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.