Twenty-eight years ago, a book was written with the title “Fatherless in America.” The author was David Blankenhorn. Blankenhorn decried the number of children growing up in homes without fathers. In fact, the subtitle of the book was “Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem.”
The author cited statistics indicating that from 1960 to 1990, the percentage of children growing up with both their biological parents dropped from 80.6% to 57.7%, and the number of children growing up apart from their biological had risen from 17.5% to 36.3%.
Blankenhorn predicted that if this social problem was not addressed, there would be dire outcomes. There would be an increase in youth violence. There would be an increase in domestic violence against women. There would be an increase in child sexual abuse. And there would be an increase in child poverty with its own host of deficits that accrue.
But that was 1990. What about today? Today we can say Blankenhorn was right. In all those measures, and in a few more, the well-being of children who lack a viable male presence in their formative years continues to decline.
The most recent statistic that I could find from the National Center for Fathering states there are twenty million children growing up without a father figure in their home. Over a generation the effects predicted aren’t surprising as men who grew up without fathers assume a role for which they have had no positive role model.
The recent survey from the last LCMS National Youth Gathering revealed that the percentage of teens at the gathering living with both biological parents was far above the national average; meaning that either this was a special group of young people not randomly assembled or that our Lutheran families are more stable than those of the general population. I pray that it is the latter rather than the former.
What does this have to do with youth ministry?
Only this. Youth ministry needs the participation of faithful adult men who can model for teens what an adult Christian man believes, how an adult Christian man behaves, and how an adult Christian man loves – with the love of Christ he has received.
Do you have men involved in your ministry setting? Don’t say yes just because the pastor is involved. His role tends to put him in a slightly different category. Are there faithful lay men involved? You see, they model the vocation of “Christian Man” for the teen. Let’s not underestimate their influence.
If not, can you look for gifted men in the congregation who can fulfill this role?
Rev. Dr. John Oberdeck
For more resources see:
Jeffrey Hemmer, Man Up: The Quest for Masculinity. CPH 2017
The Lutheran Witness. (June/July 2018) “Men at Church”
Dr. John Oberdeck was a parish pastor in Southern Illinois for ten years, and served on the faculty of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis in the Practical Department for thirteen years before coming to Concordia University Wisconsin in 2002, most recently serving as the Director of Lay Ministry. He retired in June 2017. He and his wife, Ginny, live in Brown Deer, Wisconsin, and have three grown children and seven growing grandchildren.