By Daryl Crouch
It’s a beautiful sight to see: young parents with their new babies lined up on stage during the rite of passage known as “Baby Dedication Sunday.”
Not as formal as in days gone by, but most moms and dads make the extra effort to dress their newborn in something special.
The extended family and the congregation watch as new parents receive the pastor’s encouragement to trust God during the tests that are sure to come and to raise their child to follow Jesus as Lord. Then over the impatient cooing and wiggling of these precious babies, a prayer of dedication is offered.
And just like that, it’s over. Except it’s just beginning.
Fast forward 18 years.
The exodus of high school graduates from the church as been thoroughly discussed for over a decade now, but what is increasingly clear is that we don’t necessarily lose kids when they turn 18.
Often, we lose their parents at age 36.
Parenting is no exact science, but the passions, ambitions, and habits of parents shape a child’s heart more than anything else.
While most parents who dedicated themselves and their child on baby dedication Sunday are sincere and responsible people, they’re more often than ever before still in the early stages of spiritual formation themselves. They’re full grown adults with a job (maybe two), a mortgage, and health insurance, but the gospel has yet to strongly influence their short or long-term parenting priorities.
There are at least two reasons for this:
First, young, Jesus-following parents have fewer role models than in recent generations. It’s likely many grew up in a home where cultural, or nominal, Christianity was a way of life, or where Jesus was never a part of the family conversation at all, or where parents divorced and church attendance was sporadic at best.
In other words, many young parents have never seen faithful, gospel-centered parenting modeled.
Second, while young parents have fewer role models, they also have more options than ever before. They often have two professional incomes and very simply have the ability to fund a very busy lifestyle, which is the expected path among their peers.
While church attendance and faith-filled friendships, Jesus-centered Bible training, church planting and missions education that comes with it was in previous generations a central part of the family dynamic, church life for the current generation of parents is simply another item on the menu of weekly activities.
And depending on the family schedule in any given week, Sunday worship may get removed from the calendar of events altogether.
Thankfully, these two factors do not have to define the modern family.
Consider these three culture shifts every church can make to help Jesus-loving parents build a gospel-centered culture in their homes that give both the parents and their children a better opportunity to grow in grace and live on mission with Jesus—while staying engaged in local church life.
1. Call young parents to deepen their intimacy with Jesus.
This sounds simplistic, but young parents face tremendous challenges. The stressors of a new marriage, uncertain career path, and financial limits create vulnerabilities that are difficult to bear. They also cloud judgment and decision-making.
So rather than focusing on all that young parents should be doing in the church, make a culture shift by encouraging them to slow down and to invest in their relationship with Jesus. While they may assume they don’t have time for daily Bible reading and prayer, insist there’s nothing more important than caring for their soul during these formative days of parenting.
Through the preaching and teaching ministry, our church reminds them what this looks like, and through discipleship groups, we provide relational accountability and modeling.
2. Invite young parents into multi-generational relationships.
Small group ministry is a great place to build friendships with people our own age, but our church continues to see the benefit of providing opportunities for young parents and their children to connect and serve with older adults.
For example, our church has a ministry to homeless men led by one of our senior adult small groups. But that group doesn’t do all the work. The leaders intentionally invite younger families to serve with them. Not only are the homeless men loved well; the young families build deep relationships with older adults that connect them all to the mission of God.
3. Equip young parents to raise missionaries.
We don’t minimize the importance of fun, but when parents view themselves and their children as missionaries, everything changes. Rather than being served, we want kids to see their parents serving. Instead of evaluating ministry based on its entertainment value, we want kids hearing their parents pray for and watching them reach out to people who are near to them but far from Christ.
As a result of this missional culture in the church, parents begin to encourage and train their children to listen to the Holy Spirit about college, trade school, and career choices. As parents, they intentionally prepare and release their high school graduate to live on mission. Sometimes these young missionaries will go into careers and live nearby.
At other times, however, they’ll go to the ends of the earth at great sacrifice. Either way, parents celebrate and encourage their faithfulness to follow Jesus.
I remember Caz McCaslin, founder of Upward Sports, saying, “It’s a race to the heart of a child. The first one to get there wins.”
That’s true, but the race is a marathon that also requires reaching and then discipling the heart and habits of a new generation of young parents.
DARYL CROUCH (@darylcrouch) is senior pastor of Green Hill Church in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee.