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.

 

Is The Gospel Your Operating System?

Is it possible to get the Gospel right in terms of its facts while not trusting in that same gospel to bring about God’s desires for every aspect of the Church and its mission?

We live in an age that trusts much in techniques for accomplishing important tasks. Too often I think we have succumbed to drinking from the well of scientific methodologies for the accomplishment of spiritual goals and ministry. By this, I mean that we tend to put an inordinate amount of trust in rationalism that trusts in methodologies and techniques more than prayer and proclamation of the gospel in all of its facets.

  • Do we take the needed time to think through and apply the gospel to parenting, leadership, church growth, spiritual development, community, and cultural impact? While I know of some who do, we need to pursue a wholesale gospel orientation to how we do the work of ministry.
  • Do we understand how the gospel should motivate us in terms of how we approach unbelievers and believers who are struggling in many and varied ways?
  • Do we understand how the gospel motivates, frames, and directs us as to how we should pursue those who are the “least of these” and who are truly being oppressed and treated unjustly?
  • How much have we allowed the voices in our culture to direct us rather than the very Word of God?
  •  In what ways has the Church bought into a political motivation for cultural change rather than a Kingdom-of-God motivation?

The Gospel of the Kingdom is not only the Church’s foundational message but that it also provides us with the needed motive for building that Kingdom: the very love of Christ!

Nine Questions for Church Leaders

These questions were used in preparation for those attending a  church leader’s  encouragement lunch hosted by UCH. The questions are useful in the evaluation of the health of individual church leaders and sessions.
The PDF download of these questions is available here

How Does the Gospel Motivate your Ministry and Influence your Ministry Design?

1. In the PCA Book of Church Order ordination vows (21-5) it states the primary title for Teaching Elders is “ministers of the gospel.”

  • How do you understand that title and how does that title inform your overall ministry efforts?
  • If you are a Ruling Elder, how do you allow the gospel to influence how you fulfill your ministry?

2. In the book, Gospel Coach, the author speaks often about performance-driven leadership. The following quote, is one instance:

A performance-centered person functionally rejects the centrality of the gospel and slavishly responds to a craving to please their own flesh. Living by the flesh is how the Bible describes our tendency to follow our sin-desiring self instead of walking in step with the Spirit of God. When a person lives by their flesh, they believe that pleasing their own desires is more justifying — earning them more worth, value, and favor with God– than living in line with the gospel. This person relies on their own way of salvation and ultimately rejects the gospel.

  • As you reflect on that statement, how has “fleshly-driven” leadership reared its head in your life and ministry?
  • How have you sought to deal with it?

3. In Galatians 6:14 (ESV) Paul writes, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

  • What does boasting reveal about our hearts?
  • What does it have to do with the condition of our hearts?
  • As you consider Galatians 6, how does Paul relate the gospel to this matter of boasting and dealing with the flesh?

4. Read Ezekiel 37:1-10 and Ephesians 2:1-10

  • What do you learn about the nature of spiritual, heart transformation from these passages?
  • How does this reality inform how you minister the gospel to others?
  • How should these passages give you hope and joy in your ministry of the gospel?

5. In 2 Corinthians 5:14, Paul states, “For the love of Christ controls us.” He goes on to say in verse 16 that through the gospel he no longer judges people “according to the flesh.”

  • What does it mean to judge people according to the flesh?
  • How has the gospel specifically changed the way you look at people?

6. What is the biggest challenge you are currently facing in your ministry?

  • What ways do you suspect the gospel might help you meet that challenge?

7. As you evaluate your personal life and worship in the light of the gospel, what changes do you want to trust the Holy Spirit to make in your heart and life?

  • How does the gospel and its benefits give you hope, rest and joy as you work through these issues? Meditate on Philippians 2:12-18 as you work through these matters.

8. Does the gospel inform us regarding how to structure ministry? Based on what Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 1:13, “Follow the pattern of sound words that you have heard from me…” that would seem to be the case.

  • How specifically is the gospel seen in the way your ministry is structured?
  • How does your church’s ministry reflect the gospel’s prioritization on relationships as a means for applying the gospel in people’s lives?
  • How is gospel-shapes motivation seen in the programs you offer?

