By / Jul 26

Tears of joy filled Stacy’s eyes, her elbows propped onto a desk in Central Asia. She couldn’t believe the email from an acquaintance. Women from her sending church wanted to throw her a virtual baby shower. Stacy was expecting her first child, but Central Asian culture didn’t involve hosting a party for the expecting mother, but instead the soon-to-be parents would hold a big feast for family, friends, and neighbors about a month after the child was born. 

Stacy hadn’t realized how much missing this American milestone would matter until she was halfway around the globe. But that detail hadn’t been overlooked by her sending church—including coordinating the delivery of gifts with one of the pastors when he would visit in the middle of her family’s first four-year term.

A church’s commitment and support for sent-ones is a key ingredient to seeing the gospel reach the ends of the earth and extends beyond prayer (although prayer is a non-negotiable component). The partnership between the local church and its missionaries is a work in progress and doesn’t transpire without intentionality.

Finding your role in missions

Cultivating an environment where church members value taking the gospel to nonbelievers around the globe and understand their part—through sending or going—is crucial. With feedback from pastors and missions leaders, here are five ways your church can participate in missions through sending out workers well.

1. Foster a missions-minded perspective within your church. Unless a church deeply cares about God’s heart for his glory among the nations, a fellowship will not be actively engaged in its global role. Elders should possess a vision for how to engage the lost worldwide and bring members along in this plan. One practical starting place: pray for countries around the world from the pulpit Sunday mornings.

Consider creating a monthly missions reading group to discuss books that equip those interested in missions (and members to grow in their understanding) that cover topics such as conflict resolution, crosscultural evangelism, global discipleship methodologies, missiology, and ecclesiology. 

2. Be on the lookout for potential missionaries and pathways to get them to the field.

Equip potential missionaries through involvement in the church life and ministry opportunities (evangelism, discipleship, service). Consider engaging your fellowship in local area ministries that soon-to-be goers can come alongside to learn, serve, and grow in outreach and relational skills. 

Many field workers leave their place of service due to team conflicts. Help future sent-ones cultivate conflict resolution skills while at your fellowship so they are better equipped to handle these interpersonal issues down the road. Additionally, ensure workers are aware of emotional needs and develop tools to utilize as personal issues are often magnified on the field due to the stress of a new culture, language, and team dynamics.

Church leaders should research organizations that align with the fellowship and its vision for reaching the lost and determine what it would look like to send a member through that group. for church that are a part of the Southern Baptist Convention, that organization is the International Mission Board.  

3. Cultivate the missionaries’ church connections. Involve your congregation in developing a relationship with the goers (such as inviting them over for a meal) and allow them to be a part of a public commissioning service. The better a fellowship knows their sent-ones and the more they are involved in this process, the better they will engage on the field with them. 

Prior to the sent-one leaving, provide ample opportunities for the missionary to be seen and interact with your church. This can be accomplished through visiting small groups, interviewing the goer up front briefly on a Sunday morning, having the missionary visit the children’s ministry, and publicly praying for that sent-one. 

Create a support team for the field worker as they prepare to leave. These are folks who know the missionary well and commit to pray for and remind others to care well for the goer. 

Clear expectations about how the church intends to support the missionary while overseas (financial support, pastoral/church visit, corporate prayer support) should be communicated to the fellowship and goer. This reminds everyone of the partnership and the role each will strive to fulfill. 

4. Actively support the goer on the field. The first term of service can be extremely stressful as the goer encounters a new language, culture, and team. Provide regular outlets to listen to the missionary as they serve; this allows your fellowship to track with their ministry and health (spiritual, emotional, marital). The church should be ready to assist when necessary with professional counseling, physical needs, and additional training.

Be creative in reminding your congregation to pray for your supported worker. Consider a short video call during a members meeting, Sunday school class, or small group with an update from the missionary. Let kids learn about your sent-ones during Sunday classes and include updated prayer prompts. Provide books that give insight into ministering in places where your goer lives on your bookstall.

