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A “Christian Bar Mitzvah”

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Last September my son-in-law, Tony, several other men and myself gathered around our thirteen year old grandson, Max, laid hands on him, prayed over him and pronounced him a man – a man of God. We were all in tears. While we were happy for Max, some of us realized in that moment just how much we wish we’d have had the blessing of our fathers.

This idea of one generation passing on a blessing, a sign of approval, of manhood and with it the responsibility to act as a man is as old as mankind. (Think of Isaac’s blessing of Jacob.) However in modern, western societies that practice has been largely lost.

God triggered this idea for a passage to manhood for our grandson when I had the privilege of attending a Bar Mitzvah for a 13 year old Jewish young man in Washington, D.C. a few years back. I was so impressed with the young man’s poise and maturity, that at the end of the ceremony I asked the Rabbi, if they ever held off the ceremony if a boy didn’t appear to be mature enough. His answer was, “Rarely. Because we don’t wait for a boy to become a man. We believe the process actually matures the boy into a man.” But, just what is this process that shapes a boy into a man?

The Bar Mitzvah

In preparation for a Bar Mitzvah, a boy is assigned a tutor/mentor to help him study and prepare for months. He meets with the Rabbi a number of times, and takes on a charity or community service project to demonstrate his love for his fellow man. The ceremony itself is very formal as the boy, now a man actually reads the Torah in a regular Sabbath service and in most cases actually discusses or teaches briefly on the passage. A Bar Mitzvah is more than a ceremony. It’s a serious commitment. Note: Jewish women also undergo something similar, Bat Mitzvah at age 12.

So, I returned home determined to investigate this idea for Christians. To my surprise, there were a number of excellent Christian books and programs that attempted to replicate a Bar Mitzvah and I’ve listed some of them at the end of this blog. The following is the letter my son-in-law wrote to all the men who would be participating in Max’s blessing, or “coming of age” which they chose to call it.

Dear Brothers,

As Max turns thirteen, Jenn and I have been impressed with a call to mark this coming of age to send him with our blessing into adulthood. After reading and talking about how some have taken their sons through this time, we’ve come up with a process that seems wise to us.

First, we want to gather together a group of men who have impacted and will impact Max’s journey as a man; that would be each of you who have received this letter.

Jenn and I have posed four tasks for Max to complete: intellectual, physical, spiritual and the facing of a fear. I would appreciate if you would pray for Max as he begins to engage in these tasks. If you have words of wisdom or knowledge for him as he proceeds that would be most helpful as well. And, if you feel led over the next few months, please spend some time with him playing hockey, target shooting, discussing life or the Bible or whatever else the Holy Spirit puts on your heart.

For his intellectual task, he will be memorizing the book of Philippians. For every chapter that he memorizes, he will meet with Clare (Jenn’s dad) to discuss what he’s been memorizing up to that point and what he’s learned.

For his physical task, he is charged with using his developing hunting skills to secure some meat and prepare it for our feast at the end of this process.

His spiritual challenge will be to disciple Ezra his younger brother, weekly. I will be talking with him regularly about discipleship and would appreciate any support and counsel that you have for Max as he takes this spiritual journey.

As for facing a fear, Max will be team teaching with me in front of the Mission Church this November. He and I will study together, prepare the teaching and conduct it up front together on a Sunday this fall.

After Max completes these tasks, you are invited to a Feast in November of the men who’ve impacted Max. We’ll start with dinner and then move into a time of sharing stories and the giving of godly advice to Max in an attempt to show him what being a man looks like. We would appreciate it if you would bring a small gift of deep meaning that represents something special to him that he can cherish for the rest of his life and hopefully pass on to his sons someday. These gifts are meant to be symbolic of something you want to give him as he heads into manhood. For example, a small mirror that reminds him of the gift of reflection or a straight branch to represent the gift of integrity, etc. These gifts will be concrete reminders of the blessings and the advice that you have showered over him. Some of you also may want to write a letter that you share with him about what God has done in your life, or you’ve seen in his, or what advice you may give as a seasoned man, father or grandfather. The letters can be longer explanations of the gift as well as an explanation of some other things that are on your hearts for Max. I do hope that you can join us for this important ceremony.

Thanks for being my brothers in Christ. Thanks again for your willingness to play this role in Max’s life. I look forward to celebrating with you all.

Peace and grace,

Tony

Your Turn

If you’ve been encouraged by this blog to consider organizing a Blessing for your son or daughter, I’d recommend these fine resources:

The Blessing, by Gary Smalley

Bar Barkah, A Parent’s Guide to a Christian Bar Mitzvah, by Craig Hill (This excellent resource also includes many ideas for the blessing of girls.)

Passage to Manhood: www.go-distance.org

Perhaps you know a young man who has no solid, male influence in his life who needs the blessing. Consider coming along side of him and helping him mature into the man he longs to be.

Questions: Have you ever received or passed on “the blessing” and if so what was your experience?

Following Jesus in Real Life

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