Caring for Spiritual Orphans: Elephants in Our Midst

Over the past few years the desire and drive to place orphan care and adoption on the front burner of Christian life has been a success. With the high profile nature of some proponents and their compelling leadership, this topic has trickled down into the lives of the laity with astounding rates of adoption. For this we thank God.

However, there is another type of orphan that needs attention too. Yes, they can be found overseas, but more than likely they are within arms length of many church leaders and members. I am speaking of those children that have been or are being spiritually orphaned. Many times these children attend services on our church campus every Sunday, live next door, and around the corner. Though they are in our Sunday school classes, and Wednesday night programs, many, if not a majority, are being spiritually abandoned.

However, these orphans or more like elephants than children. We know they exist and understand their plight, but refrain from taking the tough steps that promote a closer walk with Christ. The steps that produce disciples, not mere converts.

More importantly these elephants are growing at a rapid pace! Biblical ignorance, decline in parental discipleship, and a growing notion that "church" is the sole place for theological training all play a part. However, a central piece of this puzzle is the steady diet of spiritually and physically absent fathers. Religiously in-active fathers have steadily increased over the last few decades, with it reaching 50 percent or greater for those born after 1980. Thus, to say a spiritually orphaned generation stares us in the face is an understatement.

What this means for the church is the continued degradation of doctrinal and congregational commitment, missionary fervor, and theological vitality. With a generation that has had little to no mentorship or discipleship, why should one expect anything less? Thus, this issue is of significant importance if the Church is to progress, but who will step forward to adopt these orphans?

At this point the question of who should not only be focused on who will adopt, but also on who is at fault? Should all responsibility be laid at the Church's altar, the parents' feet, or shared by both? With the fracturing of the family into a muddled mess in the twentieth century the Church should have known spiritual orphans were a destined outcome. Whether they came from intact, blended, or fractured families the decline in disciples and increase in converts should have been a glaring signal.

It is true that the Church has fallen prey to an ideology that promotes a simplistic picture of the Christian life. This picture fosters an overtly manufactured Christianity that is attained through minimal mental, spiritual, and physical perseverance. What is worse the church has birthed and raised successive generations of spiritual orphans.

If the Church is to correct this trend it must foster the same tenacity, fervor, and care it has given to physical orphans.

First, we must kill the notion that certain times and places are the only kosher times and places to speak about religious and spiritual topics. Thus, the home has to become the seedbed of discipleship. Churches turning spiritual orphans into spiritual leaders understand the significance of this hallowed place.

Second, parents need to be challenged, convinced, and encouraged to lead their children into spiritual maturity. It is not the biblically ordained role of pastors to disciple everyone else's children. Do pastors and teachers play a role, absolutely, but parents are primary.

Thirdly, and this is the most pressing, the church must begin to confront fathers with the truth of their children's need for spiritual leadership. For too long the Church has passed the buck on intellectually and practically engaging fathers. We must persuade men that participation in missions, evangelism, and the reading and application of scripture is not effeminate, but some of the most formative habits for their life and their children's.

If the Church approaches the issue of spiritual abandonment with the same resolve it has physical abandonment than much can be done to reverse this trend. The decision to place this rather mundane yet prevalent problem on an equal footing with physically abandonment is crucial. The question is not, is there a need, but is there a will!

Michael E. Brooks has two master's degrees from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and an Ed.D in Higher Education from Union University. He is currently the Children and Families Pastor, Calvary Baptist Church in Dothan, Alabama.