How many friends do we have with whom we’ve failed to share the gospel? How many times have we put it off? How many opportunities have we justified away?
We want more—bigger crowds, larger ministries, more dollars. But before we get more, we need to ask, "How will I respond to the few?"
Along with crisp air and beautiful leaves, November also brings an awareness of broken families. It’s this month, more than any other, where our gaze is directed, perhaps uncomfortably, to the fatherless. That’s because November is National Adoption Month and November 11 is Orphan Sunday. Many people live their whole lives without giving any thought to the fatherless. Orphans remain comfortably out of sight and out of mind. The idea of neglected image-bearers stays beyond the boundaries of our carefully crafted bubbles.
Despite whatever unwillingness on our part to engage the global orphan crisis, our heavenly Father aggressively pursues these vulnerable people—and he clearly instructs us to do the same.
God identifies himself as the “father of the fatherless” (Ps. 68:5). He teaches us that pure religion is to “visit orphans and widows in their affliction” (Jas. 1:27). He commands us to “seek justice, correct oppression, and bring justice to the fatherless” (Is. 1:17).
Despite our seeming reluctance, we are informed. We can’t say that we are unaware of the broken state of families. We’re aware that children in our zip codes and across all time zones are growing up abandoned due to death, poverty, illness, and sin.
We are not ignorant, we are merely indifferent. Brothers and sisters, this cannot be. Followers of Christ must not be known by our indifference but by our love.
Engaging orphans and vulnerable children can seem daunting, which is why many believers are reluctant to jump in. But if we want to side with the Father, we will act to bring justice to orphans.
Eleven Practical Steps Toward Caring for Orphans
So how do we begin to take steps of obedience towards caring for orphans? Consider the following steps.
Be informed. There are an estimated 140 million orphans worldwide. Only about ten percent of all orphans are “true” orphans, meaning they have lost both parents. About 125 million children considered to be orphans have at least one, if not two, living parents. In the United States, about 110,000 children are waiting to be adopted into families. Some 420,000 children are in foster care. Educate yourself on this growing number of fatherless children. Here are some resources to get you started:
- Follow Jason Johnson’s blog about foster care and adoption.
- Read Adopted for Life by Russell Moore.
- Learn more about the global orphan crisis from CAFO (Christian Alliance for Orphans).
- Read Orphanology by Tony Merida and Rick Morton.
- Subscribe to the Think Orphan podcast hosted by Phil Darke.
Use your voice for the voiceless. The voiceless aren’t voiceless because they have nothing to say; they’re voiceless because no one listens when they speak. But you have a voice. Scripture commands God’s people to speak up for the voiceless (Prov. 31:8). Use your voice to raise awareness of the plight of orphans within your relational networks. Tell people how they can join God in his work of caring for orphans. Be a voice for the voiceless.
Pray. We are not the savior of the fatherless but we can confidently approach the One who is. Cast yourself before God’s throne to plead for the salvation and care of the vulnerable. Our Father hears the cries of his children (1 Pet. 3:12). We can fight for orphans on our knees. We know their needs, both spiritual and physical, and we can go to our good Father and petition his help.
Become a foster or adoptive parent. This may be the first idea that comes to mind when you think of how to care for orphans, and rightly so! Adoption and foster care require sacrifice and a huge investment into the lives of orphans, but the church should be leading this movement as we are a people who have benefited from adoption into our heavenly father’s family. Take advantage of some of the resources mentioned under “Be informed” above to learn more.
Partner with parachurch organizations that care for orphans. Adoption is great but with over ninety percent of the world’s orphans ineligible for adoption, it’s not enough. We must find other ways to help. Partnering with organizations like 127 Worldwide who work with local leaders around the world caring for orphans is a wise solution. Invest in organizations that are committed to meeting the physical and spiritual needs of the fatherless.
Leverage your skills and networks for orphans. When orphans “age out” of group homes and institutions, they become vulnerable to gangs, criminal activities, prostitution, and trafficking. Invest in job training both locally and globally for these young adults to give them the means to provide for themselves and their families. Connect your networks with the vulnerable as they transition into adulthood. Invite them to your church. Help them find jobs.
Serve adoptive families. Adoption is very expensive. One way you can help adoptive families is to sacrificially give towards their adoptive costs and encourage others to do the same. Get creative: host fundraisers; have yard sales; make and sell t-shirts; donate services to be auctioned off to raise money; get certified to provide respite care for foster families; or bring meals to families as they welcome the fatherless into their homes. Serve families who are on the front lines of caring for orphans.