5. Extend stateside support when field workers return. Ask the missionary to share about her ministry with your congregation and encourage members to practice hospitality with her. Invite the worker’s input regarding missions at your fellowship.

The return to the U.S. after being away for years can be challenging. Instill a healthy understanding among your congregants that missionaries are to be commended for their faithful service, but not idolized. Provide space for conversations about what was and wasn’t working ministry and partnership-wise between the missionary and church leaders. Collaborate with other churches and organizations to grow in serving sent-ones and to leverage ministry reach.

No matter your fellowship size, every member can engage in global ministry through equipping, supporting, and praying for missionaries. As your church strives to be a light to the nations through the proclamation of Christ, may your hearts find joy in partnering with those sent out among you to the lost across the earth.

By / Oct 23

“Mom, will people at church always think of me as being less than everyone else?” My eight-year-old daughter’s dark eyes probed mine as I hurried into the Sunday School classroom where I would be greeting a room full of energetic elementary children.

“What would make you think that, sweetheart?” I asked the child whom we had eagerly welcomed into our family seven years earlier, not as a result of the traditional manner of pregnancy, labor and delivery, but rather, through international adoption.

Consistent with her introverted, deliberate personality, she silently pointed to new décor in the children’s wing hallway: multiple posters that read: Pray – Give – Adopt. Love the Least of These. “Oh, wow,” I said, realizing my need to reassure her of the risk she had taken to self-disclose vulnerable feelings, “I didn’t even see those when we walked in today. Any minute, kids will be here, but I am so glad you brought the subject up. Can we talk about it this afternoon with your dad over ice cream?”

The posters had been a locally created, well-intentioned effort by some in our church family to recognize Orphan Sunday, a nationally coordinated event to raise awareness about vulnerable children around the globe. As an employee of a national social services and adoption agency that endorses Orphan Sunday, I understood the heart and purpose behind the posters. But as a parent to two maturing, adopted children, I was growing increasingly aware of the church’s responsibility to minister to more than merely adoptive parents; adoptees also merit consideration of how the Christian community can effectively support, respect and give voice to the complex, lifelong journey of adoption, including how we speak of adopted persons who are vital members of our churches.

For families, adoption usually begins as a parent-centered narrative, with stories focused on the factors that led to the decision to adopt. Often followed by a re-telling of the “paper pregnancy,” laced with its frustrating, dramatic, if not humorous details, the adoption storyline frequently features a finale that includes homecoming and the subsequent post-adoption chronicles, which continue to highlight the family and its ensuing transition and adjustments.

Altering our paradigm to recognize adoptees as integral parts of our churches means we listen to and value their voices, even when the message they convey may be difficult to hear. Also crucial to this shift is acknowledging that the adoptee’s story actually began long before “adoption day,” not even at birth, but during the first nine months of life in the womb of his or her birth mother (Ps. 139: 13-16).

Tara VanderWoude, who is a social worker, adoption educator, adult adoptee and an adoptive parent, explains, “Adoption isn’t a one-time event, but an ongoing process, since a child’s perspective and understanding change throughout the years.” At the Christian Alliance for Orphans’ Summit 2015, Tara observed,

When discussing adoption within the Christian adoption community, there tends to be a norm of speaking about it in a way that is always positive, loving, and spiritual, as to provide comfort, peace, and resolution. Of course, adoption involves a tremendous amount of love and creates countless strong familial relationships. But as adoptees come of age and continue to process the persons, circumstances, and events of their lives, many begin understanding adoption in ways that do not solely include the celebration and positivity so often discussed. It is important to ask yourself, as a parent, as a church ministry or leader, ‘Why am I framing it this way? What messages are being sent to adoptees in my church and could they feel less understood if their adoption-related feelings include loss, anger, or confusion? How else can I phrase it so that the impact of my words match my intentions?’

