God. It’s not like Hannah taking Samuel to the Temple and leaving him with the priest, Eli. The dedication of a child is actually the dedication of the church to that child and her family. Together, we will partner in the task of raising her in the ways of Jesus. At their birth, or upon their adoption, whatever the circumstances – this is the family of God’s moment to claim this child and family into their kin’dom. From this moment forward, the congregation dedicates itself to being a family of faith to this young person in hopes that one day he or she will profess his or her own faith in Jesus and desire to follow him.

Thus, when a child or teenager walks into the waters of baptism, the church should rejoice! We have done what we said we would do! We have encouraged and walked alongside this child of God. We have taught them the stories in scripture, the ways of Jesus, the lessons of the faith! Bring the special robes! Let us celebrate this one who has come home with a feast and a party! We hope that our own faith journeys lived out before them have demonstrated, proven even, that being part of a community of faith is important and will be valuable to them as they grow and mature into adults.

The church at its best often looks like a month’s worth of meals after open heart surgery; a driveway full of helpers when the moving van arrives; a diaper pounding in anticipation of a baby; friends who organize  transportation for the one who can no longer see to drive; fully stocked cupboards for the single mother; a hot meal and fellowship for the lonely and downtrodden. This is what it means to be a community of faith, people of the Word, to those inside and outside the walls of the church. This Spring, we have the honor and privilege to see several families bring their children to be dedicated among us and to witness at least two of our children be baptized. These milestones are significant not only for those experiencing them, but for the entire fellowship that is Baptist Church of the Covenant. Let us dedicate ourselves to one another anew each time we gather. May we continue to teach the ways of Christ, and the lessons of the faith to all who seek to know… through the Word of God in scripture, the Word of God among us, and the Word of God within us. Thanks be to God.

Photo by Matthew Ponder