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A Christian bar Mitzvah

It’s funny how God puts you in the exact place that will help you grow and give you answers to questions you didn’t yet know you had.

For the past sixteen years, I’ve been a ‘sleep away’ camp director in the northeastern US. Yes, it’s a real job and it’s as awesome as it sounds! And, while I’ve been a committed Christian my whole life, I’ve worked with primarily Jewish families and their children.

The Jewish religion and culture is wonderful and deeply complex. It’s the basis of our Christian religion as well as a great deal else in Western Culture. And while many Jewish families do not strictly adhere to all their religion’s commandments, one tradition that seems to be universally kept is the bar Mitzvah.

A bar Mitzvah is a ritual that initiates thirteen-year-old boys in Jewish adulthood. (Jewish girls celebrate a bat Mitzvah.) With the help of cantors, rabbis, and teachers, the young man is prepared over the course of many months and years to uphold and fulfill all the mitzvahs or commandments of the Torah, their ‘bible.’ Thus the name ‘son of the Mitzvah.’

Starting in his 13th year, a young man learns the Hebrew words necessary, delves into his religion’s 613 rules and guidance for his future life, and finally stands before his congregation and invited guests to accept both the privilege and responsibility of being a Jewish adult. It’s a long process that, when taken seriously, transforms a young man’s understanding of his faith and prepares him to be recognized as an adult.

I’ve been honored to celebrate several bar and bat Mitzvahs with our camp families. The service and its traditions are intriguing and the preparation required impressive.

This ritual of preparing to be recognized as an adult in both law and culture is so powerful and necessary. Yet, as Christians, we have nothing like it.

We believe that if we follow two rules, we will have eternal salvation. And, while many go through a confirmation class to deepen the relationship with God, being seen as an adult by the community of elders is not a part of the process. However, this recognition is a crucial step.

Almost every other developed culture in the history of mankind has had a ritual for training boys to become men accepted by society. I believe this is a major failing in our culture. Rather than putting our young men through an intentional process of learning, growing, and accepting responsibility, we leave it up to them to gather enough information from parents, extended family, teachers, coaches, friends and culture to become men.

Sadly, the average American 14 year old boy spends 44 hours looking at a screen a week versus one hour of face-time with his father. This means that Homer Simpson, ESPN, and Minecraft are doing more to influence our boys than are the men (and women) of his community. This situation needs to change and change in a hurry.

The Immanuel Project was created to answer this need. The purpose is to help families raise good, Christian men through a combination of directed Bible study, real world skill building, and mentorship with the men of their church.

The course lays out a Pathway to Manhood and ends with the young men being recognized by their church and family as starting the journey towards a Christ based manhood. It is not meant to be an end but rather a more intentional and informed beginning.

Over the coming months, I will be sharing more information on the Immanuel Project – the men and women of the Bible we study, skills important for our young men to learn, books that have been influential to this process, and more. I will also be leading a class at Athens First United Methodist Church in Athens, GA. If you are in the area, I hope you’ll drop by!

Please feel free to contact me with any comments or thoughts. I'd be happy to hear from you!

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