This can be found as a chapter in “A Guide to Adoption and Orphan Care” Edited by Dr. Russell Moore. The whole book can be purchased here.
By Jeremy Haskins
Lunch time can be a chaotic in our home. Each day, when my wife calls our six kids to the table, it can get crazy. To help with the chaos, our kids have assigned seats. However, one day my wife decided to break the norm and let the youngest, Jonah, assign everyone different seats.
Jonah lined everyone up and began seating them by saying, “Okay, I want the boys on this side of the table. Now, I want the girls on that side of the table.” Then turning to his brother Isaac, who was adopted from Ethiopia along with him, he said, “Okay Isaac. Now, I want the Browns to sit over here.” Everyone in the kitchen burst into laughter!
Apparently, in Jonah’s eyes, we have girls, boys, and browns in our family. My wife and I made sure to use this as an opportunity to teach our kids how to delight in their differences without segregating the lunch table. While we must point out the wonderful distinctions we have in our family, we must make sure our kids know they all have the equal standing as Haskins.
This tendency to segregate around the table has always been a problem for the church. We see all over the churches in our New Testament. As folks enter the church, first-century ushers were meeting them at the door directing traffic, “Jews over here. Gentiles over there. Masters over there with your slaves seated at your feet. Men here. Women there.” And yet the Spirit stepped in to speak to the distinctions in the church saying, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
And the Spirit’s message still has to be applied to the church today. While the categories are different in our churches, the problem is still the same. And yet, through preaching of the gospel that cultivates a culture of adoption we are called to change the way we view seating charts in the church.
Adoption Culture: Not just tacking it on
I can assure you that all the sermons I heard in the small town church I grew up in had the gospel in them. My pastors where intentional in this way. If the passage didn’t seem to be evangelistic enough, he would make sure to tack on John 3:16 and an invitation at the end.
All of my pastors growing up loved the gospel and wanted people to come to Jesus. Their heart was to make sure they got the gospel in every service. And yet, such practice often leads to a tack it on kind of understanding of the gospel. Whatever you’re going to do you’ve got to tack on the gospel.
This is how many view the ministries we have in the context of our churches. People who truly love the gospel see needs. They start meeting those needs. They then petition the church to make meeting these needs official ministries in the church. To make the ministry legitimate we have to somehow tack the gospel onto it. The thought is that if the gospel doesn’t fit with the ministry we should not be doing it. The problem too often with this approach to ministry is that when the people who started the ministry fizzle out so does the ministry. And by just tacking the gospel on its sure to eventually fizzle out.
The most effective way to create and cultivate our ministries in the church is to let it flow out of our understanding of the gospel. And there is no other ministry where this is more important than ministering to orphans and vulnerable children.
This is why at Ashland Avenue Baptist in Lexington, Kentucky, where I serve as the Mission Pastor, we consciously chose to avoid using the phrase ‘adoption ministry’ when we talk about leading and helping families adopt children and caring for orphans. Our desire is to cultivate a culture driven by the truth of our adoption in Christ. A culture of adoption when cultivated by the constant and consistent preaching of the gospel not only leads to church unity but a greater fervency to rescue children from around the world who need adoption.
Adoption Culture: Understanding who we “really” are
An adoption culture begins with the constant reminder that we are all ex-orphans. What changed everything for us? Adoption! The good news of the gospel is that by God’s grace through faith we have experienced adoption. In the Son, our status is transformed from poverty stricken orphans to wealthy heirs of God’s eternal kingdom. This truth of the gospel for us has got to be cherished in every home, not just in homes with adopted children.
The danger of creating an adoption ministry apart from this truth is that it only leads to another line in your church’s budget. It will become a ministry relegated to only adoptive families and social workers in your church. People who are personally affected by the orphan crisis on a daily basis. In an adoption culture, everyone has been transformed by the act of adoption and this naturally leads to a desire to rid the world of orphans, both physically and spiritually.
Adoption Culture: Helping Everyone Make the Connection
The doctrine of adoption in our churches moves us beyond the thought that adoption is only something for infertile couples and families who really love children in need. We have to make the connection for our people between the act of adoption and our existence in the church. The terms brother and sister have to be more than cordial greetings. When we do folks begin to realize these people really are my brothers in Christ! And a whole new family life is opened up for them in the context of the local church. This requires that we be intentional and concrete about what the gospel means.