Over a heaping scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream, my daughter shared with her Dad and me that she felt comfortable discussing her adoption story with friends. She had observed the posters, however, on the heels of an advocacy event where emphasis was placed on adopted children as “ex-orphans,” and the two occurrences left her feeling labeled and uniquely distinct from other children within the church. Though true she was once an orphan who now has a family, our daughter went on to vocalize that she wants to attend church and “be a Graves, not a girl who everyone else is looking at and feeling sorry for. I just want to be regular like the other kids.”

This specific conversation with our daughter ushered us into a new phase of the adoption journey: one which requires attunement, empathy and sensitivity as we learn together how to navigate complexities which our biological son never encountered. It also prompted us to reexamine church adoption and orphan care ministry efforts as they pertain particularly to more than just adoptive parents, but to adopted persons themselves.

How The Church Can Support Adoptees

  1. Become educated. Effectively ministering to adopted persons requires a willingness to learn and become literate on subjects not previously taught in seminary. Staff (and even volunteers) should become familiar with the realities inherent in adoption such as trauma, grief, loss and transracial issues. Pastors, youth ministers, children’s directors and church leaders willing to attend conferences, workshops and trainings about adoption and to learn from adoption professionals will be better equipped to support adoptees of varying ages.
  2. Use adoption language accurately. Remember there are many participants within an adoption, any of whom could be attending your church and hearing the messages you send with your words (adoptee, birth family, adoptive family). Take time to learn from adoption professionals about positive adoption language that respects each member of the adoption triad.
  3. Advocate for adoption and orphan care mindfully. As your local church body engages its believers to care for vulnerable children, do so with a holistic mindset, remembering all members of the adoption triad. Be open to involvement and feedback from adult adoptees within the congregation, in addition to adoptive families.
  4. Develop a healthy culture that gives voice and cultivates unity. The ability to speak and be heard is a gift biology prepares parents to give, and children to receive, according to Dr. Karyn Purvis. “Because of their histories,” she says, “these children and youth must be taught they have a powerful gift — a voice — and that they also have caregivers who want to listen and understand their words and their needs.” Similarly, purposeful, deliberate churches will strive to create a sense of belonging for adopted persons by engaging and listening to their voices.

As the church boldly champions the truth of James 1:27, may we also be equally audacious in creating safe spaces for the children we embrace, cherish, love and raise as our own, guiding them toward physical and spiritual maturity. We must remember that the babies grow up — they become our fellow church members, who hear and understand what we say about them, about their histories, their previous circumstances, how we use their stories to advocate for vulnerable children everywhere. Let our words be “only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29).

By / Sep 8

By this time you’ve heard of or seen the undercover videos taken of Planned Parenthood about their harvesting and selling of baby body parts. (If you haven’t seen them, click here.) They are incredibly difficult to watch but are helping raise awareness about the horrors of abortion. You may think, “Yes, this is awful, but what can I do?” While there are many things you can do to help, I want to highlight just one for your consideration.

Adopt.

My husband and I felt the call to take this step a few years ago. One of the primary reasons adoption is so near to my heart is because abortion breaks my heart. After all, abortion stops a beating heart. An unborn baby’s heart starts beating around 18 days after conception, typically before a mama even knows there is life inside her womb. And, yet, it is completely legal to stop these hearts. I won’t go into the gruesome details about abortion here, but the bottom line is that abortion doesn’t have to happen at all.

There are many ministries and other non-profit organizations whose sole purpose is to help women in crisis pregnancies. They provide many free services, including pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, diapers & clothes and more. They also educate women on the options of parenting and adoption.

It’s true that the wait for newborns can be quite lengthy; however, I am convinced that if we spread awareness that there are couples willing and able to take these children into their homes, more women would choose life for their unborn babies. As the need for homes grows, there won’t be enough of them for these babies if we don’t step up. Not only that, but there are many children of all ages who are in need of good homes — at least for a season. Working through your state’s foster care system can be difficult, but it is free of charge.

