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.