Church for the Fatherless, Mark E. Strong. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012.
Summary: Mark Strong chronicles both the crisis of fatherlessness in our society and the vital role the church can play in equipping fathers and caring for the fatherless.
Perhaps the most stunning statistic in this book was that 24.7 million children live in a home without their biological fathers. Countless others are not included in these statistics, including those with “absentee” fathers who formally reside in their homes, and those who have reached adulthood and bear the wounds of growing up fatherless. The impacts of fatherlessness include inward pain, poverty due to the loss of the father’s financial support, teen pregnancies, which occur at a much greater rate in the absence of fathers, criminal activity, and lower educational attainments.
Mark Strong details these impacts in the first part of his book and then calls the church to engage what he considers society’s most pressing problem. Strong speaks out of his experiences as senior pastor of LifeChange Christian Church in Portland, Oregon. He provides a straightforward account of what churches can do and calls on us to do it!
He begins by discussing how churches can embed valuing the fatherless in their corporate life, even as the Old Testament scriptures did for the people of Israel. He calls for awareness, avenues of ministry, and awards for progress. He describes in the next chapter how their church has gotten the message out, including providing a template for a sermon series.
One of the most important collections of insights can be found on the chapter on equipping men to be fathers. Strong develops a list of biblical values from Old and New Testaments and describes a curriculum built around these values.
He does not stop there. He also considers the work of mentoring the fatherless, providing father substitutes for those who have grown up without fathers and his fourfold mentoring strategy of There-Share-Care-Prayer. He then goes into greater depth of the vital importance of prayer for the fatherless and provides a reproducible prayer guide. Then he reaches the pinnacle in a chapter on God the Father, who truly can address the father needs of the fatherless. In a chapter that follows, he recounts how the fatherless have experienced healing from the wounds of fatherlessness. He then concludes with a chapter on how to start.
There is nothing fancy about this book. What you have is a pastor sharing his heart for the fatherless, and the ministries he has been involved with and the resources he has found helpful. Most compelling to me was the weaving of scripture and prayer throughout. It seems that anyone working with youth ministry could profit from reading this book. It also points up how critical intergenerational ministry in a church can be as men act as mentors to boys and young men who struggle with fatherlessness. This is a book that challenges churches to not just focus on strengthening the family but to be the family of God to those without fathers, to those who have no family. And it is a book of hope, telling the stories of the difference everyday faithfulness has made in the lives of the fatherless.