Mending the Fatherless Fracture by Mentorship

Posted by: DVULI | July 17, 2021

Two men sit on bleachers in a stadium, discussing mending the fatherless fracture through mentorship, an opinion by Jon Coker.

Opnion by Jon Coker (San Antonio 2010)

While another generation suffers through an epidemic of fatherlessness, many youth leaders are forsaking their posts as mentors in pursuit of social media influence.

There are a few species of chameleons that have live births instead of laying eggs. The mothers climb into the trees and leave their babies to fend for themselves. Within seconds, the newborns conjure up the strength to hobble to safety fully aware of the predators that lurk nearby. The more culture influences the church, the more youth discipleship is reduced to “Chameleon Christianity.” The introduction into the faith is often focused on the highs of our youth events from which we’re birthing young people into the kingdom with little to no follow-up guidance and mentorship. As a result of navigating the challenges and questions of this new life alone, our youth are camouflaging to the culture and filling in the blanks with substances, sex, and other risky behaviors, leaving God out of their survival plan more and more.

For many emerging leaders called to this generation, following Jesus is just as casual as following a celebrity on social media. We subscribe to His teachings as an optional standard for morality but scroll past His Lordship.

Presenting a non-confrontational gospel fixed on self-help, satisfaction, and staying #OnMyGrind, becomes a sure way to rally followers on most platforms. Social influencers are today what rappers were to urban communities in the 1990s. Their credibility is so weighty that Fortune 500 companies are willing to pay them to market directly to their following. Subscribers have become a symbol of status and a stamp of authority, which is why creating leadership content is far more advantageous than actually leading people.

I’m not throwing shade at social influencers. I have great respect for the profession and anyone who can successfully get their message above the noise of the net. But when we take the influencer mindset into our mentoring relationships, we lose influence. A suicidal teenager cannot wait in your DMs (direct messages) for an answer. They need access to our lives.

One in three young people is growing up without a father in their household. That fracture follows them for the rest of their lives if no one steps in to bridge that gap.

It’s almost surreal to say it, but there is a new generation of fathers who are millennials. This generation disrupted every industry, invented selfies, and taught the world that coffee shops make better workspaces than cubicles. What happens if the innovation generation finds a new way to do everything, including passing the mantle? If our pursuit is all about “doing me” and climbing up the tree, then our youth will never be more to us than numbers on the scoreboards of our programs.

The kids in our communities become the currency of our social engagement to prove that we are “killing the game.” Mentorship does not work in selfie mode. We have to flip our focus from a programming paradigm to a relational experience.

Before the pandemic, young people ages 12–18 spent up to nine hours a day on screens. That number increased during the lockdowns. With all the influences they are exposed to online, none of them make up for the voice of one consistent role model. Someone summed up the impact of the fatherlessness epidemic by saying, “Every child has a hole in their soul in the shape of their father if their father is missing.” Absent fathers create gaps in the lives of nearly 24 million young people in the US, and those gaps are often filled with vices that put our youth at risk. One hour a month can change a child’s life trajectory from drug addiction, incarceration, teen pregnancy, and suicide to an ever-increasing track of achievement and fulfillment.

The Search Institute has surveyed more than six million young people since 1990 in their research of the 40 Developmental Assets. The trend has consistently revealed that the more external assets (relationships, supports, and opportunities) and internal assets (skills, commitments, and personal values) children have in their lives, the more likely they are to thrive and avoid risky behaviors. In other words, it takes a village to raise a child, but it only takes one child to transform a village.

Mentors must live their lives within imitation distance of those they lead. The Bible details the best examples of strong mentorship through the lives of people like Elijah or Moses. Even Jesus, who, in three years, launched a mentorship movement that continues to increase to this day. Elijah demonstrated faith in the power of God within imitation distance of his spiritual son, Elisha. As a result, Elisha’s first miracle was identical to his mentor’s last miracle. He raised the mantle, called on “the LORD, the God of Elijah,” struck the waters of the Jordan River, and parted them in two (2 Kings 2:14). Elisha had a natural father but gleaned invaluable wisdom and strength from his spiritual father and mentor, Elijah.

We tend to feel disadvantaged by what we lack, especially when our fathers are not there for us. Our heavenly Father is such a great provider that He ensures we will always have what we need even if it does not come from the place we prefer. On the flip side, God has equipped each one of us to be a guide and a gap-filler for someone else. We are qualified for mentorship by the things that make us feel most unqualified. The apostle Paul says it best in 2 Corinthians 1:3–5 (ESV):

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

It is no secret that hurt people hurt people, but according to the truth in this scripture, if we trust God with our brokenness, He not only comforts us but also equips us to be comforters to others who need the same comfort we once received. That’s a lot of comfort!

Suffering without surrender creates selfishness. If we never avail ourselves to receive the comfort of God, we never discover the purpose for our pain and inadvertently deprive others of life-giving hope. We become the chameleon who focuses on climbing higher and higher up the tree while dropping generations in the dirt to start the cycle over.

Today, embrace the challenge of being a voice of affirmation, an example of integrity, and a point of contact for comfort even if you never had it. This is our time to shift our focus and stand in the gap for those fractured by their fathers.

Jon Coker (San Antonio 2018) is the Student Ministries Director at Christian World Worship Center in San Antonio, Texas. He is also a multimedia journalist and digital reporter for KENS-5, a public speaker, and a contributing writer.

This article was published in the Summer 2021 issue of DVULI’s On the Level print newsletter.