Extend your pro-life ethic beyond the womb. Support life from the womb to the tomb. When we encourage parents to choose life for the unborn, we must walk alongside and help them care for their children. We must welcome these children into our families if the birth parents are unwilling to raise them. Being pro-life is more than being anti-abortion. It means being pro-children and pro-adoption.
Meet orphans. Take time to invest in the lives of vulnerable children in your community. Go on short-term mission projects to visit orphans around the world and share the gospel with them while encouraging their caretakers. Befriend families with foster kids. Hear their stories and tell them the story of the heavenly Father who never abandons his children. Invite them into God’s redemptive story.
Support church planting in vulnerable communities. Invest in pastor training and church planting efforts around the world. Loving the fatherless means more than providing food, water, and education. It means giving them access to the gospel. It means investing in the eternal good of their cities and villages by planting gospel-proclaiming churches. Consider partnering with great organizations like Acts 29 to advance the church around the world.
Raise up future generations to embrace caring for orphans. Parents, if you want orphan care to be normal in your family, then expose your children to the global orphan crisis. Work together as a family to love the fatherless. Teach them God’s Word and pray for their obedience. Set the example of obedience and lead them to reflect God’s heart for the orphan.
Change Your Culture
God’s Word is clear on our role in caring for orphans. Our access to Scripture is unprecedented and unlimited. We have printed Bibles, podcasts, commentaries, Bible apps, teachers, pastors, and books. What we do not have is room for excuses. We know what the Bible says, but knowing is not enough. Doers of the Word step into obedience.
In his book, Radical, David Platt writes, “We learned that orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names. They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. It is easier to pretend they’re not real before you hold them in your arms. But once you do, everything changes.”
Change starts with you. It starts in your home, your church, your neighborhood, and your workplace. Change your culture by reflecting the Father’s heart for the fatherless in your speech, attitude, and actions. Inspire others to be obedient to God’s command to care for orphans.
It starts with one step. Then one step turns into two, and two steps become three. Before you know it, you’re walking in obedience.
Take that first step and follow Christ into the world for the good of the fatherless and for the sake of his glory. You don’t have to single-handedly solve the global orphan crisis. You can’t. But you can step out in faith. Christian, get your feet moving.
Christy Britton is a wife and mom of four boys. She is an orphan advocate for 127 Worldwide and writes curriculum for Docent Research. Her family worships at Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. She writes for several blogs, including her own, http://www.beneedywell.com/. You can follow her on Twitter.
One evening when reading our dinner devotional book, I read about the Feast of Trumpets, a once-a-year event when the Israelites were called (literally) to repentance. The trumpet would sound and they’d remember that their time was God’s gift and whether they’d spent it well or not. Nancy Guthrie writes, “God set up a yearly holiday called the Festival of Trumpets to blast the people out of their spiritual laziness.”
Sometimes I wish we’d get a trumpet blast to arouse us out of our spiritual stupors, so we’d be forced to see how we use busyness to block our ears.
We need trumpet calls and wake-up calls. We need to say no to the things that lead us away from the story of God and lead us to follow a story of the suburbs. The suburbs keep us busy because we think the more we move, the more we work, the more valuable we will be. If we hope to nurture a life of faith, we’ve got to stop moving long enough to hear God’s voice.
The gospel says: come to the desolate space. Tantrum, scream, cry, face your fears of insignificance and irrelevancy there. Then find rest in a rest that is not of your own making. Find Jesus. And having found Jesus, we will be sent out, and he will ask us impossible things—not to test us but to show us (even in the food we eat) that he provides not only for our hungers but also for the hunger pains of our communities.
God will be found by us in the desolate spaces. Going to desolate places might look like recalibrating our time to fit what we say we value. It might be removing our phones from our nightstands and choosing to not document our lives on social media. It may be committing to read our Bibles even when we’re not sure if God will show up.
Our time is not our own to fill like an empty shopping cart—with whatever strikes our fancy and fits our budget. Our time (like our money) is a means to love God and serve others. Paradoxically, only as we give of our resources will we be filled. This isn’t American bootstrapperism where we muscle it out to be generous; instead it’s slowing down and acknowledging that we have a Father God who sees our needs and kindly answers them for our good and his good pleasure.
But if our schedules are packed too tight—like our closets—there will never be room to let in anything new, including God. Our daily habits, our weekly schedules, and our purchases all add up to how we spend our lives. Anything we turn to that dictates our daily habits also shapes our hearts. We hunger for good work and restorative rest, and yet we stay busy because we fear we won’t find anything in the desolate places. But what if instead of circling the suburbs or distracting ourselves, we simply stopped? What if we said no more often? What would happen if we slowed down?
