Mark Strong, pastor of Life Change Christian Center in Portland, sums up the scope of today’s “father crisis” with a single word: epidemic.
“That’s the word for what’s going on in our nation and society,” he says. “40 million kids are affected.” Strong here refers to the number of children and teens in single-parent homes, being raised by relatives other than parents, or in foster care. But the issue doesn’t stop there. “The reality is that adults who were fatherless children are still suffering from these battle wounds.”
Strong found the crisis staring him in the face at a prayer meeting for Life Change’s newly renovated building. “We had people in their seventies and people in their twenties, black and white. I looked around the group and thought to myself no father, no father, no father. I had not realized how deep of a problem it was.”
Strong’s revelation left him feeling convicted. “The Church has a God-given responsibility to minister to the fatherless. God is a father – our Heavenly Father. Fatherlessness affects the way people view God,” he says.
Utilizing everything from the pulpit to existing church outreaches, Strong and his congregation set out to show fatherly love to the fatherless of North Portland. These now range from organic, personal initiatives, such as encouraging dads to include a fatherless child in family outings, to 11:45, a weekly outreach to the area’s young men.
As Life Change began to see more and more of its youth grow through this new church culture, Strong took his argument public and wrote a book, Church to the Fatherless: A Ministry Model for Society’s Most Pressing Problem. His anecdote-rich, biblically rooted account suggests churches begin to address the father crisis using the resources and programs they already have in place. “One thing [churches] tend to do is try to develop a program, and that’s not necessary. You can use what you already have. Make it more organic than a structure. Allow your heart to open up and take the opportunities.”
At the core of Life Change’s mission to the fatherless is a desire to reconcile others to Jesus Christ. “We’re trying to show them God’s love; what a father should be,” Strong says. “It opens them up to receive the love of their Heavenly Father. From the heart of God, the church can step up and be a ‘surrogate parent’ by showing support, affirmation, and being involved.”