As Christians, we know that the Bible tells us clearly in James 1:27 that pure religion includes helping orphans. Since we are all called to support adoption, here are three ways you can help:

1. Pray. Pray for women in unplanned pregnancies to choose life for their unborn babies. Pray for couples willing to adopt. Pray for the process to be as smooth as possible and for the funds to come together. Pray for the adoption agencies as they reach out to women in unplanned pregnancies and work with couples who are wanting to adopt. Pray about what you can do to help.

2. Donate. Finances can be stretched thin, and it seems there is always someone asking for something, but this is where you put your money where your mouth is. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:21). If you truly care about life, you will support this movement financially. You can donate to the pro-life agencies, adoption agencies and the couples who are planning to adopt. Every little bit helps.

3. Adopt. Not everyone is called to adopt, but I believe some people don’t adopt out of fear or insecurity. Don’t worry about the money. Don’t worry about how the child will fit into your family. Don’t worry about what others will think. Don’t get me wrong, you need to pray and plan and make sure your child will be in a secure and safe environment, but you don’t have to worry. If God has called you to adopt, He will work it all out. Even if it’s difficult, it will be worth it.

The Bible leaves no room for doubt that adoption is dear to God’s heart. After all, He adopted us in Christ (Ephesians 1). Adoption is a beautiful alternative to abortion and a marvelous picture of the gospel. Will you consider how you can support adoption?

ERLC and Focus on the Family are hosting the first ever Evangelicals for Life event next year in Washington DC on January 21-22nd, featuring Russell Moore, Roland Warren, David Platt, Eric Metaxas, Kelly Rosati, Ron Sider and others.

By / May 1

Daniel Patterson: Welcome back to the Questions and Ethics program with Russell Moore. I’m Daniel Patterson, and Dr. Moore, today we have a question from a listener who sent in and said, “I’m engaged. We are an interracial couple, but we are dealing with parents who disagree strongly with our engagement.” How would you counsel them to deal with a situation like that?

Russell Moore: Well, I mean the first question that I would have is do they disagree with the engagement because they are an interracial couple? It may be that—I mean that question could mean that they disagree with the engagement for other reasons, and you would want to say what are those reasons? So, if the parents are saying we disagree with this marriage because we don’t think that the person you are marrying is of good character, well, you ought to take that into consideration. If the parents are saying we disagree with this engagement because you are not willing or capable to support yourselves. We don’t trust that. Well, then that is something to take into consideration.

But if their objection is because you are interracial—which is what I’m assuming is the case—then the way I would handle that is first of all to recognize your parents are wrong in this. And the people who would object to an interracial marriage on the basis of Bible verses are misinterpreting the Bible verses to the point of textual harassment. The scripture never forbids interracial marriage. What the scripture forbids are the Israelites marrying the foreign women of the Canaanites because of the pull into idolatry. That is not what is happening in an interracial marriage. The equivalent is marrying outside of the faith.

And the same thing is true when we look at what the scripture speaks about this—we have Moses, a Semitic man, marrying a Cushite woman. And the problem in the scripture is with Miriam when she starts murmuring against, and the people who start murmuring against Moses for that sort of marriage. The problem is not with Moses.

So, your parents are in the wrong on this if they are using Bible verses in that way.

They are also wrong if they are using that old chestnut of an argument well, it’s going to be really difficult for you and really difficult for the children. You have parents who are making things difficult on you. They are using bigotry in order to keep you away from bigotry. That’s a nonsensical sort of an argument.

