Hosted by the North American Mission Board and Together for Adoption, the four-person panel addressed a biblical and theological framework for understanding adoption and what it means to have a faithful response and practice for churches.
Panelists spoke to a room packed with attentive young families, pastors and other leaders.
Adoption part of God's mission
Evangelism, missions, social justice and orphan care can't be considered as distinct activities of the church, the panelists said.
"It's about recognizing Jesus in the faces of those He calls 'the least of these,'" said Russell D. Moore, senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and preaching pastor at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky. "The same impulse that causes you to reach out with the Gospel to the lost in your community is the same impulse that causes you to reach out to the fatherless in your community. It's about learning to be a family together. The family of God."
David Platt, lead pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., said adoption and orphan care are necessary activities for Christians who are serious about the Great Commission.
"As we're making disciples of all nations, we're going to come across fatherless children," Platt said. "Be prepared as we're making disciples of all nations that two-thirds of children in the world don't have a father. I'm often a bit surprised that orphan care is sometimes not on our radar."
Panel participants expressed a hope that adoption and orphan care will grow in importance for SBC churches.
"It's important to develop a culture of orphan care that permeates the church," said Tony Merida, lead pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, N.C., and associate professor of preaching at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.. "Teach your people what Scripture says. Exemplify the importance of it. Give them a way to execute and point them in the direction of action.
"Communicate it in a way that fits into the mission of your church and becomes part of the whole picture. And don't feel like you have to have all the answers."
But to plant seeds in hearts of families for this long-enduring effort, it takes more than occasional, emotional platitudes and lofty ideals. It has to be communicated "through regular pastoral preaching," Platt said.
"Man made orphanages for children, but God made the family for children," said Johnny Carr, director of church partnerships for Bethany Christian Services. "We can't be satisfied to allow children to live out their lives outside of families."
But besides preaching, teaching and otherwise laying a biblical groundwork for adoption and orphan care interests, how can churches faithfully respond to this Gospel work?
"Develop a relationship with foster care. Influence the influencers. And be prepared that when you begin to lead a charge on anything you have to expect warfare," Merida said. "Rely on God's Spirit to help you overcome. If you feel overwhelmed, remember that our job isn't to solve the orphan crisis. It's to glorify God by reflecting Him."
Moore said this is a long-term, lifetime and lifestyle effort with the need for perseverance and an understanding of gifts and calling.
"Churches often want a curriculum and a program," Moore said. "But that doesn't work. And not everyone is called to be involved in adoption and orphan care in the same way. The Christian is called to care for widows and orphans in different ways according to a variety of gifts."
Al Gilbert, executive director of the North American Mission Board's LoveLoud ministry evangelism efforts, said he hopes to see the church take on more opportunities to love neglected children.
"Historically we've done a good job of focusing on children's homes, but there are other issues the church has not been involved in," Gilbert said. "I see it as a move of God among the next generation, and I see that the older generations are finding ways to cooperate with them. We're seeing some real momentum as other Great Commission organizations are assisting us in building this culture into our churches."
What leads Platt, Moore and Merida to speak on the topic of orphan care is they each have adopted. Joining in a second panel discussion, sponsored by LifeSong for Orphans and Lifeline Children's Services, Heather Platt, Kimberly Merida and Maria Moore -- the wives of the speakers on the other panel -- painted the everyday struggles and joys of adoption.
From Maria Moore's grieving an inability to conceive to Kimberly Merida's challenges with schooling decisions to Heather Platt's struggles in China with a broken shower and surrounded by kids, the panelists' wives made real the difficulty and humor of motherhood.
"I learned quickly that it's not about me," said Kimberly Merida. "In the early days, and even still, I can almost audibly hear 'My ways are not your ways.' It's been the hardest thing I've ever done and the most amazing, but the Lord established our steps and He has provided."
Said Maria Moore: "Some days I just pat myself on the back and other days I think I'm a terrible mom and my kids are going to need therapy. But God has provided for us in so many ways."
Said Heather Platt, "It's not the way we planned it. But we are the ones the Lord has blessed."
For more information on how your church can become involved in adoption and orphan care, visit namb.net/loveloud.
Adam Miller is a writer for the North American Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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