By Matt Haviland, Crosswalk.com
“If this group wasn’t in [my life], I wouldn’t have a place to go.” –Jon
It’s quotes like the one above that simultaneously keep me going and break my heart. I love working with single dads, and wouldn’t trade it for the world. Although I’ve had the privilege of walking with these men over the years, there are still millions of single fathers in desperate need of someone to come alongside them.
Let me ask you a quick question: whether you are a pastor or single dad yourself, have you ever considered the fact that your community NEEDS a ministry for single fathers? Here’s why:
- There are currently twenty-five million children growing up in America without their biological father in the home (though I can make the case that doesn’t mean they are fatherless).
- There are approximately fifteen million single parent homes in our nation—accounting for 37% of all households. Out of those fifteen million homes, the mother will have primary custody 83% of the time, the father the other 17%. Just because Mom has primary custody, however, doesn’t always mean that a father is absent. Many noncustodial fathers would greatly benefit from having someone to minister them.
- In 1960, there were 300,000 single father (primary caregiver) homes. Today, there are over two million.
- According to the National Center for Fathering and National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, “when fathers are involved in the lives of their children [to whatever capacity], the children perform better overall cognitively, academically, socially, and emotionally. And, when fathers are involved in the lives of their children, especially their education, their children learn more, perform better in school, and exhibit healthier behavior. Even when fathers do not share a home with their children, their active involvement can have a lasting and positive impact” (emphasis added).
Other lesser-known (or overlooked) facts about single fathers:
- Single fathers face many of the hardships single mothers face, such as financial struggles, a need for assistance with childcare, lack of time, hurt and brokenness, loneliness, and countless other challenges that arise from co-parenting.
- Paul addresses fathers specifically in Ephesians 6:4. I would say that this applies regardless of whether or not a father is married, or whether or not he lives in the same home as his children.
Given this information, it’s clear that single father ministries are a wise and biblical choice to help your local families thrive and to change generational lineages for the better—but there’s even more! Here are three questions to ask your church in regards to ministering to single parents:
1. Is your church a refuge for single parents through already established programs?
If not, this isn’t meant to convict or condemn you, but rather to set a spark for moving forward. Depending on the size, demographics, and available resources of your church body, you may consider hosting your own single dad (and single mom) ministry—or partnering with another church or organization to make it work.
2. If a single parent approaches the church, whether they are a member or not, is there somewhere or to someone within the church grounds that they are directed?
Refer out if need be, but again, single parents NEED to feel welcomed at your church. Too many have already been hurt or ostracized from a church, or it might be that shame keeps them away in the first place. In reality, the church should be one of the first places to which single parents turn. After we held the 2017 Midwest Single Parenting Summit, I sent out a survey to all of the single moms and single dads who attended. I had them rank their greatest needs from highest to lowest. I included tangible/practical needs such as financial, transportation, and childcare, as well as personal ones. By far, the two greatest needs single parents were looking for were a strong church home/community and emotional support.
3. Men’s groups are created for discipleship and community, but is a single father able to have his specific needs and struggles addressed through these groups?
Think of some of the probable scenarios a single father ministry may encounter: teaching men to co-parent in a godly way, what to do when their ex marries someone else, supporting a father who just came out on the wrong end of a custody case, ministering to single men on staying pure in an impure world, overcoming anger and bitterness, and so on. Single dads cherish having a place they can go regularly to help them sort through these unique challenges with other like-minded men.
How to form a single father ministry
I once heard a pastor say that our choices today have the ability to affect up to three generations: ours, our children’s, and our grandchildren’s. I would say that, as leaders, our decision to minister (or not minister) to single parents can have the same generational impact—but it’s up to us to determine if it will be allowing fatherlessness to continue, or to begin to heal single parent families through Christ. Single dads are everywhere. They can be found in jails, prisons, and rehabilitation centers, many of them never having a strong father figure of their own. They’re also our family members, coworkers, and neighbors. Many are already in your church—most probably aren’t. Use creative ways to have a kickoff night to introduce your group (Hint: food is always a good way to bring guys together!). Share your heart for why the group is so imperative and what to expect. Short on materials to start with? You can always check out our website for ideas.
A few final suggestions:
- Ideally, the group leader/co-leaders should understand what the dads are going through, and perhaps even be a single dad himself. On the same note, those who lead a group like this must be mature in their own walk with the Lord and able to handle the heaviness of a ministry like this.
- Our Golden Rule: we NEVER slam the moms! Yes, we vent—a lot. But when it becomes toxic or slanderous, it needs to be cut off. Good teaching, tough living—necessary nonetheless (cf. Proverbs 18:21, Titus 3:2).
- Meet regularly, respect confidentiality, and keep encouraging and praying for the men.
There is no one-size-fits-all in this line of work, so stay faithful. When we do, we catch a glimpse of how God turns life’s toughest situations into the greatest of testimonies. My prayer would be that your church join us in the unbelievable experience of ministering to these dads, so that we can begin to transform generations—one family at a time.
Matt Haviland is the founder and director of A Father’s Walk single dad ministry, the coauthor of The Daddy Gap, and the cofounder of the Midwest Single Parenting Summit. He is an ordinary guy who chases after an extraordinary God. Matt lives with his wife and daughter in Grand Rapids, MI. For more information, please visit www.afatherswalk.org.
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