January 22, 2023 is National Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. Although not all churches are aware of the history of this event, it offers a great opportunity for churches to begin the year championing the Imago Dei; that is, the theological truth that all human life—from conception to natural death—is special, sacred, and created in the image of God.
Especially this year, on this side of Roe being overturned, it is more important than ever for local churches to lead with love on this issue. Although we may not know how the Supreme Court’s decision will play out in individual states, we do know that making abortion illegal doesn’t make it unthinkable, and life decisions will always need life support.
To help your church be a central point of compassion in your community, here are seven ways— including several practical steps—to maximize this year’s Sanctity of Human Life Sunday:
- Determine to talk about the abortion issue as a minister of the gospel, not as a culture warrior. “Makoto Fujimura, painter and author of Art and Faith: A Theology of Making, has described ‘culture war’ as a polarized mindset, viewing culture as territory to dominate rather than a common space Christians share with their neighbors.” We can find that common ground with our neighbors– regardless of their political perspective– by reaching for higher ground. I have found Care Net’s vision statement very helpful in keeping me focused on that “higher ground:”
Care Net envisions a culture where women and men faced with pregnancy decisions are transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and empowered to choose life for their unborn children and abundant life for their families.
Also, as ministers of the gospel, we should never talk about abortion without talking about abortion recovery and God's mercy and forgiveness (for more on this, see 7.e. below).
- Focus on the life issue for the whole month of January, not just on one Sunday. For example, you could do a four-week series that holistically focuses on life from womb to the tomb, using one week to focus on abortion’s priority status. And make no mistake: abortion will always retain a priority status among life issues as you can’t even have life or any kind of human flourishing if you don’t have a birthday.
- Help your congregation understand why women have abortions. Here’s a piece I shared recently that includes a 4-minute video of a pastor using Planned Parenthood’s own research to help his church begin their outreach efforts with empathy.
- Give gospel-centered meaning to the term “sanctuary” city. Some are currently using this term to communicate control; that is, there will be no abortions in our city on our watch. Although this focus is not problematic when grace-based approaches like this are prioritized, explain to your people that leading with love on this issue is about compassion, not control. Then redefine sanctuary as a safe place where women and men facing pregnancy decisions can find compassion, hope, and help.
- Share 31 Ways to Be Pro Abundant Life. This resource will give your congregation 31 practical and compassionate ways they can live out their faith right in their own community.
- Formally prepare your church for ministry to the abortion-vulnerable and post-abortive. Many churches think nothing of investing time and money to equip a short-term mission team to go and offer compassion, hope, help, and discipleship to those who think differently than they do. What’s more, in preparation for their trip, each team member would receive training to better understand the people group they’d be serving. In a similar way, the idea of planning to end the life of one’s child is a foreign concept to many, reflected in a statement like “I can’t begin to imagine why someone would abort their child.” That’s why we created Making Life Disciples (MLD) 2.0, a basic training, using 12 one-hour sessions, to help individuals develop empathy and skills to better reach the abortion-vulnerable and post-abortive. You can experience the first session at no cost here and here is a two-minute trailer on MLD 2.0 you can show your church.
- At the end of your message (or after one of your messages if doing a series), extend a public invitation to attend either a class or follow-up event. If you choose to do the follow-up event, here are some suggested steps:
- Choose a specific night, no more than three weeks after your message. Give date, time, and place.
- At the follow-up event, share your heart for your church to do something specific, measurable, and tangible for the abortion-vulnerable in your church and community. Spend some time in prayer and show the streaming content for the first session of Making Life Disciples 2.0. You can access that content at no cost at makinglifedisciples.com.
- After viewing the content above, ask those present to let you know in the next week (again, give them a specific date) if they would like to go through this kind of training.
- If possible, based on the response, delegate the actual running of the course to a competent and passionate individual.
- Be prepared for those that are post-abortive. This kind of ministry often gives context for confession of sin and healing to take place. Also, sometimes those that are post-abortive bring great passion and energy to pro-life efforts. They want to spare others from the pain they’ve suffered. One caution here, however, is to make sure potential volunteers have experienced Christ’s forgiveness; that is, that they are not seeking to atone for past sins through involvement. If you encounter any needs in this area, this resource may be helpful for any in need of healing.
- Once a team is trained, give your public support through a commissioning service. Since abortion is such a private and hidden issue, it’s critical that your congregation know who the individuals are that have been trained to offer compassion, help, and hope—AND, that you are behind them!
- If no one shows up or expresses interest in your follow-up event, wait on God’s timing. Begin to pray intentionally with your leadership for the abortion-vulnerable and what your church might do in the future. God must provide the fire, and wind beneath our sails. As Moses said, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.” (Exodus 33:15, ESV) It can be hard to wait on God’s timing but sometimes that’s the wisest thing to do.
May God bless your courage and intentionality to prepare your church to lead with love on this vital issue that, again—as far as the Church’s role, is not about control but compassion—not about politics but practical ministry. If our team can be of support to you in any way, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us by texting LIFE to 703.653.1107 or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org .
 Some churches offer this to all adults and teenagers in a small group or S.S. class. If you do this you can either have a handbook for each individual to take home (and bring weekly) or a specified number to keep at the church.
About the author: Dr. Greg Austen is Care Net’s Executive Director of Church Outreach & Engagement and a church planter and pastor with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. He is also the author of Irreplaceable: Recovering God’s Heart for Dads and How I Became a Christian Despite the Church.