10 things that will kill your orphan care ministry: Part 2

April 27, 2018

This is part two (read part one here) of a series born out of several years of consulting with and observing many churches across America develop orphan care ministries.

Over time, I have noticed 10 common mistakes that cause these ministries to struggle and even fail. I want to share those observations with you in an effort to help and to stir a discussion about the good things being done to minister well in orphan care.

3. Not supporting families

Adoption and foster care are hard—really hard. If we are going to call families to jump in and engage the orphan care crisis by adopting and fostering, we have to be ready to support them through our church communities. It will stall the momentum of an orphan ministry or even kill it if the church challenges families to begin fostering and adopting but fails to be a safe, supportive community that backs them when they do.

I don’t think churches set out to do anything intentional. Still, inattention can be deadly. Honestly, churches can be some of the least inviting and adaptive places for families that are different—and many adoptive and foster families would admit to being “different.” Many of our kids have quirks, dysfunction, and limitations that are pretty far out of the mainstream. Caregivers have needs, as well. Caregiving causes stress and raises issues.

Oftentimes, the church can be guilty of romanticizing or over simplifying orphan care and adoption. We urge people to engage in it, but we don’t get them ready for the inevitable needs they will have if they actually listen to us. We have to acknowledge the mess that adopting and fostering can be, and engage families in the mess. That’s acting like Jesus.

So, if a church is going to call people to engage in orphan care and adoption it needs to support families by:

Beginning supportive communities for parents and children. We all need a safe place to share, decompress, and learn from each other. Being intentional about making time and space for these groups to happen indicates that we value both community and supporting one another.

Seeking out access to Christian counseling services for families. The skill of referral is not to be underestimated, especially in the case of an overburdened family. Being able to point a family that is struggling to resources that can provide relief is a huge help. Taking the time to research and learn about good community services and communicating these to families is very important.

Putting great emphasis on developing and/or strengthening a special needs ministry. This is an important ministry for an increasing number of families. These children with special needs are treasures from God who are created in his image. By and large, their needs are ignored and under-served by most churches. In many cases, they are suffering in silence and need the community of the church and the kind of selfless love expressed in the gospel given to them in their desperation. We need to do better; and we can.

Consider tutoring and ESL ministries for kids that are struggling academically. Many older adoptees and foster children have gotten off to a rough start and have developmental delays, learning difficulties, are behind in school, or are in need of language help. With the wealth of people resources in most churches, we have the skills and ability to help many of these children by setting up things as simple as tutoring programs or English conversation groups.

Being willing to change our terms and traditions. Many of the most closely held traditions, and even some of simplest teaching activities we use, leave many foster and adopted children out. It’s hard for a child to be asked to draw a family tree when they don’t know theirs, or to bring a baby picture to class when they don’t have one. Creating safe environments for these families should be a key component of our ministry strategy.

Developing a culture of patience. Adoption and foster care is messy, and the families that engage in these ministries make messes. Churches have to be willing to excuse the messes, and even celebrate the joys in the midst of them, if they are going to support families well.

Ultimately, there are countless ways that we can find to be supportive. The main thing we must do is be attentive to families’ needs and help them. As the church, we are family; and that’s what families do for each other.

4. Not celebrating wins

One of the reasons that the orphan ministry fails or struggles in some churches is that it’s often one of the best kept secrets. No one really knows that the church is actually doing orphan ministry, and they aren’t aware of the good things that the church is doing in Jesus’ name for orphans. And they won’t know unless we make an intentional effort to tell them.

We need to celebrate the good things that happen in orphan care together. When there is a fundraising goal reached, we should acknowledge it and celebrate it. We should welcome adoptive families home and celebrate them. We need to honor sponsoring children and taking mission trips and prayer vigils, and lots of other things.

I think there are several reasons for doing this:

It is an act of worship. When we celebrate a victory, it’s an opportunity to thank God, acknowledge his goodness and care, and give him glory. We can be intentional about celebrating the God who gave the victory and in whose name it is accomplished.

It encourages those who participated or are participating. When we celebrate an adoption with a shower for the new addition, the family gets to feel loved and valued. When we celebrate reaching a child sponsorship goal, the organizing team is affirmed. Celebrating passes our blessing to those we are seeking to support.

It encourages others in the congregation to consider how God would have them respond. They might offer prayer support, lead a major ministry initiative, or choose to adopt. These types of celebrations have stirred many to consider their role in obeying James 1:27.

Keep an eye out for part three in this series, where I’ll share more observations about mistakes in orphan care ministry.

This Lifeline originally appeared here.

Rick Morton

Rick Morton is the vice president of engagement at Lifeline Children’s Services.  Morton is the co-author of Orphanology: Awakening to Gospel-Centered Adoption and Orphan Care and the author of KnowOrphans: Mobilizing the Church for Global Orphanology.  He and his wife, Denise, have been married for over 30 years and have … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24