How Should a Church Minister to Single Mothers?

 

A Guide for Study

This study guide is intended to initiate the opportunity to study and strengthen the ministry of the church to single mothers; a group of vulnerable women in our society and in our churches who need the hope of the Gospel and tender care as sisters in Christ.

Specific words tend to carry experiential baggage in these types of discussions wherein the same word has different meanings and nuances to each party e.g. spiritual, leadership, headship, head, household etc. Further, when addressed within full context, this is a rather deep and in some ways, complex matter. Biblical principles are interwoven and thus, a full treatment of this subject would necessarily include a broader discussion on eldership, households, sanctification, divorce/remarriage, and of course the role of the gospel. The following is an attempt to clarify some basics involving a biblical church based approach to ministry to single mothers that provides redemption, hope and restoration. Since discussions frequently focus on the subject of “male headship” I will begin there.

A classic passage addressing headship is 1 Cor. 11:3ff which, in essence, also teaches the principle of male headship (leadership). As Christ is head of the man, so the man is to be the head of his wife. The nature, therefore, of the man is to be like Christ including the fact that he is a male. God in describing Himself as our heavenly father pronounces male attributes for leadership. “And I will be a father to you” (2 Cor. 6:18).

Flowing from that, spiritual headship is presented consistently, normatively, throughout scripture as being a male role. The Trinity, Adam, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, Jesus and passages such as Mal. 4:6, Eph. 5:22-33, and 1 Tim. 3:1-5 are a few examples where this central leadership role in the church and home is clearly male in character.

In addition to being a male role, the head of household is a representative role. The headship (leadership) of the father is crucial to helping those in His household come to know God as their Heavenly Father (Gen. 18:19, Eph. 5:26, 27; 6:1-4) and to becoming conformed to the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18).

Throughout scripture, we see a clear pattern wherein God deals with his people through representative headship (see two paragraphs above for examples). Under Adam’s headship, we fell into sin and therefore have the curse of eternal damnation upon us. Under Christ’s headship, we receive redemption (1 Cor. 15:22).

The head of household therefore is to lead those under his care to Christ for salvation. This is of course within the realm of the work of the Holy Spirit. Sadly, some (parents) falsely assume they are responsible for the salvation of their children and suffer undeserved guilt when their children rebel. Our place is to be faithful and let the Holy Spirit work through us and if God would be so pleased, see our children called into the kingdom and develop a walk with the Lord and be such agents of the Holy Spirit in the lives of their children (Ps 78:3-8).

This brings us to the matter of how a single mother can be a spiritual head of household when scripture clearly defines it as a male role.

I have found that “Household” (Hebrew word, bayith) communicates God’s broad concern for His household; His Church; a covenant community bound together in His Son, Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:15-16). “Household” helps us maintain balance in understanding God’s broader redemptive concerns by focusing not just on nuclear families, but includes widows, empty-nesters, singles, and single parents, etc.

Given the absence of a father the single mother must fulfill the role of spiritual leadership for her children -as imperfect as it is (1 Cor. 7:14). In cases where she is unequally yoked, she is still to fulfill the role of spiritual head of household (2 Tim. 1:5). Without her fulfilling that role, there is no leadership pointing toward Christ within that household. This would be devastating for multigenerational faithfulness.

Some examples of women exercising spiritual leadership include: Naomi, Lydia, Lois and Eunice. In each case there is clear spiritual leadership being practiced: Naomi counseling Ruth (Ruth 1:8), Lydia (marital status is unknown) leading her whole household to be baptized (Acts 16:14-15), and Lois and Eunice teaching Timothy where his father was not involved (2 Tim. 1:5). God is honoring the spiritual leadership principle to bless and point others to Christ although it is considered as “non-normative”.

Encouraging and equipping a single mother to recognize her responsibility to exercise the role of spiritual leadership for her children does not mitigate against the clear teaching of scripture on male headship. In one sense, it actually reinforces its importance. The role must be honored in order to achieve God’s ends in redemption whether God’s ideal (male headship) is in place or not.

