A Note from Kelly King: Today’s article by Deb Douglas is the first in a series on prodigal families. Choices do reap consequences, but ministering in the messy means not giving up on those who make poor choices. Find ways you can still be available and minister in those difficult circumstances.
There is a family that has lost everything. E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. They were a normal church family. They came with smiles and “Hey, how are you?” every Sunday just like other families.
Mom. Dad. Two beautiful kids. Dressed cute. Clean.
Things started to crumble and fall apart. In a short time, the rumors were flying. Partying. Drugs. Affairs. And then jail time.
It started with a choice. As choices do, that one bad choice rocketed into a downward spiral of bad choices and the inability to make a wise one. That is the nice, sanitized way of saying what happened. The reality is sin took over. It edged in and became boss. Everything that looked like a normal church family was overshadowed and smashed by the choice to keep going with the sin rather than fight back to keep that pesky sin out of the home.
The children were left confused. What happened? Their normal went from Sundays at church to wondering where their parents were and later to prison visits. They had questions. Why did their church family not do anything to help stop the chaos that took over their family? And if the church was so important to their parents and church was so good, why did their parents change?
I wish I could write that this was a fictional story, but it is not. It is a crushing story of a prodigal family and it happens over and over again. In our world, we want to think there is nothing we can do because we are not to judge. We think we’re to be tolerant and respect their right to choose. But what if we intervened and that one first bad choice stopped there? The rest of the story wouldn’t happen and the spiral of choices would not throw everything out of kilter and destroy a family.
How can we intervene in a respectful way when a family is falling apart?
- Pray for discernment in how and when to approach the family.
- Check personal motives before intervening. If this is about anything other than rescuing a family, talk to the pastor to determine if there is a better person to intervene.
- Be humble. Understand that this could happen to anyone, even us. Leaders. Ministers. Anyone. Be on guard.
- Fact check. Make sure the information is correct before intervening. Just because someone told it, posted it, or rumored it, does not mean it is true.
- Talk to the pastor about how and when to approach. Work under his authority and in unison with him as he ministers to the family.
- Approach with love and in private.
- Listen. Listen to her story. Pray with her. Ask how to help, and then help.
- Expose bad choices for what they are: sin. But also explain there is forgiveness from God.
- Continue to be available. When the rumors start, people tend to scatter or become shallow in their relationships. Instead, be available.
- Pray with the family.
- Be careful not to become part of the problem. Prayer requests that further the gossip and rumors are not helpful! Instead, enlist private (anonymous) prayer warriors. Give no names and only vague information.
- Be there for the children when things do fall apart. Offer rides to church and events. Source scholarships for children to attend camps and events.
The son in a church family that was falling into bad choices called me. Between sobs, he asked me to “fix” his mother. She was destroying the family. “Make her stop!” he said. I told him I had started a conversation with her months before, confronted her about her choices, but without results. The family struggled on, each family member having to find a new kind of normal. There was a lot of shame, hurt, and fall out. More bad choices. At one point, the mother told me it was difficult for her to be around me because it made her feel bad about her life choices. I explained that was not I, but conviction settling on her. Later, she came back and thanked me for trying to rescue her from losing it all and for trying to prevent the chaos she created.
Intervening in the messiness of a prodigal family is a loving thing to do. When lovingly and prayerfully done, intervention can stop the spiral and prevent further harm. Sometimes, God calls us to wade into the messiness.
Romans 6:12-13 says, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its desires. And do not offer any parts of it to sin as weapons for unrighteousness. But as those who are alive from the dead, offer yourselves to God, and all the parts of yourselves to God as weapons for righteousness.”
For more help and resources on ministering in the messy, check out Women Reaching Women in Crisis and Steps: Gospel-Centered Recovery or refer to the other articles in the Hurting Women or Ministering in the Messy categories.
God has called Deb Douglas to make a difference in the world, one woman at a time. For over 39 years, Deb has served in women’s ministry. Now she spends her time ministering to women in the sex trade ministry and serving as the Director of Biblical Counseling at First Baptist Bossier City. Deb is a contributor to LifeWay’s All Access blog, a freelance writer, and an event speaker. Deb was the first to graduate from New Orleans Baptist Theological seminary with a Masters focusing on women’s ministry and has earned a Doctor of Education in Ministry degree from NOBTS. Deb is “Pearl” to 3 sweet grand babies, “Mom” to Jared Douglas and Katie Chavis, and wife/sweetheart to Paul Douglas.