What is life like without a dad in the home? One fourth of America’s children know that reality all too well. They are at four times greater risk of poverty and twice as likely to drop out of high school. Prisons and addiction recovery programs are filled with the fatherless. A child’s social, emotional, behavioral and academic development hinge largely on the support and guidance of a dad.
Jesus characterized those who do not know His Father similarly – harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Sheep lack direction – they don’t have a lion’s defenses against predators or a salmon’s GPS to find their way home. Without a Father to serve as Shepherd, we should not be surprised when non-believers fall into the world’s traps, following the prevailing voices in our culture celebrating the pursuit of personal happiness and fulfillment. In the (presumed) absence of God, there’s no one to warn them about secularism’s empty, self-centered philosophies and pursuits. Looking for acceptance, youth gravitate to whatever group is most welcoming, which is often those likewise devoid of a moral compass imbued by the Father. The fatherless are also easy prey for politicians, corporations and activists who feign concern but do not have their best interests at heart, seeking profit and power.
What they miss out on is a Father who looks on spiritual orphans compassionately, not opportunistically. They trade in the unconditional love of a perfect Dad for the deceptive lures of temptations that always hide a hook, like the invitation to invent personal “truths” that aren’t actually true. Moral relativism is the expected outcome of an identity crisis associated with lacking a sense of direction, purpose, and belonging. Freedom from “house” rules isn’t worth separation from the Father and His family. Christ-followers have the firm foundation of identity rooted in knowing nothing can separate us from the Father’s love. True freedom doesn’t come from setting our own standards, but in the security of being children of a King and therefore heirs of His household, not disowned when we violate His rules and endure His punishment.
Jesus provided detailed directions to the Father. In that same passage about lost sheep, He provided explicit instructions to “workers” to lead the fatherless toward the Lord. Yet, many Christians in America today do not believe giving out directions is in their job description and many churches fail to equip members with accurate roadmaps. In fact, many mistakenly feel the appropriate response to lost sheep is anger rather than Jesus’ attitude of compassion. Of course sheep separated from the identity of their flock and the guidance of a Shepherd will run toward the most enticing voice, soon ensnared and hopeless. They need help, not judgment.
What Directions Did God Provide?
A common excuse for rejecting God is that He condemns anyone to Hell. Yet ironically rejection of the Father is that individual’s choice of Hell – voluntary separation from God in this life and the next. Non-believers opt out, not wanting Him to be their Father or to be part of the family. Unlike the prodigal son, they have no intention of coming home or leaving the life or fate they have willingly chosen. Therefore, leading them toward Jesus is no small endeavor, possible only through the tools, resources and incentives the Father has provided:
- Prayer – “…apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
- Holy Spirit – ”…the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15)
- Emptiness – “He has also set eternity in the human heart…” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
- Human Nature – “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)
- Conscience – “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation…” (2 Corinthians 7:10)
- Death – “…free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:15)
To combat those powerful forces, Satan mobilizes his army to remove the word “sin” from mankind’s vernacular, just as he attempted in the Garden of Eden. He then redefines the word “love” to mean “tolerance” of sin rather than the Agape love of our Father. Christ died for sins and God is love so it is a brilliant strategy to twist truth to paint humans as good and Jesus as unnecessary. As a result, people who buy Satan’s lies wander aimlessly, processing nearly every decision incorrectly through a filter based on the flawed perception of self-sufficiency as an “adult” rather than humility as a child.
What Directions are Christians Giving Out?
Because relationship with the Father is due north, shepherding lost people toward other destinations is spiritual malpractice. It’s also a dereliction of discipleship duties to conceal the path to the Father from those we see wandering in the wilderness.
Christians today tend to interpret the “workers” Jesus said were few in Matthew 9:37-38 as pastors and missionaries. Jesus asks us to pray for more “workers” because there simply aren’t enough pastors and missionaries to reach so many lost sheep. All churchgoers should be considered (Kingdom) “employees”, trained to disseminate directions to the Father. However, the high costs associated with Western church growth models incent and enable those “paying” to abdicate shepherding responsibilities to the “paid”. As long as “church” revolves around buildings, leaders and weekly events, members will feel more like “customers” to attract and retain rather than “workers” to equip and send. In other words, paying consumers will expect excellent service from paid professionals. Yet Jesus expects unpaid” churchgoers to be among those active in sharing the Gospel with the fatherless in their neighborhoods and workplaces.
“Church as we know it” in America also influences the messages and methods Christians use to reach lost sheep in their circles of influence. Rather than discipling “workers” to provide directions straight to the Father, most churches instruct members to steer sheep toward…
- Religion – Through Jesus the veil was torn and all have access to the Father, but countless “Dones” (with church) say the hierarchy and hypocrisy of religion impeded relationship
- Spiritual “Fathers” – The primary ask of churchgoers is to invite friends to hear from pastors or youth group leaders, who often disappoint compared to other “role models”
- Buildings – To simplify evangelism for church consumers, they’re told to share their testimony and give out the physical address of the church for next Sunday’s service
- Experiences – Church should be a holy gathering of those united in worshipping Jesus, but many entertain and cater to non-believers to compensate for their failure to disciple
- Morality – Christians are rightfully accused of expecting the fatherless to obey rules of a household they don’t belong to rather than first leading them toward the Father
- Conformity – The unchurched believe Christianity means conformity to a way of life they don’t envy, not seeing love but division and condemnation of those who don’t live like us
- Fellowship – We emphasize joining a church family more than becoming a child of a loving Father yet they’re already connected to others they find more “accepting” (i.e. with no rules)
The Great Commission is not optional, reserved for paid “workers”. It’s a mandate for every believer, empowered with the tools and resources the Father gives to all His children to lead harassed and helpless sheep toward His flock (eternally), not necessarily ours (temporarily).
Wanted: More Workers Giving Good Directions
Our culture is losing faith in institutions, particularly churches, putting their trust in self and a shrinking number of close relationships. Directing non-believers to a church building or a leader was never the intended roadmap to the Father and doesn’t work well in post-Christian America. Also, decades ago the average American believed in absolute truth, God and Christian values, but now the fatherless know little and want little to do with what they think they know. That environment requires all hands on deck, calling every Christ-follower to assume responsibility for forming intentional relationships and gently refuting society’s disinformation campaign leading sheep away from the Father.
Equipping churchgoers to give personalized guided tours directly to a loving Father and not just to a local church will require a level discipleship found in few congregations today. It would redefine “church”, “workers” and “customers” in such a way as to disrupt the lives of millions of comfortable Christians. It would mean adopting an entirely new approach to fighting the culture war, compelling a ground war of compassion instead of an air war of dropping verbal bombs on fatherless sheep living in a self-centered house of cards. It would involve a depth of relationships reflecting how much the Good Shepherd loves them, not running away when threats and difficult times come. It would entail stepping into the darkest crevices of people’s lives and responding to their most challenging questions in order to shine the light of Christ.
It’s Your Turn…
Are there additional guideposts or mile markers missing from the directions Christians are providing, causing a growing number of fatherless sheep to stray further from Jesus?