Expanding on this line of reasoning, a single mother is not to accomplish this role in isolation. Heb 13:17 establishes the role of the spiritual leader in the church “… for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account…” A single mother is encouraged to execute the role of the spiritual leadership of her household (children) as she places herself under the spiritual leadership of her church (elders). Consider that Heb 13:17 describes an elder’s calling to include spiritual oversight of everyone in the body including fathers. Their oversight for single mothers (and others) has similar although not identical dimensions as to fathers. The elders as under-shepherds (or heads under Christ) of the local church provide a covering to these single mothers and are to be involved as a group (never individually) and with their wives (Titus 2:3-5) in equipping these single mothers to perform this responsibility while providing a model of a Christian marriage observable up close. In such a case, they are exercising their spiritual leadership responsibility under the headship of the elders which offers them protection and counsel.

The argument can be made that the role of the single mother as the head of her own household, particularly a younger woman, should be viewed as a temporary position with remarriage in view (1 Tim. 5:13-15). The story of Ruth would be an excellent example of how the temporary fulfillment in the leadership responsibility by the single woman (widow) can be used by God to re-establish God’s pattern of male headship. Naomi’s counsel to Ruth effectively accomplished this through God’s provision of Boaz. How blessed is the church where the elders pray for God to provide a mate for a single mom while assisting her development to be a godly wife.

The understanding just presented honors the position of male headship and exhibits the grace, mercy and glory of God much more completely.

His grace and mercy does not depend upon our perfect execution of His plan to bring about His redemptive ends. He works through our best efforts, failures and overcomes the results of sin to bring about His redemptive purposes in the lives of His people. He does this so that He receives the glory (1 Cor. 1:30, 31; Eph. 2:8, 9). What is done for His glory is done from faith. If God depended upon our perfect execution, then He would be at our mercy to accomplish His plan and would also mean that He is not sovereign which, of course, He is.

Consider what role faith (without which it is impossible to please God- Heb. 11:6) would have if every detail of our lives was clearly defined by God by dos and don’ts. We would not need faith, just a checklist. Paul spoke strongly against the checklist approach to the Christian life in Colossian 2:6, 20-23 and Galatians 3:1-3. Faith is the result of God working in us so that everything we do may work for God’s glory and His alone by obeying His Word, in faith and applying his principles to the best of our understanding in our walk Ps 119.

With all of the foregoing in mind, God does work through single mothers as the spiritual leaders of their own households under the elders of the church. IUCH sees this as valuable opportunity for ministry in many congregations to bring glory to God.

 

Helping our Children Face Difficult Circumstances

Helping our Children Face Difficult Circumstances

Have you seen this before? If you look at it one way, you see an old woman looking down. If you look at it another way, you see the profile of a beautiful young woman looking away. You can look at the same picture and see two entirely different things. It’s all about perspective.

Our Children Need a Change of Perspective

This is a perfect analogy for understanding one of the most essential truths that our children need to grasp: how to look at life, especially the circumstances we don’t like, from God’s perspective. (Be sure to grab the PDF printable to use with your children at the end of this article!)

As parents, we are familiar with long, late-night conversations that often boil down to a child’s struggle with a particular circumstance. Some circumstances are of their own making, such as waiting until the 11thhour to complete a school assignment, maybe a Facebook post that backfired, or the fallout from poor spending choices. Other circumstances might be out of their control, such as a sibling who continues to push their buttons, the fact that they do not have a car to drive, or a chronic health condition. Either way, circumstances usually present emotional pain that we as parents are called upon to remove—and quickly!

How do we help our children see what happens to them in life from God’s perspective?

Usually, my instinct as a father is to simply fix their problem by immediately telling them what to do. While that response is understandable, and even appropriate in certain cases, alone it falls short because it misses the point of what God might be trying to do in the situation.

The perspective that says, “Okay, God. What are you doing here?” needs attention in all of our conversations with our children, but especially during the challenging moments.

Two Things to Say to Our Children to Help Them Change Their Perspective

Here are two thoughts we can share with our children as they are trying to reconcile their view of how life should be with the circumstances they are facing.

First, we might not grow as much when things are going well for us. In fact, things going great may simply mean our idols are working for us. Or perhaps, God in his kindness may indeed bless us with a season of reprieve. Either way, it usually isn’t very long before adversity returns. She breaks a nail, he is asked to clean up his room, or a much more serious event occurs and the emotional roller coaster begins again. This is where what they believe about God is tested and—if they’re looking—they can grow in their relationship with him.

Second, discomfort, emotional distress, and even physical suffering is often the crucible God uses to help us grow in Christ. Personally, I wish there were another way but this is why perspective is so important.

