A dozen years ago I was invited to dinner by a local pastor and his wife, who I deeply respect and know well. They were expecting a child, who they knew to be a boy.
“We would like you to be our son’s godfather,” they said. I was honored, but I knew almost nothing about this practice, so I obviously I had a lot of questions. While godparenting is well-known in Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican and other ethnic circles, it’s relatively unknown and not practiced in the Protestant world.
The purpose of this blog is to introduce you to this wonderful practice, which if done well could be an unbelievably valuable gift to your child, if they’re not too old, or yet unborn. And, if you’re a grandparent, or expect to be, this may be an idea you may want to share with your adult children, for their children.
The Origins of Godparenting
By the 2nd century, infant baptism had become accepted as a ceremony of commitment by the parents and the church, to do everything possible to raise a child as a Christian. The child was expected to confess their faith when they were old enough to understand what they were doing. However, the church came to expect that each child would have a sponsor when that time came – an adult who knew the young person well enough to be able to testify on their behalf that they in fact loved God and had every intention of serving him. Until the 5th century, these witnesses were generally the child’s parents. Augustine then suggested that sponsors could be other godly individuals, other than their parents. Quickly things changed and within a century almost all sponsors (godparents) were non-parents.
After the Reformation
Calvin, Zwingli and other reformers stressed the role of natural parents as sponsors because they believed parents knew best the spiritual condition of their child. However, Lutherans, Catholics, Anglicans, Orthodox Churches and others still encourage the practice, but its role has evolved into assisting the parents to raise their child to be serious about living as a Christian. However, in some circles godparents are chosen more for their power or influence, than for their spirituality. (Tony Blair is the godfather to Rupert Murdoch’s child.)
The role a godparent isn’t biblical – that is, neither the term nor the role is found in scripture. However, I believe godparents chosen for their love for God and godliness can be a valuable resource for parents and their children, especially if a child’s natural grandparents are not strong believers. Godparents can help parents carry out the following command of scripture.
“We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. So the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.” Psalm 78:4b, 6, 7
What do godparents do?
The role of a godparent is to participate in the life of a child enough to be able to encourage their spiritual, moral and relational maturation. Godparenting is a form of mentoring.
A Godparent is expected to assist a child and the parents in the following ways:
Establish and maintain a relationship with the godchild often enough (at least twice a year), so that a relationship of trust and friendship can develop.
Talk openly with their godchild about faith and the journey of faith and provide opportunities for this child to come to know Christ and to grow in their Christian faith.
A godparent continually grows in their own Christian faith and seeks to be conformed to the image of Christ, so as to model for the godchild, genuine Christian behavior.
Purposefully share stories and life experiences with a godchild with the goal of passing on Christian values and practical life skills.
Pray regularly for this child almost as you would pray for your own child.
Provide support, encouragement and accountability to the parents in their raising of the child, all the while recognizing that the final responsibility and authority for the spiritual upbringing of the child rests with the child’s parents.
In the event of the death of the child’s parents, if they’ve left no instructions, to participate in the process of helping decide where the child is to go and to ensure, as much as is possible, that the child is placed in the situation that is best for the child’s spiritual development and care.
What do godparents do practically?
My godson is almost 10 so I go to all his birthday parties. Occasionally my wife and I will have dinner with the family and we’ve had our godchild and his family out to our cottage. I’ve also taken him for a few hours on walks and to lunch simply to build trust in presence.
I’ve begun an album in which I’m keeping photos and mementos of events. I’ve written a letter to my godson in which I’ve expressed my hopes and aspirations for him. Someday when he’s older, I’ll read my entries in this album to him and when he’s 18, I’ll give it to him.
I attend some of his sporting and school events, go out occasionally for meals and attend events at church in which he’s participating. I also help him think through the moral and spiritual questions he has and give him godly counsel. Like my own grandchildren, I tell him stories of people I respect, pass on things I’ve learned about God and life and I’ve shared my own personal failures as well as what I’ve done when I’ve disappointed God, others or myself.
My goal is that I would be one of the first people he’d think to call if he needed advice, beside his parents. My godson’s grandparents are very godly, but one set of grandparent’s lives several states away and the other grandparents are aging, so I expect that more and more, I’ll become a surrogate grandfather.
The parent’s responsibility to the godparent? They agree to:
Facilitate the relationship between their child and a godparent through visits, letters, phone calls and invitations to events, etc.
Be willing to accept advice, rebuke, and encouragement concerning the spiritual development of the child, whether asked for or not.
Keep a godparent up-to-date on the happenings in the life of the child, including bad behavior or attitudes.
Pray regularly for the godparent so that they can carry out their role in the life of their child, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The community of faith is an amazing gift from God that we often do not think about enough when it comes to the raising of our children. Parents need all the help they can get and having a godparent, who in practice is a spiritual and life mentor for your child can be an important tool in your arsenal to raise your children to love and serve Jesus.
Question: Are you presently a godparent or do you have one for your child (or children) and if so, what can you add to this brief, description of this role?