There is much talk today about being gospel-centered. I believe this is good and healthy for the church, as longs as, it doesn’t keep concepts of grace and mercy in the abstract. Being gospel-centered must also move people beyond individualistic approach of applying the gospel to seeing how the gospel applies in the context of their own local church.
To do this you have to be intentional and specific. People have to be taught to see how our adoption in Christ changes the way we think about our fellowship with the single mom sitting next to us on Sunday whose rowdy kids continue to distract us in worship. In Christ, she is a fellow heir not someone who deserves to be seated with her disruptive kids some where else.
We have to be led to recognize how the family with one kid from Kentucky and another from Kyrgyzstan signals to the cosmos that the gospel transcends bloodlines and makes Christian unity possible. This can only be done through an aggressive intentionality in our preaching that is constantly and consistently applying the gospel to the life of the church.
Adoption Culture: Ex Orphans Together For Adoption
How does this affect the plight of 145 million orphans and vulnerable children around the world?
To begin with we need everyone in the church involved in orphan care. We need the 90-year-old woman on a fixed income, who will never adopt. She will never travel to Peru and serve in an orphanage. But you need her connected to orphan care somehow. How are you going to connect her to the need? What is the best way to make the orphan crisis real to her? When the reality that she is an ex-orphan who has been rescued by the grace of God in Christ becomes real, she will not want to just sit on the sidelines.
But apart from the gospel and outside an adoption culture this call to every member makes no sense. By cultivating an adoption culture, through connecting the dots for people, they realize that no matter who, they are have a responsibility to care for all orphans physically and spiritually in some way.
In an adoption culture, this reality is constantly pressed upon us. Not just the way we cast a vision for caring for children without families. Its how we understand our mission to reach those apart from the family of God.
Adoption Culture: A Theology of Mission
In an adoption culture, the church is able to develop a clear theology of God’s mission in the world. They begin to understand that God is not just generically collecting a faceless group of people out of the world. But, He is determined to form a specific family for Himself, the church. Within an adoption culture they realize this family is their family even though it is ultimately made up of people from every tribe, language, nation, and people. (Revelation 5:9)
In their minds, missions means family and central to the creating of this family is adoption. And adoption is something they taste and see in their small groups each week as they live out gospel unity together in their church. They begin to take on a new wisdom that Paul declares is, “the manifold wisdom of God is made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 3:10)
Adoption Culture: Even in the Andes Mountains
In an adoption culture, we point out that this theology of mission, this wisdom, is not to be abstract it is to be experienced in our pews each week, as well as, the church’s we plant around the world.
For example, one of our church planting efforts is taking place in the village of Cordova, Peru, in the Andes Mountains. The driving hope of each child in Cordova is to simply endure each day long enough to get a well paying job in the mines or head to a nearby city to further their education. And yet, making their way through college or finding a better life outside of Cordova as ‘mountain people’ is very difficult in Peru. The possibility that they would end up homeless in one Peru’s major cities is very real for each of the children we minister to in the village.
Over the last five years this void of love and hope has, to some extent, been filled by a group of “gringos” from Lexington, Kentucky. We have personally witnessed a transformation among the youth of the village just by our presence. Behind their shy looks and whispers to one another, they are overwhelmed with the fact that a group of American’s would travel to Cordova just to spend time with them.
Ministering to children in Cordova has helped to move forward our church planting efforts. However, we must make sure not to see it as a ploy just to reach the adults. We are actually demonstrating pure and undefiled religion in the face of this mountain’s ancient pagan practices. This is crucial to the church-planting mandate that Jesus commanded when He called us to make disciples of all nations by, “teaching all that I have commanded you.”
The day we leave Cordova we must turn to see a church waging war against the Evil One through preaching the gospel, baptizing new followers of Christ, and gathering around the Lord’s Table. And if we are to really teach them what these things mean, we will also turn to see them fighting back darkness by defending the fatherless and visiting the suffering children in their homes and on their streets.
An adoption culture is much bigger than one segmented group of people who are simply more passionate than everyone else in the church about helping kids in need. It’s the whole church realizing we all are needy kids. We all need a loving Father to rescue us and give us a family. We need His care and discipline that teaches us how to love one another and serve those apart from our family. This need can only be met by the power of the Spirit, through the kind of consistent preaching the gospel that constantly presses it’s implications upon the church, the adoptive family of God.