Child Abandonment occurs when a parent, guardian, or person in charge of a child either deserts a child without regard for the child’s physical health, safety or welfare and with the intention of wholly leaving the child, or in some instances, fails to provide necessary care for a child living under their roof. It typically involves physical abandonment – such as leaving a child at a stranger’s doorstep when no one is home, it may also include extreme cases of emotional abandonment — such as when a “work-a-holic” parent offers little or no physical contact or emotional support over long periods of time. Unfortunately, abandoned children (also called “foundlings”) who do not get their needs met often grow up with low self-esteem, emotional dependency, helplessness, and other issues.
There are people coming daily to the knowledge of Jesus Christ through the church’s efforts in evangelism and outreach. Many congregations have grown beyond their expectations. And most of them have responded with building programs to accommodate the bodies that show up to join. It can be an exciting time for pastors and their church leadership teams. It can also be a real challenging time to accommodate people who for the first time in their lives are seeking to know God and give their lives to Him. And too often the challenges are met with the same results as described in child abandonment.
Abandonment occurs when people come to church and are left to manage or maneuver for themselves through the maze of church jargon, church programs, worship forms, new people and involvement issues without the caring and nurture of someone who can help them to find their way. In particular, there usually isn’t anyone to nurture the discipleship process. New members become foundlings within the crowded congregation of people they don’t know and find it difficult oftentimes to communicate in ‘church language.’ The new members class isn’t enough!
Our Lord’s instruction to His disciples before His ascension was to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you;” (Matthew 28:19-20) and someone has to take responsibility for ‘making disciples’ by teaching them to observe all things. Someone has to care for individuals in small groups to ‘make disciples.’ Programs and strategies may work to some degree, but real discipleship takes place when people are nurtured through the instruction and personal interactions of everyday life by mentors.
The analogy of beautiful babies brought home by new parents is a good one to drive home this point. No one would imagine bringing a new life into a new home to leave it in a nursery alone. You cannot leave an infant in its room and expect it to get up and run to the refrigerator for its bottle of milk. The infant cannot clean itself up. In other words, this baby is totally dependent upon someone to take responsibility for its care, protection, growth and development.
It is the same with ‘babes in Christ’ who await someone to guide them by taking a personal interest in their growth and development. New Christians need the care and concern of someone who can love them unconditionally, teach and instruct them in the Word, and guide them in achieving life-changing recovery. The issues of the secular world alone are enough to distract or lure new believers back to old habits, addictions, or way of life. The church must treat every new Christian as a ‘newborn’ in need of the intensive and loving care of an attentive discipler.
It is amazing how well the early church engaged in the teaching of the ‘apostles’ doctrine.’ Their focus was upon the teaching and preaching of the word daily. Imagine a blossoming church of 3000+ members in one day. They had to work passionately and with great intent to orientate people, teach the basic tenets of the faith, organize them into smaller groups, structure a leadership team around the apostles, keep mentors and instructors current on matters of faith, maintain the evangelistic outreach, accommodate new converts that were being added daily . . . the list goes on and on. And this church did not experience the ‘revolving door’ of people coming in only to drift away shortly after arriving. “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” Acts 2:41-42 NKJV
People were not abandoned in the early church because the instruction in the word was emphasized as a part of the conversion process. It was not optional! Fellowship was generated around the word of God by bringing people together into homes in which faithful, maturing Christians were found engaging new believers in the word and enjoying the fellowship of saints who were able to minister and mentor. “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church[h] daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:46-47 NKJV
Unfortunately, today’s church is too busy for these kind of intensive interactions. Work outside of the church takes the majority of the time so that what is left for the average church is time for general activities while ‘new converts’ usually have to find their way. It may be that the real test of the 21st Century church is to reclaim those that went through the church without the benefit of real nurturing and instruction to spiritual maturity through discipleship ministries.
Someone must care for the babes in Christ with passion to not take lightly the new life that has come forth through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are not called to produce members, but to make disciples for Christ. Every believer is called to be a part of this process by themselves being disciple for their own personal possibilities as nurturers in the faith. To do this, the church may have to rethink its current strategy to claim members under big roofs. Ministers, teachers, mentors working in small groups designed to teach and minister will reduce the likelihood of the revolving door and the abandonment of ‘children’ in the faith.
Otherwise, members will be left alone to struggle in the maze of the church. Most will not survive to full maturity as disciples that will be able to teach others.
“. . . be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” II Timothy 2:2 NKJV