We Baptists don’t baptize infants. But most Baptist churches replace that ceremony with a baby dedication. The motivation between these two ceremonies often overlaps: The parents wish to commemorate the birth of their child and promise before God, grandma, and everybody to raise that child to know God—no water needed.
Recently, though, it’s become increasingly common for churches to move away from baby dedications in favor of Parent Commissioning. This is what we do at the Summit. I’ve found, however, that many people aren’t quite sure what the difference is or why we talk about “commissioning” rather than “dedication.” So I thought I’d set the record straight.
Here are three driving forces behind why we commission our parents instead of dedicating our babies:
1. We are beginning a partnership with parents.
There are a lot of roles our church can fulfill—ministers to the least of these, gospel advocates to the unreached—but one role that we must never take on is that of being the primary discipler of all our kids. Our role is to be a partner for dad and mom. We don’t love these kids or their parents by implying that those parents can offload the responsibility of discipling the next generation to “experts” in the church. It’s not a matter of capacity (though we don’t have enough to fully disciple every child). It’s a matter of principle: God wants mothers and fathers to be the front-line disciple-makers of their children’s lives.
By creating a milestone of Parent Commissioning (with its accompanying Parent Orientation class), we begin a committed partnership between our parents and the church, where we look to be a third-party presence confirming to the kids what the parents are already teaching at home. That milestone doesn’t have to happen when they are babies, either. We regularly commission families with preschool, elementary, and even middle-school aged kids.
If we can get dads and moms to accept their role as the primary disciplers of their kids at the beginning of our relationship, it sets us both up for success down the road as we partner with them in all phases of parenthood.
2. The home is the first mission field.
When we put the emphasis on the parents instead of on their kids, it sets the vision for our focus in family ministry: dad and mom. In the same way that we commission our missionaries to live overseas, we want to set our sights on parents embracing this role as God’s missionary to their kids. As we often say around the Summit, the home is our first mission field.
This means we take time twice a year in our services to put parents in front of our church. We explain the commitment they are making, and together as a body we pray for them and remind ourselves of the role we also must play as their church family.
If our parents truly are missionaries in the home, we want to send them into that mission field fully equipped. From prayer in the nursery to family worship nights to gospel-centered resources to elementary, middle, and high school small groups, our church is constantly looking to support and affirm the discipleship happening in the home. Parents are the tip of the spear in engaging kids with the gospel, but we want to do everything in our power to be the rest of the spear for them.
If our parents truly are missionaries in the home, we want to send them into that mission field fully equipped.
3. Parent Commissioning is more like a wedding than a baby dedication.
Frankly, we don’t even see Parent Commissioning as “our version” of baby dedication. I understand the heart behind baby dedications. And there is certainly a place for commemorating the birth of a child—perhaps even within the church family. But we never want to lose the focus that God has given us as his sent ones. Rather than “dedicating” a child, which often does little to engage and commit the lives of the parents, we are sending and equipping our parents. We expect a level of commitment from the parents that generally doesn’t accompany baby dedications.
In other words (and to paraphrase the words of Abraham Lincoln), we cannot dedicate our children. It is rather for us to be dedicated to the great task remaining before us—to devote ourselves to seeing the gospel flourish in their young lives.
In this way, our ceremonies are more like weddings than baby dedications. As in a wedding, these people are standing in front of family, friends, and God, promising to fulfill the life-altering duties God has put in front of them. And together, our whole church gets to celebrate their declaration to raise their kids “in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4 CSB). It’s an incredible commitment. We intend to remind them of that commitment regularly—as often as we remind them of God’s grace, which will provide the strength necessary to accomplish the task.
There is one key way in which Parent Commissioning is unlike every other commissioning at the Summit. While we are sending our parents in the power of the Holy Spirit to take the gospel to their homes, we are also promising to go with them. And we pray that as we walk this journey together, we may be able to see the fruit of someone else commissioned with the gospel: your kids.
For more information on the Family Ministry Plan of The Summit Church, go to summitrdu.com/families.