I think the way that you need to handle this is you have two conflicting principles here—honor father and mother, and leave father and mother and cleave to one another and become one flesh. Now, honor father and mother is not unlimited. That does not mean unlimited submission to parental authority for the rest of your life, obviously. Scripture speaks in strikingly different terms from that. And so the leaving the father and mother in this case is going to mean saying to your parents I am disappointed in you that you have this bigoted view toward my future husband or wife simply because of ethnicity. And if your parents or parents-in-law are Christians, I think it’s a good opportunity to call them to repentance on that and talk about the sort of carnal divisions that they are making that are not made in scripture.

And then you have to say, if this is the person that God has given to you and this is someone who meets all of the other qualifications for marriage, then I think you need to say this is our family, Mom and Dad. And so, if you have a problem with her or you have a problem with him, then you have a problem with me.

Now, this happens often in interracial marriages. It happens often in—I’ve seen it happen often in interracial adoptions. And sometimes you have parents who are so steeped in their bigotry that they never come out of it. And in that case that’s a sad reality that you are going to have to be willing to contemplate. But often I have seen parents who because of the presence of this marriage or this child or from the marriage these grandchildren who come about, they have hearts that are softened and they turn around. They do repent. And we have to give people room to repent of sinful attitudes and sinful expressions.

And so, you can firmly talk to your parents and say we are going to marry. We want you to be supportive of this, but if you are not, then you need to know that that is because of a spirit of hatred in your own heart. And we are here and we are ready to receive you back whenever you want to come back. But say that firmly, but say that graciously and with a spirit of expectation that the Lord can turn that around. That would be how I think you ought to handle that.

Patterson: Thanks for joining the Questions and Ethics program. If you have a question you’d like Dr. Moore to answer, email it to [email protected]. Join us next time when we help you apply the gospel to the pressing issues of the day.

By / Apr 21

National Infertility Awareness Week is April 19-25, 2015. The theme is “You Are Not Alone,” which is appropriate given the fact that one in eight couples experiences this painful phenomenon. Resolve is the National Infertility Association, which has been holding the annual awareness week since 1989.

Infertility is my experience, too.

So, why have I not heard of this awareness week until just this year? Perhaps it is because I have a growing sensitivity to infertility due to opening up publicly about my own journey. I began sharing about it on my blog around January 2014. A few short months later, on Mother’s Day, my husband and I announced that we were planning to adopt. The very next week, we found out that we could not naturally conceive.

I love how God placed the desire for us to adopt on our hearts long before we knew we could not conceive. Sure, we had an idea we could not have biological children after not having had children almost a dozen years into marriage. But, we were not compelled to really explore the infertility or treatment for it.

This is just our story, though. You see, everyone who has experienced infertility has a different story. Some couples grieve significantly over not being able to conceive naturally or have biological children. Some couples decide to go forward with infertility treatment. Some couples decide to adopt, while others do not feel called to that.

Your support matters.

There are so many ways you can support people who experience infertility. If you think you don’t know anyone who has or is experiencing this, you are mistaken. Not every couple chooses to share their story. Trust me, it is very difficult. As a woman, it is easy to feel something is “wrong” with me (other than the physical issues that have led to the infertility). We hear that children are a blessing from God and may be tempted to question what we have done that led God to withhold this blessing. But, this kind of thinking is often unhealthy, irrational and unbiblical.

We may never know why some couples who long for a child are not able to conceive, but we do know that God is still good. He is still faithful. He can still bless us and use us to bless others. Infertility can be a thorn in the flesh, but we know that suffering leads to hope, and hope never disappoints (Rom. 5:3-5).  

