10 things that will kill your orphan care ministry: Part 3

May 4, 2018

This is part three (read part one and part two) 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.

5. No trusted accountability

There is no way that a local church can really be engaged in local and global orphan care at a high level without help. Healthy, trusted partners are essential. These partners can come in the form of parachurch ministries or other local churches that are closer in proximity to fatherless children. Either way, we have to be able to link arms with like-minded brothers and sisters.

But we need to make sure we can trust those we are working with. One ethical breach—or even perceived ethical breach—by a partner we have championed to our congregations as trustworthy can harm our ministry reputations beyond repair. Although we may have done nothing wrong in our own ministries, we are guilty by association in the eyes of many.

Even worse, our lack of diligence may mean we have been unwittingly complicit in neglecting or harming a child, which is unacceptable. Ultimately, our care in this matter is an act of worship. We are be earnest in how we care for children because of how Jesus cares about them. He took protecting children with the utmost seriousness (Matt. 18:6). Failure to adequately get to know and maintain accountability with our ministry partners will likely prove too costly.

Here are a few suggestions for doing this well:

Put together a checklist for any potential ministry partner. Include a few actions that you would take and some questions that you would need answered before you could begin a partnership, as well as the criteria for how you would evaluate the partnership on an on-going basis.

Personally interview partners thoroughly. If they don’t have time to talk to you and be responsive to your questions and inquiries, it’s probably a great sign that they will not communicate appropriately or be transparent enough to ensure your comfort with them later.

Take a site visit, if at all possible. There is no substitute for actually seeing them work in their context. They will put their best foot forward while you are present, but you can still learn a great deal. You can also learn what others in the community know and think about them.

Check references. Talk to people who partner with, work with, and have worked with them. Ask references for additional ones so that you can go a couple of levels deeper into discovering what others really have to say about them.

Examine credentials and operating policies. Are they ECFA accredited, and/or are their audited financial statements available to examine? Are their overhead expenses kept to an acceptable level? Are they a CAFO member organization? Do they have other memberships or certifications that speak to their credibility? What child welfare policies do they adhere to, and how do they evidence compliance?

Determine how they define ministry effectiveness. Does their philosophy of ministry and set of goals mesh with your ministry’s mission and vision? How do they measure whether they are being effective at meeting their goals? Are they accountable to donors/ministry partners for pursuing/accomplishing these goals? How do they report this information?

Assess ongoing accountability. Do they have policies and procedures that protect children and resources? Do they have ongoing assessments to determine how they are doing in these areas? Does the ministry change as a result of this assessment? How do you know?

You will be able to think of much more that you would add, but the bottom line is that great partnerships are intentional partnerships.

6. An over-emphasis on adoption

One of the reasons that churches struggle to engage people in this ministry is the mistaken impression that if you aren’t going to adopt, you can’t do orphan care.

It seems like the primary misconception that we face in the church about orphan care is that it’s just about adoption. But this notion is wrong. In fact, one of the reasons that churches struggle to engage people in this ministry is the mistaken impression that if you aren’t going to adopt, you can’t do orphan care. Unfortunately, we often subtly reinforce this idea. If the church’s orphan care strategy is dominated by an emphasis upon adoption, then we don’t really help people see the orphan crisis accurately or how to respond to it properly.

Of the world’s 153,000,000 (or likely many more) orphans, less than 18 million are adoptable to Americans. We have to help our church know, therefore, that our orphan care strategy must be balanced to do more than promote adoption. We need to emphasize important things like orphan prevention, family reunification, indigenous adoption, transitional assistance, foster care, and more.

7. A lack of focus

I have yet to encounter a church or orphan ministry that had unlimited resources. We all battle limits of time, money, and people as we seek to respond to James 1:27. With all the possible ways that we can respond, we have to narrow the focus. Failure to do this will mean that our ministries will struggle to invest enough in resources to make a discernible impact. In addition, we will have difficulty explaining the logistics of what we are doing. And, we will find it easy to move from one project to another without much loyalty or direction.

Finally, you will find it complicated to choose between partnership opportunities with any degree of objectivity. I have seen too many people in the church get their feelings hurt because of a lack of clearly defined focus. Without aligned goals and objectives that everyone can clearly understand, decisions about projects can appear arbitrary and aren’t easily explained.

To combat this problem, you need to align with the mission, vision, and values of the church as a whole. You also need to choose a few strategic areas of work and stick to them. One way to do this is to look for projects and ministry partners in places where your church already has missions partnerships. If you can explain how the projects and partnerships you choose fit within your mission in two minutes or less, it’s likely a partnership or program worth considering.

Keep an eye out for the last part in this series, where I’ll share my final observations about mistakes in orphan care ministry.

This Lifeline article 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