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For most churches, adoption isn’t a priority, and this isn’t because the church members are anti-adoption. It’s because adoption seems strange to some of them and irrelevant to others. It becomes a focus only when a church member personally faces infertility or knows of particular children without parents. Until then, for most of us, adoption rarely crosses our minds.
If adoption is to be a priority for us, we must transform the local community (the internal ministry of the church) and the global vision (the external witness of the church). In this way, our churches can work together with other like-minded congregations toward a witness that is expansively pro-life, pro-family, pro-orphan, and pro-gospel.
The first step to being an adoption-friendly church must be the pulpit. That seems obvious, but it’s less obvious than it seems. By saying that pastors should preach on adoption, I am not speaking primarily of raising awareness about adoption in the way a high school principal can raise awareness in a speech about a fund-raising drive for the new football stadium. Preaching isn’t simply conveying information. Within the church, preaching is a profoundly spiritual reality in which the preacher stands in the place of Christ as an ambassador, delivering a word on behalf of the ruler (2 Cor. 5:18–20). When the preacher brings to the people an accurate and passionate rendering of the Word of God, the Spirit of Jesus is there, applying the Word to the hearers.
The act of preaching then carries with it, if it is biblically faithful gospel preaching, the authority of Jesus himself. That’s the difference between the act of preaching and the act of lecture delivery—the difference between “Thus saith the Lord” and “It seems to me.” A pastor’s preaching on the cosmic and missional aspects of adoption will not come back void. It will create a reality within the church, wherever there are those who are willing to hear the voice of Christ, who don’t harden their hearts but listen in belief (Heb. 3:7–4:16)
The preacher, moreover, should preach on adoption with specificity. The pastor doesn’t know exactly how an adoption priority works itself out in each individual life or family, but he can further the cause by provoking questions. He can ask, for instance, in a message on poverty or the sanctity of human life, whether God might be calling some in the congregation that day to adopt or to give money to fund an adoption. He can call on his people to pray about how God would have them serve the fatherless, giving information on how they can carry out whatever commitment God lays on their hearts, providing contact information about groups within the church that are able to help.
In this practical book, Moore highlights the importance of adoption for all Christians, encouraging readers to lead the way in adoption and orphan advocacy out of our identity as adopted children of God.
Pastors and church leaders can also create a priority for adoption by highlighting adoptions within the church. This isn’t a way to commend the adopting parents but rather to make adoption seem less strange to the rest of the congregation. In almost any given church service, there are those who will start to think about whether they should adopt if they just see someone who has done it. When people see and know children who’ve been adopted, suddenly the reality isn’t abstract to them. When they hear the word orphan, they stop thinking of a sad face in a movie and start thinking of Caleb or Chloe who sits in the pew in front of them.
Some churches have a time of “baby dedication” or “parent and child dedication” in which they pray for new arrivals within the congregation. Some congregations are of such a massive size that a once-a-year celebration is all that’s practical. For other churches, though, there could be a time at the end of the service whenever a baby is born or a child is adopted by a family within the church. This could take as little as three or four minutes, with recognition and a prayer of thanksgiving. In larger churches, this could even be done via video. The point would be to counter the culture’s growing utilitarian view of children, to welcome children as blessings from God, and to encourage families to consider adopting orphans into their homes.
If your church has Bible study groups or discipleship cells, these smaller groups can get involved in the adoption process right along with the adopting family. For most adopting families, “arrival day” is every bit the flurry of activity as going into labor—and sometimes even more sudden. The small group can have folks signed up to pray and fast through the days and nights leading up to adoption, especially if there are questions about whether a birth mother might change her mind or whether an adoption might fall through in some other way. The group can provide meals for the family in the days and weeks ahead as the adopting parents adjust to the child’s arrival in the home. They might provide childcare for any brothers or sisters already part of the family, maybe even plan special activities for them—like trips to the zoo—as they adjust to the new reality in their house.
Adopting parents sometimes feel lonely and scared in the process. Walking off an airplane or stepping into their front yard after a drive from the hospital to find their fellow Christians holding signs, with confetti flying in celebration, can be a great encouragement to the parents. It can also help highlight adoption to others within the congregation by making them part of a family’s pilgrimage.
