Parents are responsible to provide and care for their children. We are the primary disciplers of our kids. But parents are most fundamentally stewards. Though we’re called to faithfulness with our kids, they ultimately belong to a promise-keeping God who is more faithful than we are.
As Psalm 127 says, our children are a heritage from the Lord, an unmerited reward from him. The older our kids get, the more it becomes clear we can’t control their destiny. It doesn’t rest in our decisions or in theirs’. Our children’s future, their health, their skill, their will and desires for life, who they will choose as a spouse, and even how long they will live—all this belongs to God.
The enemy of stewardship is entitlement mixed with sentimentalism. An entitled dad with a sentimental vision thinks, This kid is mine. He’s going to be just like me. He’s going to be into the music I like. He’s going to love Alabama football just like I do. But when Dad’s expectations aren’t met and his kids don’t turn out the way he hoped, he’s angry, and he doesn’t know how to engage his child.
Likewise, the entitled mom thinks, I deserve better than this. Don’t you know how I suffered to bring you into the world. When her teenager rebels, she can turn bitter and feel lost with God.
Scary Stewardship Vision
A stewardship vision of parenting—one that says my kids belong to God—is scary, since God doesn’t always meet our expectations. He doesn’t see as we see, nor should he. His vision for our lives is better. Embracing this truth is ultimately freeing, and it will lead us to gratitude.
James K. A. Smith wrote the following in a letter to young parents in his church:
You’re going to think it’s incredible when Liam smiles, or says “Mama,” or rolls over on his tummy, but let me tell you: that won’t even compare to the afternoon when, in what feels like an out-of-body experience, you realize you’re having a conversation with this man—you might be sitting on the front porch talking about Mumford & Sons or Andy Warhol or World War II artillery, and for a moment you can hardly believe that the little bundle you brought home from the hospital has grown into this beautiful, mystifying, wonderful young man. And you realize that, in your son, God has given you one of your best friends in the whole world, and you try to suppress your smile while thinking to yourself, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
A covenantal way of thinking frees us from the pressure to get everything right with our parenting. In a fallen world, some kids will be sick, and some will fall away from the faith. We can never accomplish all our good goals for their health, education, manners, and athletics. Even the kind of future relationship Smith describes isn’t guaranteed. But a stewardship vision frees us to be thankful and enjoy God’s good gifts when they do come, because our kids (and all good things they bring into our lives) are undeserved gifts. As Paul says, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7).
In the Baptist tradition, the practice of child dedication in corporate worship can help us to stop and begin to cultivate an attitude of grateful stewardship. It’s a way of publicly celebrating the good gift of children before our people. It’s a way of publicly practicing gratitude for our kids rather than complaining about them. It’s also a public confession that any good we receive at our children’s hands comes from the God who gave them to us.
Here are three confessions that can be made in a child dedication service.
First, God wants our kids, and ultimately their hearts and lives, to belong to him. So we confess together, “God, all we have—even our children—belongs to you. Everything we have is yours.”
Second, we don’t just dedicate our children; we dedicate ourselves. So we confess and affirm our God-given responsibility as parents.
Third, we ask for help in the form of a commitment from our local church, the believing community. So we ask them to confess, “We’re standing with you. We’re partnering with you as you raise your children in the faith.”
May the Lord inspire and encourage you as you consider planning a child dedication service for your church community.
This article was adapted from Before the Lord, Before the Church: ‘How-To’ Plan a Child Dedication, an eBook published by Sojourn Network. The notes in the book unpack each of these three confessions with more detail. It first appeared at The Gospel Coalition.