An article by PPL and Rev. Lowell Avery, PPL Board member
Planning and implementing a pregnancy care ministry in your congregation can seem like a major step for ministers, staff and church members, but these ministries are essential in meeting the needs of women, children and families in our pews and in our communities.
A 2015 CareNet and Lifeway Research study found that 4 out of 10 women who had abortions were churchgoers at the time of their abortions; only 7% discussed their abortions with anyone in their church; and 36% said that the church had no influence on their decision to terminate their pregnancy. Many churches present a culture of silence: “Supportive responses from the church are key…’For most women with an unwanted pregnancy, if nobody is willing to say, “We’re going to help you through this,” it’s hard for them to rationally say they should keep the child.’”
An unexpected pregnancy puts a significant number of women at economic risk. Mothers need housing, groceries and clothing. Babies need layettes and infants and toddlers need childcare. Some congregations establish and publicize “Amazon Baby Gift Registries” so people can purchase baby items for new mothers. Others host baby showers in conjunction with the local crisis pregnancy center; or provide classroom space and luncheons for pregnancy center parenting classes. Churches are uniquely positioned to offer not only emotional support, but also material support.
Pregnancy care also includes difficult pregnancies, which are often wanted pregnancies. Parents expecting a special needs child need not only emotional support, but also acceptance – and accommodation – in the life of the congregation. Parents expecting a stillbirth, or a child who is not expected to live more than a few days or hours after birth, are in need of pastoral care both before and after childbirth – perinatal hospice is a great blessing in such cases. Parents who experience a miscarriage not only need pastoral grief counseling and support from the congregation, they are in need of practical help with funerals, caskets and even a memorial garden space.
If the church offers help and ongoing support for women and families experiencing crisis pregnancies, then the community will come to see the church as a resource, and not a judgmental hindrance. This should be true today, but the need will become exponentially greater if Roe v. Wade is overturned or access to abortion is reduced on a state-by-state basis. The church must be ready and should start now.
But before a congregation can begin such a ministry, steps must be taken to prepare and (1) equip the people to understand the problems facing women, children and families and (2) establish an active culture of life within the congregation.
Rev. Lowell Avery is a long-time PPL Board member with experience in establishing a pregnancy-care ministry in his congregation, offers his advice on how to begin:
“And let us not lose heart in doing good,
for in due time we shall reap, if we do not grow weary.” – Galatians 6.9
“If it were easy, more people would do it.” I don’t remember when or where or from whom I first heard that, but I have never forgotten it, perhaps because I experience its truth regularly, especially with regard to engaging in ministry that protects innocent, vulnerable human lives.
What I have found is that there are many distractions and obstacles to engaging in any Christian ministry that champions human life. It’s true for pastors, but also for anyone else who seeks to do something and involve others in the work.
Urgent matters, especially those that others ask us to do, even if they aren’t very important;
Truly important matters to which we are tempted to devote too much time and energy because we enjoy them, and which don’t generally involve the risk of push-back;
Active resistance from some, perhaps only a vocal few (thanks be to God there are none that I know of in the church I serve);
Passive complacency from many;
Fearful avoidance from most;
Laziness in myself and others.
However, there are ways to persevere and overcome such hindrances:
Pray daily about all the issues involved.
Preach and/or talk about the opportunities and needs and the idols idols that kill, steal, and destroy people’s lives and our abilities to help them.
Preach and/or talk honestly and humbly about the sacrifices that will be necessary, acknowledging the difficulties involved, including some of your own failures.
Preach and/or talk passionately – protecting life matters deeply to God – and compassionately – getting involved in the work can be threatening to folks.
Organize, support and encourage a prayer team (or several teams) who meet regularly and frequently.
Call for people to commit to doing something, whatever they can.
Gather and build your Life Team.
Meet with them individually to assess their levels of commitment, maturity, and giftedness.
Form a team of core leaders, meet with them regularly and frequently for prayer and for planning a hands-on ministry, not just check writing.
Plan the work and work the plan; make changes as needed to improve the work.
Connect with your community: like-minded and like-hearted people, for mutual encouragement and support.
Set your own agenda: don’t let the work God calls your church to do get diminished by over-involvement in the agendas of other life advocacy groups.
Celebrate God’s provisions and blessings often, both with the team and your church.
Just don’t quit. Don’t quit praying, and don’t quit working. More is achieved by prayer and grit than by anything else. And may you see some of your labor’s fruit.