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Wednesday I linked to an article at Touchstone about a study of father’s church attendance and the subsequent adult church attendance behavior of their children. I loved the article for two reasons. First, it reminded me of days gone by when I worked as a social scientist. I still like to read the occasional bit of social science research. Second, it reminded me of the central role of fathers. I’m a guy and a father, and the article said, “Hang in there. Keep on keepin’ on. You make a difference.” In short, it was encouraging.

But I didn’t think about how a faithful Christian mom married to an unbelieving husband might read the article. Or a faithful single mom. Today, a dear sister whom I love in the Lord, lovingly wrote to say that the article left her feeling discouraged, particularly the insinuation that no matter how much mom does the kids will turn away. Wow. That would be quite disheartening.

Because of her note, I’m reminded of three things:

1. I’m so very thankful for the sisters of the church who teach me so much. Their lives and perspectives are sometimes so wonderfully different and richer than my own that I’m simply made more humble, human, and helpful when I hear from them. This sister’s note is no exception. It demonstrates again how much we need the entire body of Christ.

2. Every good social scientist ends his article with some kind of qualifier, usually acknowledging the limits of the study. Posting the excerpt as I did, and not posting the original article, I’m sure left out some much needed qualifications that would have helped some who found the op-ed piece discouraging. The most significant Qualification for a study of religious behavior undoubtedly is God. The social science study doesn’t have the last word; God does. And His word of gospel grace and power is final. As evangelicals, we don’t (or shouldn’t) believe that religiosity and discipleship are in the final analysis simply sociological phenomena with human origins. No. We believe that discipleship and faith are supernatural phenomena–benefiting from human means, yes–but ultimately caused and maintained by our sovereign God who works in the lives of those He came to save. Marital status and father’s church attendance doesn’t amount to a hill of beans when God bares His arm to save!

3. The Bible is full of people who joyfully, faithfully, and radically follow Jesus even though their dads never saw a church door:

There is Moses the virtual orphan raised in the pagan home of Pharaoh.
There is Abraham, called by God out of a pagan family and land.
There is Timothy, whose mother was Jewish and father was a Greek who failed to have him circumcised. Timothy knew the scriptures from infancy because of his believing mother and grandmother, and he never departed.
Cornelius, the Gentile who feared God and was among the first fruits of Peter’s preaching to the Gentiles.
Our Lord’s own earthly father, Joseph, is essentially invisible after the birth narratives.

And outside the Bible there is me, and tons and tons of others who grew up in non-Christian homes, who come from other religious backgrounds, whose fathers never attended church and who have by God’s merciful grace come to love the Savior.

This is a partial list off the top of my head. Can you think of others?

It’s not as though we need others.  To that mom and all the other moms like her, we put our hope in this confession: “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” (2 Tim. 1:12b). Sisters, keep trusting the Lord, teaching the Scripture, and encouraging your children to follow the Lord. The Lord’s power does not rest in a man’s example, praise God!

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15 thoughts on “Encouragement for Mothers Whose Husbands Don’t Attend Church”

  1. Ben D. says:

    Good point here, brother.
    When I read Justin’s post I thought, “I can’t wait to unload this research on a few in the church!” Sometimes, I have callously laid the smackdown on the bruised reed!

  2. Christina says:

    Wow. I am so encouraged by your follow-up and humble response. While I don’t always take the time to comment, I do regularly read your blog. That day, when I read your post, I thought the same thing: “There is no hope here.” Of course, I knew you would never deliberately send a hopeless message.

    Having grown up watching my grandmother pray, and wait on God for so many things, I happen to know first hand that statistics…they are really not obstacle to God! Some voices you just have to ignore and fight on — sometimes those voices come in the form of a statistic!

    At any rate, I am thankful for your follow up!

    Thank you so much

  3. Hayden says:

    This is exactly why I read your blog. Thank you my friend for reminding me of my responsibility to not only exhort men from the pulpit but also shepherd the women.

  4. I am glad someone realizes that women are IN Christ, too (Pastor Hayden, Mary from SF). :) Too often, it is seen as an exclusive men’s club, with the women as spectators. This is wrong, women were created in the image of God, also, lest we forget. And with many churches now days lacking in male membership, it is even more crucial that women be instructed in the ways of the Lord.

    I am a complementarian, but believe firmly that women are as important to the Lord as men are, and basically everything in Christian circles is geared toward men. Sorry, I just keep hearing a really well known pastor say that he looks past women, and preaches to the men only.

    1. Thabiti says:

      Hi Sis. Tyler,
      Thanks for commenting. “Amen” to the points you make about women needing to be instructed in the Lord. Any pastor that says “he overlooks women and just preaches to men” has to explain what he does with Titus 2 where Titus is instructed to “teach the older women.” How else will they be able to teach the younger women if the elders don’t instruct them?

      Keep pressing toward the mark, sister.

  5. Thank you, Thabiti. Your blog is a blessing, because you make it that way.

    I’m not sure what got into me, but many, many women I know feel the same way, not that we want to storm the pulpit and lead a congregation, I am not a proponent of women preachers (as a matter of fact, I would never attend a church where a woman is a pastor): it is much deeper than that. Women feel, well, I guess you could say, left behind, or out in left field, simply because all the dialogue is about what men think and feel about Christ, almost as if Christianity is exclusively a men’s club.

    Women love the Lord, too. And love to read His Word, worship and praise Him, which naturally leads us to have a great desire to talk about the things of the Lord, and many men only want women to be silent. I agree with Scripture on women being silent in the church, but how can women hold in their expressions of love for the Lord? Impossible!

    Sorry, don’t mind me, but just recently I have had a few men who take the extreme position that women should not speak at all. I think this issue needs to be addressed.

    God bless you for listening,

    1. momofsons says:

      Thank you Mary. I agree. It seems that especially in homeschooling communities (I am a homeschool mom) and reformed churches, the response against feminism (I am a complementarian) has gone too far and is becoming patriarchalism.

  6. Margaret Vance says:

    Thank you for your comments. This gives me hope for the salvation of my three grandchildren whose father does not want to go to church with our daughter. God is able to do much more than we can imagine. Praise God!

  7. Lindsay says:

    I realize that I come a little late into this thread, but I enjoyed reading these thoughts and wanted to contribute.

    A person that I would add to the list (with an asterisk, because he had a devout biological father present for a time) would be Samuel. His mother, Hannah, portrayed deep faith when she handed her long-awaited son over to a priest whose own parenting skills would be his downfall. Eli’s sons were publically dishonoring their office and the Lord, yet Hannah, obedient to her promise, chose to put her son there. Her faith in God trumped any fear of bad influence, and I am pretty amazed by that. She knew the goodness of God, and trusted Him in such a tangible way. All mothers can be encouraged by her example.

  8. EMSoliDeoGloria says:

    Thanks for these thoughts. I read the original research at Touchstone and, though I never saw your post on it, I had the thought… “oh, one more thing that patriarichalist crowd is going to use to tout the primacy of men at home, in the community, in the workplace, in the church, in short, pretty much everywhere… the pastors will cite this kind of thing when they argue to me that they focus their efforts on discipling men and the women get trickle down benefits…”

    Thanks for saying that’s not your final conclusion on the matter.

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Thabiti Anyabwile

Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

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