What is the Church’s role in family restoration?

Serving orphans by investing in birth families

Jan 9, 2020

Family comes in many different forms. There are nuclear families, extended families, and blended families. Some families grow through childbearing and some grow through fostering or adoption. And then there is the church family. 

From the very beginning, Scripture speaks to the importance of family. In Genesis 2:18, God says it isn’t good for man to be alone as he proceeds to create Eve. Adam’s response is beautiful poetry, and Scripture describes the union of husband and wife as a bond of one flesh, never meant to be broken. We see God establish the first family with the command to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth . . .” (Gen 1:28). Marriage is a metaphorical expression of the gospel, of the profound mystery that is the union of Christ and his Bride (Eph. 5).

The physical family is a picture of the spiritual family that Christ has purchased with his blood: the Church. The New Testament speaks frequently of the Church functioning as a family. God is our Father (Matt. 6:9).Romans 8 even tells us that we have “received the Spirit of adoption as sons” (v.15) and that “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children then heirs” (v.16).  And in their many letters, the apostles refer to the readers as brothers and sisters. 

It’s obvious that family is important to our heavenly Father. Likewise, it should be important to us, his Church. So what are some ways that we can minister in a fallen creation where we continually see the family being attacked both from without and within? We are to bear with one another, to lift up the broken hearted, and be ambassadors of Christ to the hurting and vulnerable. 

Remembering the whole family

We celebrated National Adoption Month at the end of last year. While adoption is an important and beneficial option in our work of orphan care, it can not be our only option. According to a study published in 2012, about 37% of children who are placed in foster care then reunited with their birth family will later re-enter foster care. So what about these children? What can we do to care for them?

There are ministries of all kinds in regards to orphan care. Some are preventative, some help the immediate need, and some address the lasting effects. All types are needed. But what if in our desire to help vulnerable children in our midst, we are also able to care for the parents? Most of the parents in these situations are a product of generational cycles with little chance of breaking free without outside intervention. In addition, how can there be a truly lasting change without the presence of Christ and his gospel? 

Helping restore broken families

A ministry our church has been involved over the past year is called Families Count. It is a parenting class/program designed by Lifeline Children’s Services that works on the front end of the orphan crisis in an effort to prevent children from entering or repeatedly re-entering state care by providing birth parents with tools, support, and education to help them be successful. 

Providing education, support, resources, and the gospel to a hurting family does more than put a bandaid on a gaping wound; it provides an environment for true and lasting healing to begin.

Here is where family restoration comes in. The Church has a wonderful opportunity to be  ambassadors of Christ by ministering to not only the children but the family as a whole in hopes that the family will be able to stay together. In the past year, through the Families Count program, we have had over 70 parents come through the doors of our church that might not have otherwise. Over the course of the 6-week class, our church has the opportunity to provide meals for these parents, care for their children during class, and mentor them during difficult seasons both on and off campus. Honestly, we have all learned how to become friends with someone not like us. 

On occasion, we have provided school supplies and Christmas presents. However, this ministry is not about meeting material needs alone, but about proclaiming the value and worth in people who feel overlooked, unworthy, and unloved. We have been challenged and stretched to step out of our comfort zone in order to welcome others by our words, actions, and environment. But most importantly, we have been able to share the truth of the gospel each week of class, beginning with the truth that each parent is valuable because they are made in the image of God. The material presented is practical, memorable, and is shared in an unassuming and loving environment.

Providing education, support, resources, and the gospel to a hurting family does more than put a bandaid on a gaping wound; it provides an environment for true and lasting healing to begin. We have seen children restored to their parents, and we have seen hope replace the burden of brokenness. I will never forget one young man who was so wrecked and low when he started class that he would not make eye contact and barely spoke to anyone. Now, he comes and shares his testimony with new parents. He shares about receiving custody of his son after taking the class and how it not only gave him the tools to be a better dad but helped him realize his past mistakes don’t define who he is and how that gave him hope.  

This is messy and uncomfortable work that the church must step into with hands open to what the Lord wants to accomplish. It is a ministry in which you will not see frequent and glaring successes. But it is a necessary response to a crisis. And when you do see success, it is sweet and brings many tears of thanksgiving to simply be a part of the great work that the Lord is doing. 

I encourage you to start asking yourself and your church a few questions: “What is our role? What can we do to restore the broken and vulnerable in our community? How can we truly be ambassadors of Jesus to those who are overlooked and hurting?” Be ready. When you ask these questions with a sincere heart, the Lord will provide a way for you to join in his Kingdom work. 

Lindsey Teat

Lindsey is an Alabama native, pastor's wife and mom of four awesome kiddos. She loves encouraging others in their walk with Christ and is passionate about serving those who are vulnerable. Lindsey is an advocate for orphan care and family restoration and... Read More