We could begin to live ordinary time well.
Living Ordinary Time Well
When we live ordinary time well, we practice disciplines that increase our hunger for the right things—not the quick-fix chicken nuggets of the soul, but the nutritious meal. We pray. We read our Bibles. We give. We serve. We partake in the sacraments and dig our hands into the life of the church.
When we live ordinary time well, we choose to spend our time for God’s kingdom instead of building up the kingdom of self. When we do, we don’t have to force our days, plans, or even our memories to provide total satisfaction. In her book Simply Tuesday, Emily P. Freeman writes, “Part of living well in ordinary time is letting this day be good. Letting this day be a gift. Letting this day be filled with plenty. And if it all goes wrong and my work turns to dust? This is my kind reminder that outcomes are beyond the scope of my job description.”
When we stop moving, we realize time was never our own. Then, our days can be received as gifts.
If we slowed down and pruned our schedules, we’d begin to decenter ourselves. We’d practice sustained attention and even be bored. We could begin to imagine what finding holy in the suburbs would look like in our hearts, families, and neighborhoods. We’d give our children the tools to know how to be comfortable in their own skin without having to perform to feel loved. We’d give them (and us) a better way to live in a culture that says you have to stay busy to be seen. We’d show them a better way to belong than through joining a frenzied, success- and image-driven culture.
You Don't Have to Be Busy to Belong
The upside-down kingdom of God in the suburbs stakes this claim: you don’t have to be busy to belong. When we stop striving, we don’t have to hoard our time or treasure. God’s kingdom testifies that rest is possible, not just checking out from the rat race in your favorite version of suburban leisure, but more than that, we can experience a deep, restorative rest.
The gospel says that in Jesus we’re held, protected, loved, and valued simply because we are God’s children. But to imagine a vision larger than what our suburbs sell as success and productivity, we have to have the courage to slow down.
There we have the space to wrestle with all that our busyness hides and there, we pray, we will find God.
Taken from Finding Holy in the Suburbs by Ashley Hales. Copyright (c) 2018 by Ashley Hales. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
Ashley Hales is a writer, speaker, pastor's wife, and mother to four. She holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and after years away, she's back in the southern California suburbs helping her husband plant a church, Resurrection Orange County. She's the author of Finding Holy in the Suburbs and a contributor to Everbloom. Connect with Ashley at aahales.com.
Three years ago, I had just been let go from a worship leader position because of my spiritual immaturity. Just like the twenty-some years leading up to that point, I felt like I was missing something. I was going to church, serving every weekend, and trying my best to become like Jesus but it just wasn’t working. What was I doing wrong?
There has to be more to Christianity than this, I thought.
I was right.
Not long after I was laid off, a couple of guys I knew from church invited me to join what they were calling a discipleship group. They explained it as a time of accelerated spiritual growth for the purpose of replicating what you learn. There would be homework and memory verses, along with reading the Scriptures together and praying for each other.
After laying out these expectations, they looked at me and said, “We want you to go home and pray about this and see if it’s something you’re willing to commit to.”
“I’ve already prayed about it,” I said. “When do we start?”
DISCIPLESHIP CHANGES EVERYTHING
The next six months with that group transformed my life. Through discipleship, I found what had eluded me for so many years—a true sense of calling that superseded everything else and brought the kingdom of God right to me.
Discipleship changed my life. And it’s what I’ve given my life to ever since.
Now I’m the associate pastor at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Charlotte, NC, where I've have been tasked with overseeing discipleship. We’re on the second round of D-Groups—discipleship groups of three to five men or women that function like the one I was invited into.
We don’t have things fully figured out, not by a long shot. But I have learned some things along the way. If you’re serious about discipleship or trying to turn the culture of your church in that direction, I hope you can learn from some of these lessons the Lord is teaching me.
EVERY CHURCH IS UNIQUE
Early on, I was guilty of trying to apply the things I read in books or heard in conferences to my local church. There’s nothing wrong with learning and trying things, but I was attempting to take a model designed for a large church and apply it to a body of about 75 people.
Reading good books, asking questions, and learning from others who are doing discipleship well are all key parts of establishing a discipleship pathway. But when we just mimic an idea without considering our body of believers, we miss the point entirely.
While there are many amazing blueprints out there for discipleship, we must be careful to consider how a discipleship strategy will mesh with our particular church culture.