Think of Jonah. The circumstances he was in were in one sense of his own making because of his sin, but in another sense they were very clearly of God’s doing in response to his sin. Scripture says that God sent the fish to swallow Jonah.

By using Jonah as an example, I am not suggesting that every bad situation is God’s discipline for something we have done wrong—it isn’t. There was mercy even in how God dealt with Jonah. Through Jonah we also see how God deals with one man’s sin within the much larger context of his redemptive plan which only deepens our awe of God’s power and wisdom and compels greater love for God.

You don’t need to use your imagination very long to appreciate how hard that must have been for Jonah. But God was with him through those circumstances. God used adversity to do a great work in Jonah that resulted in Jonah being used by God in an incredibly powerful way.

God Is Working Through Our Circumstances to Do Good—We Can Be Assured

In Romans 8:28, we learn God works all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose. Do we often forget verse 29? What is his purpose? His purpose is to conform us to his image.

As we guide our children through their circumstances, we do well to help them look for God’s message to them through those circumstances. What is this teaching you about yourself? What sin is God exposing? How is God proving himself faithful? Are the judgements you are making demonstrating a belief in what God says is true, or belief in a lie by the Evil One?

While we often can’t control what happens to us, we can control our response. We are not victims in the sense that what happens has to be determinative. Toward that end, it is far more helpful to realize that God is sovereignly in control and can use our circumstances, most especially those we do not like, for good when our children look at them from that perspective.

This does not justify harm done or necessarily remove the real pain they endure in this life. But this change in perspective enables them to proceed with real hope, confidence, and the resolve that God is working through it, ultimately, for His glory and our child(ren’s) ultimate good and joy.

Please download this PDF guide to help you work through circumstances with your children!

Choosing to Enjoy our Children

Choosing to Enjoy our Children

“Oh my goodness! Is that your Dad?” Those were the shocked words of one of my teenage son’s friends as I walked—clad in cool “skinny jeans” and Van shoes—across the boiling hot parking lot into the building where six of my children were preparing for a performance of Beauty and The Beast. It was 1:00 pm on that Saturday but I didn’t need to be there until the show started at 7:00 pm.

Now, why would you care about that? Great question that I will answer in a moment.

You need to understand something about me. Saturday afternoons are by necessity usually devoted to conquering a huge list of fix-it projects around the house and yard. Although exhausting, I love the challenge of getting as much done as possible. But on this day, the snakes that needed killing (we had seen a copperhead in the yard), and the drainage system that needed repair would have to wait.

These productions are an annual event that represent a huge moment for my children, probably not all that different from a Disney vacation. In addition to the sense of accomplishment that comes from producing a truly amazing show, my children relish the relationships that have enriched their lives. It’s a big deal to them.

While I have supported their participation in years past, I never fully appreciated just how important this experience has been to them personally. It was a great source of joy that I never fully embraced because I was so busy killing snakes or working overtime.

But this year was different. I joyfully went—early—anticipating being part of the hoopla, and soaking it all in with them. Sure enough, they were surprised to see me there so early. They seemed excited that I stepped into their world and was genuinely enjoying the moment with them. I was actually humbled and deeply touched that it mattered to them that I was there. This was a good thing for our relationship.

I would like to say that this is the way it always is. But it isn’t. This was the work of the Holy Spirit in my heart. As we all know, it is a struggle to balance the polarities in life. We would do well to try to make more relationally-positive decisions. Let us be encouraged by Jesus’ example.

He says in John 14:18, “I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you.” God values presence with us. Consider: God—comes—to—us. He comes rejoicing over us says the prophet Zephaniah (3:17). How can thatbe?

He makes us new creations and gives us His Holy Spirit to take up residence in our hearts. He promises never to leave us. As we discern his work providing assurance, peace, joy, and guidance, we learn what the Psalmist means when he says in 16:11, “In your [God’s] presence is fullness of joy.” God’s holy presence brings us joy even as we blows lines, even entire scenes in the drama of life.

God comes to us and rejoices in us. What a challenge—and opportunity—this presents to us as parents. It is easy to get so engrossed in-you name it- that we miss going to our children and delighting in them. But there is a reciprocal joy for us. All of that together mutually strengthens our relationship with them while accomplishing something more important: exemplifying what it means that God comes to them and delights in them, too.