The young man was as passionate about the gospel as anyone I have ever met. It seemed as if he was leading someone to faith in Christ on a weekly basis. He was continually reproducing his life in others as he worked to disciple new believers. While he was primarily engaged in campus ministry, his family was also active in a local church. And yet, the ministry in which he was involved had no connection to his church. It was almost like he was moonlighting for Jesus.
When personally confronted about this disconnect he responded, “I have been involved in churches for years and they just do not understand how evangelism and discipleship really works. For me I have to just keep them separate!” He continued to remain perfectly content in keeping his ministry to college students disconnected from his life in the local church.
I am reminded of this young man’s words when I think of folks who have grown weary of trying to meet with their pastor to talk about orphan care. Or when I talk with the pastor whose congregation decided against establishing an adoption fund because of pressing budget issues. Or the ministry director who is continually frustrated with all the ‘bureaucracy’ it takes to effectively partner with a local church.
I am thrilled to see how God is using so many from outside the church to step in the gap that has too long existed between the church and the orphan. It’s amazing to see that finally so many are being awakened to the global orphan crisis. Yet, in the back of my mind I continue to dread the day when I will sit across from the guy who waited for the church long enough and took his passion elsewhere. I fear hearing the words, “The church just doesn’t know how orphan care is accomplished. For me its better to keep them separate!”
The pressing need of 145 million orphans and vulnerable children cannot bypass local churches. If we want our ministry to orphans to bring glory to Christ we can in no way keep it separate from the church.
In Ephesians 1:23, Paul says the church is, “the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” If this description of the church were not in the Bible, it would sound blasphemous! Yet, Paul is explaining that Christ is building the church and until He is done His plans for human history are incomplete. In Ephesians 3:10, Paul says that its God’s purpose to declare His wisdom to the universe through the church. In Ephesians 5:25-28, he explains that to make this happen Jesus is willing to give Himself for the church.
Therefore, whatever ministry we engage in must be designed to equip and build up the church. If your ministry does not at some point assist the church in the purpose of declaring the glory of the gospel in the world it is in opposition to Jesus’ plans for your ministry. This also means that, like Jesus, we must be willing not only to suffer and sacrifice for the orphan, but first and foremost for the church. Such a commitment to the church in general is to be displayed through accountability and service within specific local body.
I mention suffering and sacrifice for the sake of a local body because this sort of vision for orphan care will take patience. It cannot be just another program being sold to churches. Our goal is to keep this ministry away from the church resource room presently stocked with the last two decades of faddish curriculum, videotapes included. If it is to be sustained, it has to be integrated into the life of the church, which could take some time.
It must first be driven by the preaching and connected to the church’s mission efforts. In the last post, I spoke about how preaching is to drive adoption and orphan care in the context of the local church. From the pulpit, the vision for such a ministry must flow into the church’s mission to reach the world with the gospel. This doesn’t happen overnight!
At Ashland Avenue Baptist Church, we believe that orphan care and missions are intimately connected within our commitment to obey the Great Commission. One way this will work itself out is by making international orphan care a component of our church’s mission work. For example, one of our church’s ten-year mission goals is to personally engage in church planting within the 10-40 Window. Right now, we are looking for opportunities to begin this engagement through orphan care among the unreached.
The organizations that will eventually do the most for the orphan will be those who allow their ministry to be sucked into the ministries of local churches and melded with each church’s overall commitment to reach the world with the good news of Jesus Christ. They will even be willing to see their ideas transformed as they are connected and plugged into the current of each individual church’s ministry energy.
Three organizations who are great models in this way are Hope for Orphans, Abba Fund, and Lifesong for Orphans. Each group is set up to mobilize the local church for the sake of the orphan. They are designed to give each church as much ownership as possible and the ability to fulfill their own vision for ministering to the least of these.
The orphan needs more than scattered organizations doing great things in the name of Jesus. The orphan needs the body of Christ mobilized into local outposts personally equipped for a rescue mission. The way each church takes part in this mission will look different. While there is a great need for para-church organizations to mobilize and assist churches and while each church will have its own issues to overcome, we should never think there is another group of folks on the planet who can care for orphans better. This includes those orphans who live in orphanages in Uganda, as well as, the spiritual orphans who live on college campuses in Kentucky.
This post is one in a series of post titled, “The Orphan Advocate, The Pastor, and The Local Church. Check out PART ONE The Orphan Advocate and The Pastor and PART TWO The Pastor and The Orphan