You might consider a special service, highlighting the care of orphans, in your church. You could coincide with national campaigns to do so, or you could just pick a date. At first, I was hesitant to suggest this strategy. After all, in evangelical circles, the loss of a liturgical calendar has meant a myriad of “special emphasis Sundays,” that are completely ignored. Denominational calendars are often marked up with everything, it seems, from “Clown Ministry Awareness Sunday” to “Week of Prayer for the Wives of Retired Interim Pastors.” Our “special emphasis” days are so usual that they’re neither special nor particularly emphatic.
I have become convinced, though, that this one is different. A special “Orphan Sunday” can remind us that orphan care isn’t a special emphasis at all but part of the ongoing ministry of the church. For some pastors, it might be a first time to preach on our adoption in Christ and our mission to care for widows and orphans. For some worship leaders, it might be a time to build up the body in song with hymnody about orphan care and our adopted identity in Jesus (and note to songwriters: we need such hymns). For some, it can be a time simply to put the issue on the table and to remind ourselves of the kind of people God has called us to be. For some churches, it might be time to confess that you don’t know how to care for orphans and perhaps to pray for fatherless children in North America and around the world.
Another key aspect of local church ministry toward adoption is that of economic stewardship. If the apostles reminded even Paul himself to “remember the poor” (Gal. 2:10), then surely the rest of us need such a reminder. The problem is, again, we just don’t see how to do so. There are often within any given congregation older individuals or couples who aren’t able or called to adopt but who have the means to equip a younger, economically struggling family to do so. If churches appealed to such persons to consider whether they could help fund an adoption, a vast army of such believers would do so.
The pastor could stand up and say, “We have an unnamed couple in our congregation that’s praying for the money it will take to adopt a child. I wonder if the Lord’s calling anyone here to help make this happen.” Churches can further this along by allowing givers to do so anonymously, knowing they’ll be rewarded in full at the judgment seat of Christ.
God has blessed some churches with relatively large sums of money. Many congregations may find it to be the Father’s will to forgo the new Family Life Center in order to help establish some families, to save some lives. The church might seek to give the money as matching funds, supplementing money earned elsewhere by a family in order to spread out the resources to more families within the congregation. Other churches may offer grants to pay for specific aspects of the adoption—say, the overseas portion or the home study aspect of adoption expenses. Again, rarely would these funds have to come largely from the church’s general budget. There are Christians everywhere—including, most likely, in your church or community—who would give specifically to this, over and above their tithes and offerings.
The possibilities are wide-open for economically empowering families to adopt. These are just a few of them. A congregation that embraces the priority of adoption will find all sorts of ways to help those who want to adopt—from attorneys granting their expertise pro bono to restaurants setting aside part of their earnings on a given day to promote adoption and so forth.
The point would be to counter the culture’s growing utilitarian view of children, to welcome children as blessings from God, and to encourage families to consider adopting orphans into their homes.
The congregation can also work to help with the logistical legwork of an adoption. The congregation I serve provides for church members a list of adoption agencies and home study specialists that members of the church have used, along with information about whether these agencies work domestically or internationally and, if the latter, the countries in which they operate. The church also provides ballpark figures of costs associated with each kind of adoption.
It is important, though, that if your church does this, you encourage prospective parents to talk with those who’ve adopted through these agencies and services, noting that your congregation does not necessarily endorse any particular agency. This will protect your church from any unexpected change in direction of a given agency and will encourage prospective parents to check out the terrain in front of them thoroughly.
Once children are seen as a blessing, and once adoption doesn’t seem strange or exotic, an adoption culture tends to flourish in gospel-anchored churches. This is why you rarely see in healthy churches just one or two couples with children who’ve been adopted. Once a family or two adopts, there tends to be a flurry of adoptions.
A pastor-hero of mine used to conclude every baptism by standing in the baptistery, dipping his hands in the water, and announcing, “And yet there is room for more.” It was his way of inviting those listening to come into the fellowship of Christ without delay. A pastor could have great effect if he held a time of prayer for adopting families, followed by the statement to his people, “And yet there are more children out there who need godly parents.”
This article is adapted from Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches by Russell Moore.
Russell Moore (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is public theologian at Christianity Today and director of Christianity Today’s Public Theology Project. He is a widely-sought commentator and the author of several books, including The Kingdom of Christ; Adopted for Life; and Tempted and Tried. Moore blogs regularly at RussellMoore.com and tweets at @drmoore. He and his wife, Maria, have five sons.
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