From the time our eldest child, Caleb, was just an infant (and possibly even before), I knew that I wanted to do something significant to mark the point when our children would come of age. I reject the whole notion of a “teenager,” a modern construct invented by pop culture, and instead wanted to reinforce with our children that adolescence is a critical time in which a child grows into adulthood.
“Coming of age” ceremonies are not unique in the history of humankind, of course. Various communities around the world and throughout time have marked the transition of a child into an adult with rituals and ceremonies, possibly the most well-known of these being the Bar Mitzvah in Jewish communities. Historically, age thirteen is when a child comes of age and enters a period of training for adulthood. For Christians, this can be a wonderful opportunity to stimulate a young man or woman toward Christian maturity.
Well, Caleb just turned thirteen, and after posting on social media about the manhood ceremony we held for him, people began to ask for more details of what we did. So here it is.
First, we have created anticipation with our children from the time they were young concerning their thirteenth birthday — This is when you will begin to leave childhood behind and prepare for adulthood, I’ve told them repeatedly. They know that their thirteenth birthday will be a special time.
A couple of years ago, I began to intentionally read with each of our older children books I felt would help them cultivate godly disciplines, deal with struggles they’re facing, or simply grow in their knowledge of Scripture, personal holiness, and love for Christ. I usually read with them each once a week in the evening, and with Caleb we’ve read Disciplines of a Godly Young Man by R. Kent Hughes, The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality by Luke Gilkerson, and Core Christianity by Michael Horton, among other things. These have been wonderful opportunities to have significant conversations.
Then over the past six months or so, I began to specifically talk with Caleb about his thirteenth birthday, and started planning what we would do to mark the occasion. Ryan Martin has done something similar with his three eldest boys, so I talked a lot with him about what he did. Additionally, I benefited from reading Raising a Modern-Day Knight: A Father’s Role in Guiding His Son to Authentic Manhood by Robert Lewis.
In particular, as we neared his thirteenth birthday, I stressed with Caleb one of the key points Lewis makes in the book about the contrast between Adam and Christ as representatives of men. From this contrast, Lewis helpfully defines biblical manhood as one who rejects passivity, accepts responsibility, leads courageously, and expects God’s rewards. He also articulates key biblical character qualities of a Christian man with which I challenged Caleb on the evening of his manhood ceremony including loyalty, servant-leadership, kindness, humility, purity, honesty, self-discipline, excellence, integrity, and perseverance.
For the evening of Caleb’s dinner and ceremony, we invited men from our church with whom Caleb has a relationship to be a part of the event. I asked these men to join us in encouraging and challenge Caleb toward Christlikeness and mature manhood in the days and years ahead of him. We got BBQ brisket catered, Becky and Kate prepared other delicious side dishes and a dessert, and we enjoyed a meal together in Caleb’s honor.
Before dinner, we read 1 Corinthians 13:11–13 together and sang the first stanza of “Rise Up, O Men of God” combined with a couple stanzas of George Herbert’s “Teach Me, My God and King.”
After dessert, I gave a challenge to Caleb, and then each of the other men spent a few minutes encouraging and admonishing him with biblical principles they believed would serve him as he transitions to manhood.
I prepared a Declaration of Manhood certificate that Caleb signed, resolving to pursue the biblical character qualities with which I had charged him, and the other men signed the certificate as witnesses. I added a picture of the evening to the certificate, and it is now framed in Caleb’s room as a continual reminder of what he should be striving after.
I don’t expect the events of that evening to be a magical charm, and Caleb certainly has many challenges ahead of him, but it is our prayer that by marking off this moment in Caleb’s life in a significant and memorable way, Caleb will be continually encouraged to pursue those biblical qualities that should characterize all godly Christian men.
Caleb was a bit nervous being the center of attention leading up to the evening, but afterwards he thanked me and said that he really enjoyed the evening. We plan to do something similar with the other three children when they turn thirteen as well.
If you’re thinking about how you might mark your own childrens’ coming of age, I hope this narrative might give you some helpful ideas.
Scott Aniol, PhD, is an author, speaker, and teacher of culture, worship, aesthetics, and church ministry philosophy. He is chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He founded Religious Affections Ministries and has written several books, the most recent being By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture. He can be found on Twitter @ScottAniol, and you can listen to his podcast here.