9. Jesus has called us to bear much fruit, and fruit that will remain. Taking a long and hard look at the ministry fruit in your life and ministry, what lasting fruit do you see?

  • Why is some fruit lasting and some of it merely temporary?
  • To what extent is the gospel involved in your answer?
  • What is God saying to you about this?

 

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The Gospel, Identity in Christ and Uniting Church and Home

The Gospel, Identity in Christ and Uniting Church and Home

gospelYou have probably noticed the increased emphasis that Uniting Church and Home has placed on the gospel and specifically, our identity in Christ in our seminars, writings, and resources. What does the gospel and identity have to do with Uniting Church and Home? In one word, EVERYTHING.

The False Gospel of Formulas

We all like formulas. A formula is simply a list of steps usually involving little effort that we follow to achieve a result. Formulas also usually do not require us to wrestle with our own sin or to rely on Jesus to provide the victory. We desperately want to believe that there are fast, easy formulas for addressing difficult questions such as: How do I get my teenager to stop flirting with “the world” and to seek Christ? How do I not lose hope when my spouse continues not to listen? How do I make disciples of my kids? How do I love the people in my church who I feel judge me for my choices? How does my home and my church work together rather than against each other? How does our church have a more effective outreach in our community? While practical answers to these and other questions are necessary, in over 28 years of ministry I have learned that the practical alone, which today really means a fast-acting, proven formula, is not what we need.

The pressure to provide formulas has pushed many churches and para-church ministries into providing many practical answers in the form of well-intentioned programs, curricula, conferences, and a plethora of self-help books. But, tragically, many of these have accomplished little in addressing the true need that continues to go largely…unmet.

God Seeks What Formulas Cannot Provide

This issue of the heart, is at the root of every single issue (Luke 6:43-45; James 4:1-4) we face.  Heart level transformation, not mere outward change, is God’s chief concern and what each of us desperately needs (Isa. 29:13, 64:6; Matt. 23:23). Heart change is a joyful satisfaction with God alone that motivates joyful obedience to do what he commands.

Practical knowledge, even perhaps a list of steps, and applied effort are critical to change. But authentic heart change is ultimately a work of God through the gospel. Only the gospel, applied by faith through the work of the Holy Spirit is powerful enough to crush the idolatry that rules our hearts and drives our actions.

Idolatry is Fueled by Formulas

Merely following a formula grants us the illusion that we can still have what WE want, the way we want it, regardless of what God may want. This is idolatry.

Many people think of idolatry as gold trinkets and Asherah poles rather than the driving force behind their own thoughts and choices…including sometimes their desires to have a biblical family and a church that they can join that meets their exact specifications. The fervor and in some cases, militancy, with which some have pursued these exposes the idolatry that drives them even in their efforts to seek something that God says is good.  Our problem is not only the bad things we do, but the good things we do for the wrong reasons.

Sometimes, our intentions in dealing with the problems we encounter with each other appear righteous, but at the heart are actually idolatrous. Appearances to the contrary, we really don’t want to help the other person grow in Christ, rather, we want to remove a source of irritation from our lives.

Even if our intentions are god-honoring, God may still want us to struggle through a problem for a longer time until we deal with what he sees needs to change… in both of us. If we settle for some sort of fix that gives an appearance of change without real change, we will miss something God wants us to learn. In such a case, God will just allow another set of circumstances to occur so that we are forced to deal with the heart issues we skirted. Very often, this explains why so many problems persist without little or improvement. Through it all, we get really good at coping without ever really addressing the root issues which are the idolatrous desires that make idols out of things and each other.

Business as Usual Does Not Work

Consider that the failure of men to lead in the home has not been corrected by regular attendance at men’s meetings.

Teens have not stopped abandoning the faith simply because more charismatic youth leaders have been hired.

Unbelievers have not been more attracted to our churches even though we’ve moved to more contemporary styles of worship and the pastor preaches without a pulpit in a grungy T-shirt emblazoned with an edgy slogan.

Families have not begun to minister and share the gospel with their unbelieving neighbors because the pastor preaches a series on outreach.

