God’s adoption plan provides the church with the perfect ministry model
At the heart of orphan care at Saddleback Church is the desire to end the orphan crisis. We believe every child deserves a loving, lasting, legal, lifelong family of their own—and we believe this is doable. If every church empowered their members to care for orphans in ways that helped and didn’t hurt, the orphan crisis could be over.
Unfortunately, though there are still more than 163 million orphans and vulnerable children in the world today, little has been done yet to help orphansstop being orphans. As a culture, we’ve spent years trying to put Band-Aids on the orphanage institution. But children need more than food, shelter, clothing and education. We don’t want children to just survive, but to thrive—and children thrive in family.
At Saddleback, we began asking ourselves, “How can we end the orphan crisis, and is there something every church can do?” Here are what we believe are the answers to those questions.
Orphans stop being orphans when they become sons and daughters. At Saddleback, we’ve been challenged to change everything about how we care for orphans and how we engage members to care. We have two goals: (1) to end the orphan crisis; and (2) to get every member on mission, caring for orphans locally and globally by helping them find a family of their own.
Family is God’s remedy for orphanhood. The church doing for orphans what God has done for us is His solution. Because of this, we believe that if more Christians would do physically for orphans what God has done spiritually for us, the orphan crisis would be solved.
When we were orphans, God adopted us. Scripture teaches that the reason God made the world was so He could adopt (see Eph. 1:4-6). Our triune God, who needed nothing but wanted a family of His own, allows us through the blood of His Son to share in the rich communion as His sons and daughters (see Eph. 1).
When God adopted us, He made us part of His permanent family, so we would no longer be orphans. Even though we were not His bloodline, He grafted us in through adoption, giving us permanent security and a family, and meeting our need to belong. His adoption of us is a legal process that cost Him everything. It gives us an inheritance and the right to call Him Abba, or “Father” (see Gal. 4, Rom. 8). As a result, at Saddleback we are in the work of reconciling people to God through adoption (spiritual adoption), and helping children stay in their families, be reunited with their families or find a new family through adoption (physical adoption).
Church and Family
There are 163 million children at risk in the world today but 2.4 billion people who claim the name of Jesus. This means the solution for every child is a church where all the members are caring about orphans.
Churches can help orphans find a new family through adoption. They can help them remain in their current family if it is safe. Or they can help them reunite with their families if they are separated (since most children in orphanages have families in the communities but need the church to help the family become safe, healthy, and financially and emotionally ready to care).
The Orphan Care Initiative at Saddleback empowers ordinary believers to help orphans and vulnerable children locally and globally, and it also focuses on helping children find families. On the local level, this could mean doing several things: volunteering to serve children recently removed from their home, helping with sessions for people thinking about adoption, giving financially to someone who is adopting, or caring for newly adopted children while their families gain support. Even if you can’t adopt (and not everyone should), you can help someone who is adopting.
This has changed what Saddleback does cross-culturally. We send teams to help churches start orphan ministries that provide permanent, legal, lifelong families for children. We don’t invest in group homes or orphanages or other often harmful substitutes for families.
We help local churches and governments find and equip families for adoption. The emphasis is on solving the orphan crisis through adoption. We’re not talking about Americans adopting (although the very small and declining number of adoptions last year in the U.S. is evidence that more people should). Instead, this is about helping churches all over the world legally adopt children, doing what’s best for a child and ending the orphan crisis.
Six Things Every Church Can Do
So what can you do to help eradicate such a global problem? Here are six things every church (including yours!) can use to launch an orphan-care ministry:
Open your heart to God’s heart for the orphan.
Recognize your responsibility to find permanent families.
Prevent children from being orphaned.
Help orphans in ways that move them out of orphanhood.
Affirm loving, legal and lasting families by preservation, reunification, or adoption.
Never forget the local church is key.
The church’s approach to orphan care has changed dramatically from what it once was (as the two lists on page 66 clearly show). Let’s continue moving closer to God’s heart for adoption, as found in His Word. He’s given us the perfect ministry model, so let’s embrace it. By working together, churches can end the current worldwide orphan crisis.
Elizabeth Styffe is the director of Global Orphan Care Initiatives of the PEACE Plan at Saddleback Church. As founder of the Orphan Care Initiative ministry, she helps believers engage in caring for orphans and churches to launch effective responses with a view toward ending the international orphan crisis.