Adoption and foster care ministry in the church is not easy. There, we said it. We know it may not be the most “encouraging” thing you have ever heard – but it’s honest. And the sooner we all accept this reality the better.
We hear a lot of different comments and reactions as we talk with people in churches all across the country about their experience in starting or leading an adoption or foster care ministry. But something we have never heard anyone say is, “Wow, this sure is easy!”
You’ve heard it said that few things in life worth doing are easy. Well that has certainly been true for us as we have passionately pursued our God-given calling to serve and love the ‘fatherless’ by helping to create a community of adoptive and foster families. And yet, there is a certain amount of comfort, freedom and, yes, even encouragement in accepting that there will be challenges. In fact, we view many of these challenges as confirmation that individually, as followers of Christ, and collectively, as a ministry in our local church, we are traveling (however imperfectly at times) the road that God has set before us.
To help you as you move forward with your church ministry we have compiled just a few of the significant challenges that we have faced along the way. Your ministry challenges may be similar to ours or you may face different obstacles. Either way, we are convinced that the journey itself is part of the blessing, and having an idea of what to expect can often allow you to prepare better and respond more effectively. Even so, we are convinced that you will see the redemptive love of God at work as He forms families and transforms lives through the miracle of adoption – and as He works in and through the local church to help accomplish this end. That has certainly been our experience . . . and it has all been worth it. So from our point of view – bring on the challenges.
1. Getting key leadership on board – Of all the frustrations and disappointments church ministry leaders face, this is probably the most frequent and acute. We have many thoughts on this particular challenge, as it is one that we faced early on. But the bottom line is this: if we are honest, the lack of support from key church leadership (whether real or perceived) is probably not holding us back from passionately pursuing God’s call to adoption ministry. Instead, most often it is entirely possible to “wait without standing still.” In other words, there is much that you can do even as you wait for leadership to fully embrace the vision and potential of your ministry.
2. Who’s serving who? – As you move forward with your church ministry plans you are certain to encounter many agencies and other organizations wanting to discuss how the church ministry can help them further their efforts. In essence, these agencies and organizations, many of them Christian, are looking to the church ministry as a potential resource rather than being a resource for the ministry. This is not to say that there aren’t effective ways that agencies and church ministries can work together – there certainly are. But if the church ministry is to identify and fill the critical needs that only it can serve, it is important that the primary focus remain the church ministry – not the other way around.
3. Saying no to the “good” in order to focus on the “best” – There is simply no shortage of good, if not great, ideas that your ministry team will come up with as you move forward. Yet because most church adoption and foster care ministries are largely volunteer-led, there are likely real limitations on how many of those ideas and plans can be effectively carried out. As a result, most ministries are faced with having to prioritize what they can do “best” and what is needed “most” in order to serve well and make a lasting difference in the lives of children and families.
4. People wanting a “tailored just for me” ministry – You won’t have to do church adoption or foster care ministry long before you run into those who are looking for a ministry that is all about them. Their issues, their interests, their particular path . . . me, me, me. Don’t be shocked when this happen – and don’t give in. You simply will not please everyone, and arguably you shouldn’t try. The truth is that the vast majority of our families see tremendous value in being connected with other adoptive and foster families, even if every event, every story, every everything is not tailored just for them.
5. Resisting the temptation to take shortcuts – Adoption and foster care ministry in the church context can be intensely time consuming and demanding. As a result there is always the temptation to take shortcuts. Shortcuts such as taking help from just any family even when that family is not truly ready to serve other families; letting someone speak at an event without first having a general idea of what they will say and whether it is accurate, hopeful and helpful; or allowing an agency to push a single adoption path even though it may not be right for everyone. Even if it means slowing down your plans or seeking out other church ministries for advice and help, be sure to resist the temptation. We have learned that there are no shortcuts worth taking.
6. Do I have to tell them that? – The answer is usually “yes.” The undeniable truth is that there are some very hard realities to the adoption and foster care journey, and making everything seem rosy and wonderful is only likely to lead to much frustration, heartache and pain. We have learned that people place a very high value on honesty and being told that the adoption and foster care journeys will likely not be easy. We do not deny that there will be “miracle moments” and indescribable joys along the way, but there will also be real challenges, frustrations and hurts as well. So be honest, be open and be willing to present the hard realities along with the hope and support that a church ministry can provide.
7. Money & Adoption: Mix carefully! – The financial burden associated with adoption is overwhelming for many families. In response, many church ministries establish financial assistance funds or identify other ways to help families shoulder the financial costs of adoption. These are important aspects of being a well-connected community of families, and yet mixing money and adoption can often create unusual dynamics and unintended consequences. Therefore, it is very important to carefully think through and pray about how to handle this aspect of the adoption journey so that these two realities are mixed together in a way that is positive for everyone in the ministry and the church as a whole.
8. Accepting the fact that not everyone will “get it” – Just take a deep breath and repeat ten times, “Not everyone will get it . . . and that’s ok.” You can fight it, you can deny it, you can ignore it – but it is still true. It is tempting to sometimes think that a major part of a church adoption or foster care ministry is making sure everyone at the church (and beyond) “gets it.” Don’t get me wrong, it would be great if they did and we should pray and work to that end. But when they don’t (and some won’t) it is important to stay the course and go about being a loving, supportive community of families that model the blessing and miracle of adoption . . . whether others “get it” or not.
© 2008 Tapestry, a ministry of Irving Bible Church (www.tapestryministry.org)