An Open Letter to Pastors and Church Leaders
Scott MacNaughton, Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church P.C.A. in Lander, WY, Mentor Father and Co-Founder of Fathers in the Field
As a pastor of a local church, I have the best job in the world. Covenant Presbyterian Church in Lander, WY is not just any church, it’s the church I grew up in since my dad was its founding pastor 40 years ago. On the surface it might seem like a nice and neat little legacy God put together for me, but if you knew the painful story behind these past 40 years – a broken family, child of divorce, church-split – you may be tempted to say, “Scott, what’s so great about the church and specifically this church?”
Despite all of the hurt of the past, I honestly can say I love the church for it’s the bride of Christ. If the church is the bride, then Jesus is its Bridegroom and God the Heavenly Father is its Father. The story of the church is all about how our Heavenly Father set about to restore and redeem marriage and the family—the family of His dear Son, Jesus Christ. What a comforting and secure truth.
Today, our country is overwhelmingly full of broken families. Nearly 50 percent of all children are growing up in father-absent homes. It is into this brokenness that the church should be the shining beacon of hope to the fatherless. But is it? Sadly, 85 percent of single mom families are unchurched—that’s 13.7 million single parents raising 25 million children under the age of 18 (according to Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2009 published by the Census Bureau). That tells me that the church is failing to minister to a huge and ever-growing sector of our population.
Ask yourself, how many single-mom families and fatherless children are in my church? What kind of ministry does our church have to fatherless children addressing this pain-filled wound?
This is where I get to tell you about how the Heavenly Father has redeemed the pain of my broken family, my father-wound and has given me the profound privilege of helping to start a ministry to fatherless children through the local church. It is called Fathers in the Field.
Eight years ago the founder of Fathers in the Field and a member of Covenant, John Smithbaker, told me God was calling him to start a mentoring ministry to fatherless boys. He asked me what we can do as a church to help facilitate this. The question pricked my conscience. Being a child of divorce, I was keenly aware there were a lot of children in our community growing up without fathers in the home. Yet, to my dismay, there were no fatherless children attending our church. Being a student of the Word of God, I knew there is a biblical mandate to care for the fatherless and the widow. It is undeniable and unambiguous.
The Holy Spirit used John’s challenging question that day to set in motion the formation of Fathers in the Field. Seven years later, God has been pleased to establish this ministry in hundreds of local churches in nearly every state across the United States. Hundreds of godly outdoorsmen, all members of local churches, have stepped forward to share their outdoor passion with fatherless boys and their love of the Heavenly Father through a three-year intentional mentoring ministry. We have many moving testimonials from single moms, fatherless boys, mentor fathers, widows, and church leaders about how Fathers in the Field has impacted their lives and the lives of their churches for eternity. But this is only a drop in the bucket in comparison to the need.
Pastors and church leaders, let me be frank with you. One of the greatest hindrances to expanding this non para-church ministry in the local church is the need gets scuttled in the pastor’s office or in a leadership meeting. Many times, this ministry opportunity does not reach the ears and hearts of men in the pews who would jump at the chance of using their outdoor passion for a kingdom purpose. They would love to be presented the opportunity to mentor a fatherless boy in the ways of Christ in God’s Great Outdoors.
Yes, ministry to the fatherless can be messy. Yes, there are risks involved in engaging in this unreached local mission field. But I would rather get my hands dirty and take a little risk, than to stand before my Heavenly Father as a pastor or church leader and say that our local church did nothing to specifically “defend the cause of the fatherless, nor plead the case of the widow” (Isa. 1:17), which is the very definition of true religion (James 1:27).
Please hear my heart. I am not challenging you to do this ministry out of guilt or because I had anything to do with starting it. My desire is simply to point you to the special love that our Heavenly Father has for the fatherless and the widow and to let you know, from first-hand experience as a pastor, that there are great rewards for the local church and its members—some eternal and some right now—in being obedient to the call to “look after the fatherless and widows in their distress” (James 1:27). The need is staggering and all around us.
Pastor and church leader, there is indeed great joy in serving the local church and shepherding the family of Christ. May our Heavenly Father give you grace, strength, courage, and wisdom as you lead your congregation in the pursuit of godliness and compassion for the fatherless. Please prayerfully consider how you can facilitate the ministry of Fathers in the Field in your church.
We, the church body, can no longer walk or drive by the fatherless on our way to church.
Defending the cause,