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Preaching to the Fatherless

How to bring God’s hope into our father-hungry culture.

The importance of fatherhood issues

I have served as the lead pastor of Life Change Church for twenty-five years. During the early years of my pastorate, I believe I was intuitively aware of the fatherless issue. However, it wasn't until we had a prayer meeting in an old grocery store that the fatherless reality hit me like a ton of bricks.

There were about thirty of us in a circle comprised of all ages, ethnicities, and gender. During the prayer for whatever reason, I lifted up my head and with my eyes began to peruse the circle. As I peered into each face, the phrase, echoed in my mind, "No father, no father, no father!" In that circle alone, I was made keenly aware of the fact that up to 80 percent of the people who gather there had either no father present in the home while growing up or had an unhealthy father experience. My eyes and heart were opened that moment to the enormity of the issue.

During the process of working on my Doctoral Dissertation, I did the unthinkable: I made a decision to switch my area of study and focus midstream. My heart's passion had become to know and understand the issue better so I could be equipped to effectively minster to my city and our congregation.

The cultural impact of fatherlessness

The affects of fatherlessness permeate every aspect of our society and culture. In our city, I work together with our Mayor's Office, the Police Bureau, the Judicial System, the District Attorneys Office, and other city agencies, to try to help our youth change their lives and engage in pro-social behaviors. The majority of these youths come from fatherless homes.

In Oregon and Washington, sex trafficking is a monumental problem. We've held several symposiums in our church and the studies show that many of the men who sell these girls are fatherless. Not only that, but the profile of the girls they seek to recruit are girls who have no father. What they do is disguise themselves in sheep's clothing as father figures, the girls go for it, and the tragedy begins. The scheme works because these young girls are hungering for a loving father.

I'm aware of the fact that every Sunday people who are impacted by fatherlessness are in our pews. I know I need to bring the hope of Christ to fathers and the fatherless.

The impact is not just limited to at risk youth, there are professional people living in suburbs who are considered great successes in life, whose souls ooze the blood of a father wound every day. I remember talking to a well-respected doctor in our city. He explained how his drive to overachieve was fueled by never receiving affirmation from his father. Our two minute greeting turned into an hour and half conversation, full of tears and sobs in between.

The impact of fatherlessness affects divorce rates, emotional development in youth and adolescences, health care, education, graduation rates, social integration, relationship building, and crime. Though it is not the sole contributing factor to all of our social ills, it is a big player.

Addressing fatherhood in your preaching

In my book, Church for the Fatherless, I have a section on preaching that deals with how to address the issue with your congregation. I'm aware of the fact that every Sunday people who are impacted by fatherlessness are in our pews. I try to bring the hope of Christ to fathers and the fatherless. Whenever I preach on this topic, I try to accomplish three goals:

  1. I seek to educate the congregation on the issue. I want them to understand that the implications of an absent or inadequate father run deep. I believe the more they know, the more they will care and open up their hearts to be used by God to make a difference.
  2. I realize many of the youth in our congregation have absent fathers. For this reason, I always try to include in the sermon some fatherly advice or wisdom as if I am talking to my own children. I don't beat a bandwagon, but I'll inject little life snippets, like the importance of being on time for work, cooperating with your mother, and so forth. For many of the kids and youth, I am the only "daddy" they will get for the week. So I want to help them in anyway I can through my preaching. I have single mothers comment to me frequently saying, "Thanks for that, my son needed to hear that."

    Here's a quick humorous story. One Sunday I injected into the sermon a sound bite about young men having a good work ethic around the home—a message my sons hear all the time. Though my boys might not always obey it—they hear it!

    Anyway, I took a young man out to lunch before going off to college. His father is not present and he lived with his older sister. As soon as we set down, he said to me, "Pastor Mark, you messed up my life!" I asked him, "How did I manage to do that?" He responded by saying, "Remember a few weeks ago when you talked about working around the house, well, my sister said to me 'You heard what Pastor Mark said, get out there and stain the deck.'" The way he complained about working in the heat and how big the deck was, you would have thought his sister asked him to donate a kidney.

    He said, "You made my life hard!" We laughed together and I told him, "See you lived through it." I was able to have this father conversation with him and help him and his sister from a brief preaching moment.
  3. Finally, in my preaching I want to encourage and equip people on multiple fronts. Many issues affect fatherlessness. Therefore, I believe it is important to preach on healthy marriages, men's issues, and devotion to Jesus Christ. If marriages are healthy and men and women are following Jesus Christ, the chances of a child being abandoned by his father or a man being an inadequate father are greatly minimized.

Practical advice for addressing fathers and the fatherless

Here are five "Be's" I think are helpful for preachers preaching on fatherlessness.

  1. Be hopeful. Clarify the issue, but focus on the solution and the answer. God our Father is greater than the problem and he is the answer to it, and he will use us to make a difference.
  2. Be aware and sensitive. Fatherlessness is a very sensitive topic for many. Almost every time I address the issue, whether it's in a suburban church, a country church, or in the inner city, people are in the audience who have deep father wounds and issues. There are single mothers who are desperate for a godly father figure to be in their children's life, and dads who have missed the boat, as well as fathers who desperately want to be apart of their children's lives but extenuating circumstances prevent that from happening. People will respond differently to the message. After addressing the topic, a pastor at one church said to me, "I had a lady come to me upset after service because she felt I blindsided her. Moments later, a man who is a long-term member in the congregation came and thanked me for the message. He told me God ministered his wounded heart."

    Just know that people will be impacted and respond differently, some positively, and some not so positively. Use wisdom as you proceed in your preaching. It is a heavy topic so be balanced and proceed forward boldly and cautiously.
  3. Be courteous. By this I mean after you preach give people time to process the message before the Lord. You can allow a time for silence and prayer, or have the people pray for one another, or have time at the altar for prayer. Give your hearers a moment to ponder, reflect, and receive God's grace for their need. Allowing a space for contemplation is important.
  4. Be challenging. Encourage the people to do something in order to make a difference. Encourage them to take a fatherless kid to a ball game. Mentor one of the fatherless youths in the church. Pray for those affected by the issue. Let them know they all can do something to help address the issue.
  5. Be prayerful and encouraging. Ask God for his help and wisdom, pray for wounded hearts to find wholeness and hope. Encourage the dads that are doing a good job to keep up the good work!

Church for the fatherless

This issue has become so integral to my ministry that I wrote a book on it—"Church for the Fatherless, A Ministry Model For Society's Most Pressing Need." The book gives a comprehensive in depth overview of the fatherless epidemic. It helps the reader grasp the historical and cultural shifts that have occurred in our society that have given rise to fatherlessness. The book will help the reader to understand the enormity of the problem.

But most importantly, it was essential for me to include a biblical study of fatherlessness in order to understand the biblical message, mandate, and methodology for addressing the issue. I believe this will be very helpful to pastors in their preaching, teaching, and counseling.

The book is filled with easy and achievable strategies that the church or an individual can use to minister to the fatherless in their community. I don't set forth a full fledge program, but I share practical ways you and your church can make a difference. As a pastor, I'm more than aware of the fact that we don't need another ounce of anything added to our already full plates. Amen!

Mark Strong is the senior pastor of Life Change Christian Center in Portland, Oregon and the author of Church for the Fatherless.

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