It was a thin book that caught my attention in my small school library. I pulled the little black and grey paperback off the shelf and quickly plunged into a plot of horrendous atrocities. I never imagined that children could experience so much pain and hurt at the hands of abusers. To my seventeen-year-old mind the stories were unbelievably woeful.
The book was entitled “Sometimes God Has a Kid’s Face” by Bruce Ritter. Bruce, I would later discover, was the founder of Covenant House, which is a ministry to homeless youth. In his book Bruce chronicled his journey of rescuing teens from the sex-perverted, destitute lifestyle of homeless living in Southern California. His telling of teenage girls, boys, and even infants being prostituted by oppressors for a few dollars seemed to be a surreal modern tragedy. Each child’s story painfully unveiled tragic insecurities, speechless hatred, and self-inflicted wounds. Tears stained each pages as I read of their unbelievable plight. In response to these broken children, Bruce Ritter pioneered an awakening in Christian circles. He alerted me to the growing epidemic of a fatherless generation.
It’s been almost twenty years since I read that paperback. The characteristics of orphaned children that I read about then, I now see re-emerging in church culture. I’m not minimizing the horrors that those children endured, but it grieves me to see the same orphan wound evident in many followers of Jesus. Often I see the similar symptoms of insecurity, divisiveness, self-deception, hatred, and self-inflicted wounds in many Christian people.
As Ritter’s kids found ways to cope with fatherless living, many sincere, church-going believers limp through their lives with the same issues of a fatherless heart.
Could it be that an orphan-like mindset is an explanation for so many broken people in the church? I believe it is. I am discovering that when isolated believers grow in a culture of performance and competitiveness they become renegade and wounded leaders. Just as in the parental context, when a believer grows without a strong, godly leader, he or she can easily default to thoughts of self-preservation.
Individuals in the church can suffer many wounds when a leaders do not disciple them correctly. Abandoned believers tend to develop a rogue nature of autonomy to cope with the feelings of neglect. When abandoned to survive, one can begin to devise patterns of learning and growing that are plagued with feelings of rivalry. The orphan minded say things like, “If I was in charge, I’d do it better.” When the heart feels neglected the floodgates of pride and self-made idealism begin to foster a mindset of self-fulfillment.
An orphan will always battle for what they perceive to be rightfully their own. The inheritance, whether it is a ministry, a business, or place of honor becomes a trophy for a top performer rather than an inheritance for a son or daughter. On the contrary, when believer is correctly fostered in healthy growth, they duplicate and extend the dreams of their leader. This is true for fathers and children as well.
Sons who are confident in the love of a father never seek to replace him; they seek to keep the relationship healthy and eternal. When we feel loved by a “father in the faith” our aspirations are not to competitively exceed their success, but to duplicate their nature. The Apostle Paul reveals this idea when he says, “imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) It’s likely that faithful sons will surpass the greatness of a father, but the success of a son is honorably understood to be a fulfillment of a father’s legacy.
What elements are displayed in those who have been fatherless in their walk with God?
The orphan-minded see the church as an organization or a gathering of people for the benefit of their own well-being. They are a part of a church family but they are unwilling to make sacrifices for others. Those developed with the guidance of a good leader in the church care for the vision and the calling God has placed on a church above their personal preferences.
The orphan-minded are easily offended when they are not recognized or rewarded. They draw their identity from what they do. Those loved and nourished by a father see their identity reflected in the ones that love them. They are secure even when they fail because it doesn’t reflect on them as a person, it only reflects on a poor decision.
The orphan-minded have their guards up. They “protect themselves” from anyone who could speak correction into their life. Those taught by a father welcome correction because it is what a father gives to a child he values. (Hebrews 12:8)
Finally, the orphan-minded are always looking for the next big thing to feel better about themselves and the ministry. This may be why many fatherless children go from church to church, from one big event to another. Disciples of good leaders are content to know God is working through them for mutual benefit of their growth and the impact of the Kingdom of Heaven.
A church full of survivors becomes dangerous because it quickly orients itself around those who have the greatest need for validation. The hearts of those cultivated in a well-fathered house easily find freedom to trust, honor, and serve others with little thought of self-promotion or self-preservation.
As I look at church culture in our community, my hope is that God will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children. (Luke 1:17) Although this may apply to many paternal relationships, I believe it applies even more to the bonds of community within our churches. Healing is inevitable within the church when spiritual sons and daughters turn to faithful fathers.