BE REALISTIC ABOUT THE SUCCESS RATE
Some of the discipleship studies I read and some of the teachers I sat under said that the majority of people participating in discipleship groups experienced a multiplication success rate of around fifty percent (meaning fifty percent of those who participated in a group went on to replicate the process with others afterward). That seemed low.
But here’s what I learned after helping start D-groups at my church. 2 Timothy 2:2 says, “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” Notice that the instruction to pass on what has been learned isn’t for just anyone, but to those who were faithful.
I’ve been guilty of getting so pumped about D-Groups and what they’ve done for me that I forced the model on others who hadn’t yet proven themselves to be faithful. Too often we jump in front of the Spirit’s leading and throw people in discipleship contexts because we’re eager for them to experience transformation. But if they’re not hungry for the experience, our efforts fall on deaf ears.
Let me be clear: eagerness is not a bad thing; we just have to be sure the Spirit stays in front. Don’t assume that because someone doesn’t grasp the call to make disciples right away, or if someone doesn’t want to join a group right away, that you have failed or God has failed. God is in control of all things, and perhaps the year you spent with that person was the groundwork for what’s to come.
Our minds are finite but God’s is not. He doesn’t measure success the way we do. We have to keep this in mind or we will naturally put percentages and expectations on something that can't be measured on this side of eternity.
REDEFINE, UNLEARN, AND LEARN FOR THE FIRST TIME
Everything we’ve been doing at Hillcrest is redefining, unlearning, or learning for the first time. It takes most people a good bit of time and teaching to really grasp disciple-making and to unlearn what they think discipleship (and even church) is about. Some have never even heard of the concept of discipleship.
For several months, we taught on discipleship through the book of Luke. At the same time, our initial discipleship groups were up and running, and those in the groups were able to explain what it was like to others in the church.
It takes time for people to buy into discipleship because most churchgoers today were never personally discipled by someone. Be patient with people, be clear with your communication and language, and help people see the beauty of discipleship that involves all of their lives.
PEOPLE ARE DESPERATE TO BE DISCIPLED, BUT THEY DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY’RE LOOKING FOR
I have found that there are a lot of people who, deep down, really want a discipling relationship, but they don’t know what they’re looking for. Their souls are crying out to be taught and shown what it means to follow Jesus, but they are either fearful, don’t know how to ask for it, or didn’t know such a thing existed.
If you talk to those who have led discipleship groups they’ll tell you that the time spent with their groups is the most productive and rewarding time in their weeks. I believe it, because it was God’s plan for us. Disciple-makers are fulfilling that calling and are shown their true purpose for life. It changes the way they do business, the way they do home life, the way they structure their personal time, and, ultimately every aspect of their lives. They begin looking for opportunities to share the good news with people in their spheres of influence, not just verbally but through their actions as well.
If you want to see a bored Christian come to life, teach them to be a disciple-maker.
BE DOERS OF THE WORD
The most important thing I’ve learned about discipleship is that it has to be shown, not just explained. James says to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (Jas. 1:22). I can’t stress enough how important this is. I try my best to preach this to my own soul every day.
James goes on to say that faith without works is dead. I can’t think of more profound insight into Western Christianity as this one. We have a lot of talking and very little doing. But we can’t teach people to follow Jesus without actually showing them what it’s like at some point.
Imagine a young man who had a rough upbringing. God reaches out to him through a series of events in his life. He seeks out answers and eventually crosses the line of faith and baptism. He shows himself to be faithful by consistent involvement in the church community. Then he gets plugged into a D-Group and starts meeting weekly with other guys to memorize Scripture, confess their sins, and learn about God.
All good things! But there’s no one showing him how to do the things he’s learning.
How much more effective would it be if you invited this young man into your life? How much more would he learn if he watched you spend time with God every day, and he was shown how to apply spiritual disciplines in a practical way. How quickly would he grow if you let him walk through life with you as you love your spouse, raise your child, pray, serve, fail, repent, and pursue holiness?
This is a kind of discipleship most of us have a hard time desiring. Perhaps we’re busy or preoccupied, so we don’t take the time to invite people into our lives. But what does that teach them? Or maybe we don’t invite people to imitate us because we’re not living a life worthy of imitation.
We have to ask ourselves tough questions about what’s keeping us from investing in men and women the way we’re called to. We have to ask ourselves if we're being doers of the Word.
SPEND YOUR LIFE CHANGING LIVES FOR CHRIST
Training others to be like Jesus is well worth our time. But we don't live what we don’t believe.
Nothing in my life was the same after I was discipled. I believed in Jesus but didn’t know what to do or how to do it until someone showed me.