I’ll never forget a pastor who called to invite me to come and speak, as he said, “To get my families ministerin”. In our preliminary discussion, I learned that he had put his families through several outreach programs, but to no effect. He felt yet another speaker might make the difference. I suggested that the problem was not practical in nature, but instead, a heart problem: one of motivation. They simply did not want to do it. I suggested further that what they needed was to be brought back to the gospel. To really understand who they were, already, in Christ. I was disappointed, but not surprised by the pastor’s response, “I’ve already preached the gospel. They know that. I don’t need to do that again.”

What Gospel?

I recently received a letter from a national family ministry that was asking for donations for an evangelistic project. I will attest that this ministry has done many good things to help families. This letter, however, was just one very clear example of how we’ve drifted from the gospel in the life of the believer…

The first sentence in the letter said, “When you consider what your support for (ministry name withheld) can do, sharing the gospel might not be your first thought”.

Now let’s consider this statement for a moment. As I said, the work of this ministry was helping families, not evangelism. In their minds, and I hasten to add, in the minds of many Christians, the gospel is tragically known as only what the unbeliever needs, not the believer. Therefore, “the gospel” is not what this ministry to families normally talked about. But, I ask, what is any Christian ministry doing if it is not directing people to the gospel in some way? Is there an answer to any problem we have that is not somehow connected to our hearts and God’s remedy in Christ? No. And again, NO!

We Need Jesus Each Day

For real change and restoration to take place, an encounter with Jesus is always necessary. We encounter Jesus when we apply his message, the gospel, to our hearts. The gospel tells us of our sin and it tells us of the fullness of the riches that are ours in Christ by virtue of our union with him. Realizing who we are now, and marinating in the riches of our inheritance in Christ drives us to confess, repent, and walk by faith. This is what we ALL (husbands, fathers, wives, mothers, youth, children, siblings, singles, seniors, etc.) need many times each day to defeat idolatry. But this understanding, unfortunately, appears far from the standard formulaic fare in our churches and homes.

“Standard formulaic fare” is what we have demanded that our church leaders provide or we will simply go somewhere else. That’s a tragic commentary that I don’t offer lightly or with any sort of malice. I just believe it is accurate.

Relationships Help us Apply Jesus to our Lives

The gospel of Jesus Christ comes with a delivery mechanism; relationships in the church and the home. We become more effective applying this simple message by practice, practice, and more practice with each other’s help. This admittedly, is hard work because it takes time, accountability, and real faith in God to work in and through us. This is far from a mere formulaic solution.

The discipleship of my five teenage children is my responsibility, primarily. I dearly love them and delight in how they are each unique. But I also admit that discipling teenagers, at least for me, is very hard work that’s somewhat unpredictable and seems to always push me to the edge of my time and emotional limits.

One of the commitments I have made is to meet with my teenagers as a group every other Tuesday evening to discuss spiritual matters, usually through a book discussion. This is an intensive discussion that augments other things such as family worship… and late-night conversations! While I do enjoy these Tuesday meetings, I have to fight like mad to keep them on the calendar. It takes an intentional effort to prepare my own heart for the discussion and to remind them to be prepared, too. Praise the Lord that there has been some good fruit observed in the discussions we’ve had. It’s very encouraging. But because I am naturally a very selfish person, it is still hard. I fail. It’s a humbling process.

I can identify with many men who admit how much easier it would be to just drift down the river of life doing the discipleship when it’s convenient. It is so much easier, so much more comfortable, to follow the formula of dropping the kids off at church to be discipled by a trusted youth or children’s ministry leader. While youth and children’s ministry can be an important ingredient, they do not stand alone. I have met many youth leaders who passionately agree as they suffer under suffocating expectations of parents and leaders alike.

Many men might also conclude that a women’s ministry, or coffee with an elder’s wife can be far more effective at meeting their wives’ various needs than they are. And while women meeting to teach and encourage each other is a solid expression of healthy covenant community, Paul is clear in Ephesians 5 that husbands have a direct, personal ministry to their wives. They are to love their wives as Christ loved the church (V.25). They are called by God to wash their wives in the word (V.26). Satisfactory pursuit of these responsibilities by husbands may be augmented, but not completely delegated to a simple formula that only requires little of us.

