If you have noticed that many American children are becoming more rebellious, combative, troubled, violent, promiscuous and delinquent, you are not alone nor exaggerating. In some neighborhoods, it is dangerous to walk the streets because more and more children are joining gangs. The proliferation of gangs has immobilized many schools including schools in middle-class neighborhoods as inner-city dwellers understandably relocate to suburbia for safer communities.
Why are so many American children struggling? I believe many of them are broken, especially African-American children, and their brokenness is occurring at earlier ages. To ensure that we are on the same page, I define brokenness as the inability to dream and visualize a good life because of a cycle of hopelessness and despair. For African American children, this cycle revolves around fatherlessness, poverty, failing schools, sexual & physical abuse, racial injustice, mass incarceration, which cause these children to feel discarded, trapped and relegated to failure. They view their lives as worthless and cheap, which causes them to place little value on the lives of others. Consequently, they become angry, violent and self-destructive.
Brokenness has never been worse for African-American children. The awful disparities in so many bleak areas of black life including the atrocious homicide rate for black men age 19-34 arise from it. If brokenness continues to increase among African-American children, and there is no indication that it will not, all Americans will pay a heavy price. Specifically, these broken children will cost the nation billions to police, prosecute, incarcerate, house, educate and provide them free medical care. The consequences of neglecting them further become glaring when we couple these costs with their inability to contribute anything meaningful to our nation. It is no wonder that conservatives are jumping on the bandwagon suddenly to reform the criminal justice system.
Nevertheless, these broken children are not irreparable. They can be repaired and restored. I used to believe the public school system was the best instrument to repair them. I do not think this anymore. My opinion has changed because of the hostility many public school teachers have for African American children. As Professor Jomo Mutegi of the School of Education at Indiana University stated in a recent interview for the NBPA, most public school teachers are white females who fail at educating African American children because they lack the ethic of love for African American students especially African American males. In fact, Professor Mutegi says white female teachers usually fear rather than love African American male students. Research supports Professor Mutegi’s assertions.
For these reasons and others, I believe churches are the best option to repair broken African American children. Churches are unencumbered by hostility and are restrained only by their love for these children. If they follow the example of Jesus, moreover, their love for broken children will become more passionate and foremost. In St. Luke 18:15-17, Jesus expressed such great love for children that He rebuked His disciples for interfering with His ability to bless and touch the children and declared that all believers must become as children to enter the Kingdom of God. Against that backdrop, I assert again that churches can repair our broken children if they follow the example of Christ and demonstrate His love for them.
How serious should Christians be about loving children? It should be our top priority! Children are vulnerable, helpless, and they are our future. What is more, God tells us through King David the Psalmist to defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed (Psalm 82:3). Most broken children usually fit all these descriptions in that they are fatherless, weak, poor and oppressed. Churches cannot, therefore, shirk nor delegate to the government their duty to defend and deliver broken children from oppression. Churches have a divine mandate to open their doors throughout the week and use God’s house and resources to repair these broken children. In light of the growing number of broken children in their communities, it should be unacceptable for inner-city churches to continue opening their doors only on Sundays and Wednesday nights. Jesus said His church should be the light and salt of the world, or they will become good for nothing.
How can churches defend and deliver broken children from oppression practically and spiritually? I have five suggestions.
- Establish effective outreach to broken children and youth. Look at the budgets of most African American churches you’ll likely see a very scant amount of money earmarked for outreach to children and youth. Sadly, it is not a top priority for black churches as it is for white churches. The apathy of black churches toward black children and youth is indefensible in light of the many problems our children face; one would think such outreach would be a huge priority and slice of every black church’s budget pie. This indifference must stop! Churches in inner-city communities must do more outreach to our young. They must stop being introverted, miserly and do as Jesus commanded the church, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19-20). If churches continue to fail at this outreach, more of our children will become broken and prey for the evildoers. Moreover, churches must accept the fact that traditional outreach methods that were effective fifty years ago, even ten years ago, will likely fail to reach these broken children and youth today.
- Implement discipleship programs for the children and youth. The other side of outreach is discipleship, which is the process of molding the character and behavior of the disciple into that of his leader. After churches reach broken children and youth, they need to disciple them as they do adults. In fact, discipleship of African American broken children is more needful and efficient because they are younger and impressionable. It is important to train them in the right and proper ways to behave while they are young and salvageable. Bending a young tree is much easier than bending an old tree. Often these broken children are not getting this discipleship at home. Therefore, when our churches fail to defend and deliver these broken children from the streets, they are low hanging fruit for the nefarious forces of the neighborhood such as gangs. As a matter of fact, Chicago has a notorious and violent street gang that calls itself the Gangster Disciples. Its members became Gangster Disciples rather than Christian Disciples because churches failed at its outreach to these broken young men.
- Develop after school programs. After broken children leave regular school, they need additional love, assistance, and support. After-school programs are a beautiful and relatively inexpensive way for churches to meet these needs. They can provide children remedial help academically and a loving place to avoid the streets. Every church that exists in neighborhoods where there are lots of broken children should develop after-school programs. Unsurprisingly, most public schools welcome after-school programs that churches create. They know African American students need remedial help and appreciate the help and assistance with African American children. The National Black Parents Association is studying different methods to help churches devise effective after-school programs and meet this tremendous need.
- Develop Saturday Morning school and mentoring programs. Saturday morning school is another wonderful way to provide broken children more opportunity to be mentored by loving churches. Churches can use this time to provide sports and art activities or whatever meets the needs of these children, or maybe they could partner with schools to use this time as an alternative to out-of-school suspension. Whatever the use, Saturday morning school is an extraordinary way for churches to minister to broken children.
- Revive Sunday School for children. During my childhood, most children in my neighborhood attended Sunday school. This time was similar to public school except the subject matter was the Bible. Often, the same teachers who taught regular school were the Sunday school teachers. Thus, this was additional time during the week to mentor children. Today, however, and unfortunately, many churches have abandoned Sunday school. Children are losing this time to learn the Bible and receive additional mentorship. Instead, gangs are filling this hole, and the results have been nothing short of devastating.
In conclusion, maybe you can help your church become active in repairing broken children. If not, perhaps you should find a church that is already doing these things or is willing to do them. Either way, I encourage you not to stand idly by and watch these broken children languish. If you are a Christian, you saw above that Christians are under a divine mandate to help repair broken children. One day every Christian will give an account for his or her response to this mandate, so we encourage everyone to join the fight to repair our broken children. The time for strategic action is now!