The orphan, the church and pastoral leadership

June 14, 2017

This month marks the 225th anniversary of William Carey’s now famous volume, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen. In 1785 Carey began pastoral work in England, and through developments in cartography, Carey learned of the earth’s geographic and ethnic landscape. His studies compelled a concern for the lost souls of humanity around the world—but Carey could find few sympathizers. Some of his fellow pastors, thinking God would not employ the efforts of men to spread the gospel message, squelched Carey’s pleas for international missions efforts.

Carey responded by pressing his ministerial associates to consider the blessings they enjoyed in Christ and the world’s need to be reconciled to the Savior. In an effort to persuade fellow pastors to form an alliance and begin sending missionaries to India, Carey wrote his Enquiry—and Carey was persuasive. On June 13, 1793 Carey set sail for India, having been commissioned by fellow pastors and churches to take the gospel to the heathen. Church historians today cite William Carey’s mission to India at the end of the 18th century as the fount of modern missions.

The current orphan crisis—and the need for the church’s response—requires brave voices like Carey’s in our day. Each year, the month of May is designated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as National Foster Care Month. In her article, “Foster Children Need the Church,” Brittany Lind writes,

The need is enormous, but when you consider that there are roughly 348,067 evangelical churches in America, the 430,000 children-in-foster-care number doesn’t seem quite so daunting. Unfortunately, it’s not a problem that can be solved by simply doing the math and distributing children among churches. Many factors complicate the issue, but the numbers are still fascinating to consider.

Lind notes that the church can help in many ways (meals for a family, clothes, furniture, etc.), but ultimately these kids need homes and families.

Who within the church might be equipped to personally take orphans into their homes, giving children a nuclear family as well as connecting them with the gospel-life of a local fellowship? In the logic of William Carey, what means might God employ for such a task? Based upon analysis of statements about leadership in the Pastoral Epistles and 1 Peter, I suggest that pastors enjoy a unique position through which they might help the church to care for orphans, fulfilling James’s ideal of pure and undefiled religion (Jas 1:27). And as pastors exemplify hospitality to orphans, they will set a mark of faith for the church to imitate—thus multiplying the effect of their leadership (Heb. 13:7).

Local pastors as examples for the church

The pastoral qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 can be categorized in various ways, and I suggest three headings:

  1. Exemplary Christian moral integrity in spheres both proximal (“the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2, 4–5) and public (1 Tim, 3:2, 7).
  2. The ability to teach Christian doctrine (1 Tim 3:2).  
  3. Hospitality to the needy (1 Tim 3:2).

These headings provide an apt framework for the similar list Paul wrote in Titus 1:5-9. In light of the dark situation on Crete (Titus 1:12), it follows that those serving as pastors would need to set the pace for good doctrine and good deeds. And this is exactly what Paul called Titus to identify in potential elders, men that: showed Christian behavior in private (Titus 1:6-7) and public (Titus 1:7-8); were able to teach (Titus 1:9); and had a reputation for good works toward the needy (Titus 1:8).

Like Paul in the Pastorals, Peter recognized that the elders of the church must set the pace for maintaining Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxy in the face of opposition. At the conclusion of his letter, Peter directed his attention to the elders of the church exhorting them to shepherd and oversee the flock among them by being examples (1 Pet. 5:3). This exhortation Peter lists as the antithesis of domineering leadership that called the congregation to act a certain way but did not model that behavior for them.

Peter’s logic, like Paul’s noted already, rests on the notion that the church at large required visual patterns of necessary Christian good works. If the church was to take up specific Christian activities to defend the Christian message before antagonists in the world, the pastors would have to demonstrate such behavior for the believers under their care.

Orphan care and pastoral leadership

In short, pastors are to model Christian integrity and wholeness—and this brings us to the argument of the Epistle of James. The religious and socio economic matrix of James’s audience placed orphans and widows at a point of peril. If the church did not come to their aid, no one would.

But James described the church as likewise in a vulnerable position—in need of working out its faith. James pictured the desperate situation of orphans and widows as God’s supply for the congregation’s equally desperate need to practice its faith, to be mature and whole before God. James wrote, “religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27).

The idea of “visit” in James 1:27 ranges with the proximal designation of the object in view. It could imply that the subject of the verb would (1) leave a location and travel to another location with a view to assisting someone at the point of destination and then returning to their original domain or, (2) more generally, as with an object such as orphans or widows—who may not have had a stable location where they might receive a visitor—“look after” (ἐπισκέπτομαι, episkeptomai; BDAG). In the context of James 1:27, the verbal idea of “visitation” pictures the subject of the verb personally attending to the needs of the object in an ongoing, proximal manner.

To whom might James’s audience look for examples of pure and undefiled religion? In light of the general logic of leadership in the Pastoral Epistles and 1 Peter, I offer that the church under James’s care would look to its pastors as models of how to help the vulnerable among them, like orphans and widows. It is noteworthy that in 1 Timothy 5:3-16, Paul lists qualifications for widows to receive corporate congregational support but no such list is supplied for orphans. Looking after parentless children—perhaps because of their limited life/work experience and relational contacts—objectifies pure faith.


William Carey was concerned for his fellow pastors to consider the means God might use to take the gospel to the lost. I suggest that the designated pastoral tasks of teaching, hospitality and family management specially equip pastors to do this by meeting the needs of orphans. This is doubly ironic. Pastors might be thought the last demographic in the church to take in orphans because we are already busy. While I do not advocate the position that God has uniformly called all pastors to take in orphans, since becoming a foster/adopt parent, I have personally discovered a second irony: pastoral orphan care has propelled my pastoral ministry in ways that no other educational or leadership endeavor has done in several ways:

First, I am personally taking the gospel to the lost; the children I have adopted hear it often and see it modeled all around them, and I have been able to share the gospel with many social workers and children’s services officials.

In addition, perhaps no other social issue is as pressing upon American evangelical pastors today as racial strife; the fact that my adopted daughters are of a different race has taught me countless lessons about race relations and given me opportunities to show in real time the gospel’s power to break racial divides.

Finally, pastoral orphan care has allowed me to exemplify the gospel for my congregation; every time I gather with the church I am able to have show and tell. And when it comes time to challenge the church to pray about engaging the needs of orphans, even becoming foster/adopt parents? They will have an example, yet in process, to follow  (Heb. 13:7).

A form of this article appeared here. Check out our upcoming National Conference for more information on how to get equipped for adoption and orphan care.

Todd R. Chipman

Todd R. Chipman, Ph.D., has been the teaching pastor at The Master’s Community Church (SBC), Kansas City, Kansas, since 2000. Todd also serves as an assistant professor of Biblical Studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Todd and his wife Julie have five biological children and adopted a sibling set of … 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