Ed: Why are you a passionate advocate for adoption and foster care ministry?
Todd: I see orphans through the lens of Scripture. At its core, the New Testament is God’s revelation of himself in Christ to forgive the sins of people from all ethnicities, establishing them as a special body, the church, to display to the world what he has done for them.
In my definition, I did not use the word “adoption.” Adoption is referenced in key doctrinal passages like Romans 8 and Ephesians 1, but my point here is that the idea of adoption is a ministry that squares with the macro themes of the New Testament.
The fact that I am adopted and an adoptive parent also compels me. My birth mom was in her late teens when she met my biological dad at a party. She gave me up for adoption and my parents adopted me when I was one month old.
Some adopted kids really struggle when they find out the facts of their birth history. Not me. So, when my wife, Julie, and I were dating I shared about being adopted and said that someday I would like to pass along what I had received.
In 2014, our oldest biological child went to college and we had an empty bedroom. That same month we found out about Focus on the Family’s Wait No More ministry that connects churches with kids in the foster-care system whose parental rights have been severed.
We completed the foster and adoption training required by the state and welcomed our two new daughters into our family in 2016.
Ed: What was it like for you to adopt children within in the context of your church?
Todd: The adoption of our children has helped our church ministry so much! When God began to burden Julie and me to become foster parents, we told church leaders about God’s leading in our life and asked them to pray for us.
When we brought our girls to visit our home for a weekend, they went to church with us and it was the first time in their lives that they had been to church.The congregation treated them just like any other guest. People didn’t stare. When they spoke with the girls, they asked basic questions, but didn’t probe. And the church’s enthusiastic support did not wane once the girls moved into our home.
We saw God’s Spirit bring clarity and calmness to our home as a result of the church’s prayers during the rough transition period in the first six months. But our church family did more than intercede in the crises. They developed relationships with the girls, creating emotional hooks the girls could grab ahold of during the transition into our family.
Parents of children in our girls’ Sunday school class made sure that they were invited to all the social events and birthday parties. Older ladies in the church asked the girls to sit with them at fellowship meals. Younger ladies asked our girls to help with general housekeeping items and clean-up after church events. It seemed like everyone wanted to engage the girls in conversation, weaving our girls’ stories into the plot God was unfolding in our church family.
Ed: Where do you think the misconception that orphan care “sucks the life out of a church” is rooted?
Todd: I think this misconception grows in churches that have a convenience-based or program-based ministry mindset. Churches that emphasize gospel principles (like God’s love for us, forgiveness of sin, and reconciliation in Christ) without calling believers to respond in demonstrating love and reconciliation in the world, see relational-demanding ministries like orphan care as intrusions on experiencing all the blessings God has for them.
Churches that measure success by program popularity and attendance can become so busy that they do not see the needs of those right around them, even children, in their own areas.
Convenience-based and program-based ministry mindsets stand opposed to a relationship-based ministry mindset that would establish a frame for processing and valuing a relationship-heavy ministry like orphan care.
Now, I do not advocate that churches simply aim for inconvenience or completely de-program their ministries. Rather, healthy churches are characterized by receiving God’s gifts in Christ and following in his steps in the world.
Healthy churches program their ministries to maximize relational connections so that they can expand their sphere of relationships even to the needs of the world. I suggest that healthy churches have the capacity for orphan-care ministries, as well as other ministries that integrate the vulnerable into the life of the church via the gospel and loving relationships. Orphan care is not a litmus test of church health, but it does exemplify a healthy church.
Ed: How does orphan care enhance the ministry of the local church?
Todd: I wrote Until Every Child Is Home because I want local churches to see that by coming together to meet the needs of vulnerable kids, we advance six spheres of local church ministry.
First, by promoting foster care, adoption, and wrap-around support for families taking children into their homes, local churches develop theological depth.
Second, churches that participate in foster care and adoption have a deep sense of what it means to participate in the Great Commission. Passages from the Gospels, Acts, and Paul’s letters show that proclaiming gospel truth and personally caring for the vulnerable—like orphans—are not contrary pursuits.
Third, one of the most under-appreciated benefits of orphan care ministries in the local church is the opportunity these ministries provide for those who are not taking children into their homes. Foster care and adoption ministries provide everyone in the church an outlet for their gifting.
Fourth, due to the disproportionately high number of minority children in foster care in the U.S. and the fact that many international adoptions are of children considered racial minorities in the U.S., churches called to foster and adopt can demonstrate the power of the gospel of Christ in combatting racial pride and injustice.
Fifth, as Christians partner together to take in vulnerable kids and provide them with strong relational roots in the church, we disrupt the sex-trafficking pipeline.
Finally, orphan care ministries provide church leaders an opportunity to exemplify the gospel for their congregations and to the world.