So, what do you need to know in order to support your friends who are dealing with infertility? Here are a few tips:

  1. We are all different. Our reactions are all different. Some couples who experience infertility are emotionally affected when a friend announces a pregnancy or when attending a baby shower. Some don’t enjoy attending children’s birthday parties or working in the church nursery. I personally rejoice over all of this, but we are all different. Be sensitive to your friends who are walking down this difficult path. Be understanding when someone has a difficult time celebrating your pregnancy or attending your baby shower or child’s birthday party. (And, I also encourage those who are experiencing infertility to try and find the joy in those precious moments, and to rejoice with those who rejoice!)
  2. Be cautious with your questions. I have been asked all sorts of questions. Examples include: Are you going to have children?; When are you going to have children? Have you considered adoption? Are you trying to have children? Are you doing anything to prevent pregnancy? What about IVF? I am sure some of these questions stem from curiosity, while others are pretty personal. It is always surprising to me when someone asks questions that are actually related to my intimate life. To be quite frank, none of this is any of your business. It is likely that if you are close enough with someone, they will share some of this with you. But, please be cautious with your questions, and allow your friends to share with you what they want to share in their own time.
  3. Don’t make assumptions. You may think you know someone’s story and why they don’t have any children. The fact is, you may not know the whole story. I have had a number of friends who experienced secondary infertility—since they already had one child, people would frequently question when they were planning have more children, not knowing that they had either experienced miscarriages or that they were unable to conceive again. I have also found this to be the case with friends who have had more than one child. Infertility is not just experienced by childless couples.

God has a different plan for every couple. During this year’s National Infertility Awareness Week, please help raise awareness. Recognize that we are all different, be cautious with your questions, and don’t make assumptions. Instead, show God’s love, pray for your friends, and simply be there to support them.

By / Jul 9

In a stunning turn of events, key gay rights groups withdrew their support for ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act). This legislation would enshrine into law employment protections for the categories of sexual orientation and gender identity. Once  advocates for the bill, and enthusiastic in support of the Senate's passage of the bill last year, the groups are now reneging their support of the legislation in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby case. Organizations fear that the Supreme Court's ruling in Hobby Lobby grants expansive powers for corporations to discriminate against LGBT persons. It should be noted that the Senate version passed contained modest religious liberty protections.

Then again, maybe the move is not so stunning given the Left’s response to the Hobby Lobby ruling. National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey said, “If a private company can take its own religious beliefs and say you can’t have access to certain health care, it’s a hop, skip and a jump to an interpretation that a private company could have religious beliefs that LGBT people are not equal or somehow go against their beliefs and therefore fire them… The implications of Hobby Lobby are becoming clear.”

Director Carey’s warning that the Hobby Lobby ruling leaves the country a short step from the persecution of some is a giant leap on her part. In ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court affirmed the Green and Hahn family’s religious freedom and held that closely held corporations cannot be forced to provide coverage that includes access to potentially abortion-inducing drugs, drugs that they believe violates deeply held moral convictions.

Rather than see the ruling as a win for the religious freedom of every citizen of the United States, the Left views it as an attack on sexual liberty. They insist Hobby Lobby is denying women contraception and warn that the precedent guarantees persecution for some groups in the future. The Left rarely acknowledges that Hobby Lobby promises to cover 16 of the 20 forms of contraception and the ruling’s explicitly narrow language.

For their part, conservatives continue to stress that the Hobby Lobby ruling does not grant businesses the right to withhold blood transfusions from their employees’ihealth coverage. No corporation will automatically be allowed to opt out of any aspect of health coverage they find problematic. 

Appeals do not guarantee that closely held corporations who object will be allowed to opt out. Because of conditions set by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (the act the Hobby Lobby ruling was based on), complaints can be overruled if the government shows the burden to that person is (i) in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and (ii) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

In the case of Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court argued that since the government had already made accommodations to certain religious groups, the same accommodations could be made to for-profit organizations like Hobby Lobby. It is this logic that has upset the left and started a chain reaction of enraged responses. In their minds, supporting Hobby Lobby and religious liberty is compromising to the values of sexual liberty. It is for this reason the Left refuses to budge.

Gay rights groups have now chosen to remove their support of ENDA and channel their energy into a growing sea of protests. Christians ought to pay attention to such responses. They reveal that some prioritize sexual liberty over religious liberty. What is to come can only be a continued attack on, what should be, our most valued freedom.