We Have What We Need

We already have what we need in the gospel. We do not need to wait for some new insight gained from scientific research or a new list of steps (formula). We must get down to the hard business of exercising our faith in what we already have been given in Christ with one another.

Transformation keeps the indicative (identity: who we are in Christ) connected to the imperative (the practical that are to do). Indicative without imperative is antinomianism. Imperative (i.e. formula) without indicative is moralism. Both are Christ-less.

Uniting Church and Home Restores Balance

At Uniting Church and Home, we seek to restore lives through relationships where the indicative and imperative are kept together. It is a joyous privilege for us to start a seminar knowing that people who are struggling with real personal challenges are going to leave the seminar with joy, renewed hope and confidence because they learn how their identity in Christ is the key to overcoming struggles that have burdened them for years.

YES, men need to know how to lead. YES, children need to be trained to know and serve God. YES, churches need to equip families for ministry. “Formulas” promise much but ultimately deliver little.  These and other challenges need to be addressed through relationships that are committed to the deeper heart work that takes time and that seeks to apply the gospel in these situations. This is the only way to transform our hearts, our relationships and live for God’s glory.

If you were encouraged by this article, please forward it to a friend.

Elders, Pray This for Your Sheep!

manwithamrsoutWhat do we pray about that really helps those we are praying for? Certainly, we pray that God will bring restoration to a hurting relationship, physical healing, or provide the much-needed job. If you are not already, consider adding to the list praying for them to “remember” what they already know.

The Apostles Reminded People of What They Already Knew

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved…” – 1 Cor. 15:1

“Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have.” -2 Pet. 1:12

Apostles Paul and Peter were concerned that the people they were writing to would forget the riches they already had in Christ Jesus. These riches include the simple gospel truths that describe our new identity in Christ. Does it seem odd that the apostles were so concerned about people forgetting what they already knew?

We are Sojourners, Not Squatters

Hebrews 11:13 reminds us that just like our spiritual ancestors we are sojourners; strangers; aliens who are passing through this world. The implications of this truth are astonishing and pervasive when you  stop and think about it. It affects our values. Our purpose. Even our outlook on life itself. The life of a sojourner is not by nature, “easy”.

For several decades, life in America has for the most part been prosperous, free, and comfortable. I am grateful for these blessings from God. However, in the midst of all this prosperity and peace, have we forgotten that America is not our home? When God brings hardships into our lives our response can be much more “squatter-like” (one who feels entitled) than “sojourner-like” (one who accepts and endures).

We Need Hope More Than we Need Ease

The work that God is doing in our lives is one of conforming us to the image of his Son, Jesus Christ—a process to be completed when we have finally reached Heaven. In the meantime, I personally don’t like to admit that this process occurs best when I am struggling than when things are going swimmingly. Struggle forces me to actively seek and depend on God.

Difficulty and suffering are often the lot of sojourners who are by nature just passing through. Therefore, sojourners need hope more than anything. Enduring hope that pulls us through trials comes from only one place: the gospel. Though we are suffering physically or emotionally through personal conflict, sickness, deprivation, or persecution, we endure because we realize that what we ultimately need is what we already have in Christ and that one day, the suffering will end forever.

But the message of the gospel is easily forgotten because we are quick to seek what we want and need outside of Christ in the comforts we have come to expect. Again, seeking these comforts is not wrong, but when we forget that we must first find our satisfaction in Christ, it is easy to make everything else that we desire, idols. It is the nature of the flesh; indwelling sin with which we battle each day to look everywhere but Christ for supply.

Isn’t it striking that the writer of Hebrews—in writing to people who were suffering persecution: having their property confiscated, and being thrown in prison—chooses to write about… Jesus exalted, and all that he did for them as their once for all sacrifice and perfect high priest? Apparently, the writer knew that reminding them of THIS would make the critical difference in their remaining faithful to Jesus.

Trials will either drive us to Christ or away from Christ. The reminder of these truths was what the writer of Hebrews implored the Christians to do with one another so that they would not be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (3:13).

C.S. Lewis reminds us: “People need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed.”

As elders, we would do well to include in our prayers for our sojourning sheep that they remember Christ and how what he has done for them gives them hope so that they can navigate the trials in a way that draws them closer to the Lord.