By Sarah Robinson
The number of single-parent households is a growing statistic in the United States. Today approximately 11.7 million families are led by a single parent. Many churches are working to meet the needs of these families with single-parent Sunday school classes, single-parent clothes closets, and so on. While such ministries are helpful, the church has even greater opportunities to minister to these families.
A single parent can be male or female, divorced, widowed, or unwed. Some have the involvement of the other parent; some do not. Many receive little to no financial help, while others receive regular support. Some single parents work, while others are living on assistance.
Some haven chosen to be single parents and others are still reeling from abandonment by a spouse. A few may be in their late 40s, while many others will be in their teens. Some have several children by several fathers, while others may have one or two children from the same father. With such a diverse group, what is a church to do?
The church must recognize the biblical mandate to help single-parent families. Hagar is the first single mother we read about in Scripture (Genesis 16, 21). She and her son, Ishmael, were sent away from Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac. As Hagar and her child wondered aimlessly in the desert, God heard the cry of the fatherless child and came to their aid.
David described God as “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows” (Psalm 68:5). God clearly has a special place in his heart for children without fathers. He even goes so far as to say, “Leave your fatherless children; I will keep them alive. Your widows too can depend on me” (Jeremiah 49:11).
Yet, he does not leave the responsibility there. In Isaiah 1:17 God plainly tells his people to “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”
What Can the Church Do?
Many churches have already laid the groundwork. Bible studies, Sunday school classes, divorce care groups, and other activities are often a part of the ministries offered in churches. Still, the plight of the single parent and the fatherless child seems desolate. What else can be done?
Don’t Hide Single Parents
At times single-parent groups seem almost hidden within a church’s ministries. One single mother stated, “I never really felt like I was part of the church. Instead, I just felt like part of the single-parent group. It felt as if the married people were afraid to ‘catch’ my divorce.”
Another mother said she often felt “looked down on” by other members of the church. She was never invited to the mother’s group activities—not one—and felt that the married mothers looked at her as “not a real mom.” Involving single parents in every aspect of the church—not just the single parent community—would be a helpful first step.
Involve Them in Ministry
A single parent Sunday school class in a church in Charlotte, North Carolina oversees the church’s Clothes Closet and Car Care ministries. Leaders of the group often say that people are in disbelief when they hear that the single parents run a ministry. While respecting the demands of single parents, it is important for the church to remember that they are valuable members with much to offer. Single parents still want to sing in the choir, help serve meals, and contribute in any way they can. Providing childcare for single parents who serve in the church can be a tremendous help.
Mentoring the Children
Seasoned Christian men can be mentors to young boys who are growing up without a father in the home.
Statistically, these boys are more likely to live in poverty, have social and emotional problems, perform poorly in school, commit crimes, abuse drugs or alcohol, be abused, and be sexually active.
Girls in single-parent homes are two and a half times more likely to become pregnant at an early age and far more likely to drop out of high school. The church can help curb these statistics by providing additional adult role models for these children.
Sharon, a single mom, shared her heart-wrenching tale about raising a son without a father in the home. Her husband left when her son was a baby and had limited contact with him.
Now, at 14, her son was beginning to be defiant and resistant to her parenting. She was alone, trying to help a boy become a man, without a male to help her.
While she would try to make time to throw a ball or shoot a basket with her son, she could not devote enough time (nor did she have the experience or knowledge) to really help him while managing a job and a household. Having the birds and bees talk with her son was painful and embarrassing for him. She felt helpless and fearful knowing her son was missing out on all the things that helped shape a young man.
Sharon tried reaching out to the church, asking the youth leader and others to talk to her son. While they all agreed up front, she said she never heard back from anyone.
Amanda, a single mother of a five-year-old girl, shared the same need for a father figure in her daughter’s life, but for different reasons. She wanted her daughter to know an adult male who treasured her so she would grow up expecting men to treat her well. Amanda feared her little girl would turn to the wrong person while looking for the love of a father.
We need to come to the rescue of the fatherless. With fervent prayer and the careful oversight of church leaders (including references and background checks), mentors can begin their ministry in any church by hosting an event where single-parent kids and mentors can get to know each other. The mentors can spend time in Bible study and prayer with the children, talking to them as a father would talk to his child.
Mentoring the Single Parent
Not only is it important to provide mentors for the children of single parents, it is important to provide mentors for single parents as well. Connecting the single parent with an established, loving Christian couple will allow the single parent a glimpse into God’s plan for marriage. Willing Christian couples can spend time socially with the single parent and his or her children, inviting them to cookouts and other gatherings. In addition the married couple can come alongside the single parent for Bible studies and prayer time.
Imagine the impact on a single mother and her children if they were included in the lives of a happily married Christian couple. The single mother would gain a better understanding of how to be a woman of God as she spent time in prayer and Bible study with the wife, while her children would have the example of a Christian marriage that they otherwise might never have witnessed. Thus the cycle of single parent households producing more single parent households could be broken.
Beginning the Single Parent Ministry
Each church will have different needs and varying resources, but every church has strong men and women of God who can stand up to help these most needy of families. If your church does not have a mentoring ministry, prayerfully consider starting one. Or on a smaller scale, seek out a single parent family that can benefit from your involvement, remembering this promise in God’s Word:
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away (1 Peter 5:1-4).
Sarah Robinson is a freelance writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Five Keys to Mentoring
1. Listen fully and sacrificially.
2. Don’t try to solve other people’s problems for them. When the need arises, support them as they create their own positive problem solving process.
3. Encourage relentlessly and genuinely.
4. Focus on having fun over sharing wisdom.
5. Be a friend. Most people aren’t looking for a hero, a social worker, or an advocate. They’re looking for a friend who has their best interest at heart.