“My pastor is just not very supportive of having an orphan care ministry in our church.” I have heard this phrase too many times. As an adoptive parent, I don’t get it. “How could a pastor and church not be over-the-top supportive of families looking to take in orphans? Have they not read James 1:27?!”
But I am also a pastor, and as a pastor, I entirely get it. The pastor feels pulled in many directions, and the more challenging the ministry endeavor, the less likely he is to take it seriously. At the rate the culture and family are changing, many pastors feel that they are doing all they can just to keep the ministry going.
I want to suggest a general sequence of five steps orphan care advocates might take to engage their pastor about beginning or expanding an orphan care ministry—and giving their pastor a vision for the way that a James 1:27 ministry can fuel the life of the church.
1. Understand the capacity of pastoral ministry. Most pastors feel maxed by the pressures of ministry and are approached regularly about this need or that one in the church. Most church members do not understand these pressures, let alone the toll that general leading and preaching/teaching take on pastors. For pastors to add a ministry effort, they feel like they must take something else away. This is simply the framework, the structure of ministry. And this rubric applies not only to a pastor’s time but the church budget as well. How does this reality affect the foster/adoptive parent eager for their pastor to lead the church through the peaks and valleys of orphan care? They may feel that their pastor has shunned or even rejected them. But, foster/adoption advocate, do not take a pastor’s lukewarm response personally. Your pastor likely reacts that way to many initiatives that come across his desk.
2. Be a good church member. The best way to be heard by your pastor is to keep your feet in the door of the church. Heed the Word, be a well-rounded disciple of Christ in the church, use your gifts to serve as you are able, tithe, participate in prayer ministries, advocate for missions of all kinds. As your pastor sees your genuine commitment to the whole body, you will gain a more sympathetic hearing for your special concern of orphan care ministry.
The best way to be heard by your pastor is to keep your feet in the door of the church.
3. Befriend your pastor’s wife, and let her be your friend. The pastor’s wife and the orphan care mom may, ironically, have something in common: both may feel lonely, even though they are around people all of the time. Lonely but never alone. So try to arrange an opportunity to go to lunch together. Before you leave the restaurant, make a point to set a time to meet again. Be transparent about all that is going on in the orphan care work and life—just share as a friend. And listen as a friend, too. This will serve your pastor and his wife and may enable them to catch a vision for your ministry burden.
4. Make an appointment with your pastor to talk specifically about orphan care ministry. This appointment will likely be more successful if some of the steps above have been done. At the meeting, share your heart and your mind. Be specific. Briefly describe your experiences and what you would like to see in an orphan care ministry in your church. Most importantly, dialogue with your pastor about the way that orphan care ministry can accelerate many other segments of the church.
At the 2017 Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit, Russell Moore shared several ideas he has learned over the last 15 years of personal orphan care ministry. Moore shared that he was surprised how applicable orphan care work is to all areas of church ministry. Churches that embrace orphans, Moore noted, are implicitly trained in relational endurance, bearing burdens, showing sacrificial love and engaging the Great Commission.
5. Pray and persist. The four ideas noted above may need to be recycled and deployed again, patiently, over a period of months or even years. The capacity for ministry may not expand as quickly as an orphan care advocate might wish. But rest assured, when orphan care becomes a part of the church, the pastor will thank you for helping him enrich the church’s overall ministry.
And if you are interested in learning more or would like to give something to your pastor or fellow church members that will help develop their heart for living out James 1:27, pick up a copy of Adopted for Life (Crossway, 2015) by Russell Moore or the The Gospel and Adoption (Lifeway, 2017).