How Churches Can Better Help Families
Parenting is a massive responsibility.
This is the understatement of the year. Parenting is a responsibility so huge that people who have no childcare experience or no long-term role models in their lives can often feel overwhelmed. Over the years, conflict between parents/caregivers and young people, or even abuse in the home, can occur, causing teenagers and children to feel unloved or unaccepted, until eventually, they run away from home. These runaways often end up involved in human trafficking.
Frightening statistics from 2019 show that 421,394 children under 18 years old were reported missing in the United States (National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, 2020). In the United Kingdom, records show that 75,918 children were missing that same year (The Children’s Society, 2020).
While the sight of these numbers can be overwhelming, we can prevent these statistics from growing by recognising the vulnerabilities that children and teenagers endure. The environment and influence that surrounds the life of a child can either help or hinder their growth in life. Vulnerabilities include violence in the home, putting overbearing pressure on children to succeed, drug and alcohol abuse, or not being taught how to problem solve, causing them to run away from their problems. Clearly, families and parents need the right help to raise their children in a safe and secure environment, and the church must be a role model for families.
Churches are to be the lighthouses of the world … solid places of help that shine God’s light in order to help others find their way. And an important place to begin is with families already in our congregations. As we sow into our church family, our wider community family is better impacted. Here are three ways churches can help:
1. Give families a safe place to share their problems and ask for help.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” Galatians 6:2 (ESV).
When you walk into church, how do you feel? Is the atmosphere a friendly one? Are the people inviting, and more importantly, are they genuine? Often, people in church feel pressure to be on their chirpiest behaviour, full of smiles and friendly hugs. And while the smiles and hugs are certainly expected and welcomed, we must also recognise that church is a place to cry and share what’s been happening in the week with those you trust. It is important to encourage people to show their vulnerable side and invite them to share their burdens in a safe place. As parents and caregivers begin to break down those barriers of keeping their burdens inside, they can better teach their children the importance of talking out their feelings at home too.
2. Give families the truth on hard and uncomfortable topics, but deliver them with grace.
“For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear” 2 Timothy 4:3 (NLT).
How many pastors stay clear of certain topics because they don’t want to offend people? Unfortunately, the truth can hurt, but how will we ever learn from our mistakes if churches continue to sugar coat our problems? If pastors combine preaching the truth along with the grace of God in their delivery, can you imagine the number of hearts God can change? Many of us have grown accustomed to only listening to what we want to hear and tuning out those who are trying to help. Churches must learn to lovingly speak the truth; though it may be uncomfortable, God can use it for good.
3. Give families the opportunity to serve.
“Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith” Galatians 6:10 (NLT).
God has called us to serve others, and in a community of fellow believers, serving others is how we build and inspire those in Christ to then serve their community. Churches must encourage their congregation to get involved in volunteering, making clear that we don’t serve for recognition but to build up the body of Christ and to glorify God. Church is to be a safe and secure place for people to learn skills and acquire the desire to serve as Jesus did. As parents learn and grow through the act of volunteering, they are modeling a servant’s heart for their children, which can then be carried over into the home.
At HOPE61, we believe that equipping churches to reach their communities is the key to preventing all forms of human trafficking. And a large part of the heart of prevention begins in the home, addressing vulnerabilities at the root. As churches assist and help nurture parents and caregivers to share the love of God and actively practice their faith on a daily basis, real change can then take place.
“And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” Deuteronomy 6:5-9 (NLT).
By Imogen Cook, HOPE61 Trainer, New Zealand