If you’re already discipling people, keep going; keep teaching other faithful men or women to teach others. If you’re new to discipleship, jump in. You’ll find what you’ve been searching for, and your life will never be the same.
The world jumps over itself for what’s edgy, new, and creative. Yet for believers, we have an old and unchanging story to tell. The tension between innovation and tradition is not a new conversation in the life of the church. Whether it’s an emerging social media platform, the latest music, or the next trend, cultural shifts so swiftly we often find ourselves grasping to hang on.
The church, in contrast, is always looking back to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), and we gladly rally around the old, unchanging story of a gentle Messiah who was crushed for our sin and raised to life three days later.
Unfortunately, with the ebb and flow of a rapidly changing culture, we might be pressured to come to the Bible with the same expectations.
We may start to wonder if we are equipped to face the challenges of our day—even when we know Scripture is unchangeably and immovably true—as if it’s outmoded or archaic. We come to a quiet time and search for undiscovered angles, to the point of blurring the meaning. We might even start doubting that Scripture really can speak to us today.
When we start to wonder if the Bible’s not enough in light of the particular struggles of our cultural moment, here are some important truths to keep in mind.
THE BOOK IS FROM HIM AND FOR US
When we constantly feel the need for something new or exciting to come from interacting with Scripture, we have forgotten the most important thing about it—its author. Feeling like we must find something novel or exhilarating each time we come to the Bible will send us scavenging for truth while missing the Giver of truth.
It’s as if we think our own intuitive creativity and knowledge surpasses the God who ordered the stars in the heavens and fashioned the wings of a butterfly. Paul asks, “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” (Rom. 11:34). Even Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, warned that we could not fathom the work of God (Eccl. 11:5). The truth is, we could never know the God who created the world if he had revealed himself to us through his Word and his Son (Heb. 1:1-2, John 1:1).
Because our God is faithful, we can trust that his revelation is all we need to hear pertaining to godliness and life (2 Pet. 1:3). We can rest to know that God has revealed his plan for the fullness of time by speaking to his people through his Word (Heb. 1:1-2; Eph. 1:9-10).
Each word of our Bible reveals the character of the God who created us. We must come to it humbly, allowing his word to tell us what questions matter, and wait as God shows us the unchanging truthfulness of his Word. No doubt he will speak to us in ways we had not noticed before. He desires to speak to us! But some areas we are left with real questions to ponder and wonder, humbly before God.
There is much we will not know, but we can be encouraged to know that each word is given or withheld with purpose (Rev. 22:18). Th book is from him and for us. Let’s remember that the purposeful words of scripture depict the truth, plans, and purposes of its Author. These truths are binding on all peoples across all times and places (Eph. 1:7-10, cf. Acts 17:30-31).
THE MESSAGE NEVER CHANGES, BUT THE WAY WE COMMUNICATE IT HAS TO
The Bible has been poured over, commented on, and debated for over 2,000 years. When we talk about the Bible, we’re not saying anything new. And if we are, we’re in trouble!
We desire to stand, so we are tempted to go to the Bible looking for something no one else has found. Instead of seeing our repetition of an old text as a limitation or as unoriginal, we can see it as an encouragement and confidence, being faithful to the truth handed down “once for all . . . to the saints” (Jude 3).
We can look back at well-known church fathers and theologians, missionaries and martyrs, pastors and leaders, and see how the same God and the same truths grounded and spurred them on to a life of faithfulness to the truth. The church has always been finding ways to communicate old (but good!) news to new audiences. The message is unchanging, but the way we communicate that message is always changing.
We stand surrounded by a “great a cloud of witnesses” to the same truth, the same story, and the same God (Heb. 12:1-2). We should be encouraged by the example of generations before us, how they read Scripture, and how Scripture’s unchanging truth still speaks specifically to our cultural moment.
Let’s dig deep into the Bible, but not to search for ways to make it shine more attention on ourselves. Rather, let’s see how we can retell the same old story in a brand new day, all to his glory.
GOD NEVER CHANGES, WE DO
Finally, while it’s true that God’s word does not change—we do. And we do so constantly! R.C. Sproul has stated that if anything defines human existence, it's change.
And our impermanent selves are what we bring to the Word each day. We come to the text with different knowledge, different circumstances, and different places in sanctification. Yet we also come to God’s Word with his Holy Spirit, who is constantly working in our hearts through each changing situation. He is removing blind spots, giving insight, and revealing the truth. This is why we can read the same passages repeatedly but still see new truths.
We don’t need to do mental gymnastics to get some sort of profound new insight. Instead, we can rest in the Spirit’s work to grow our hearts closer to him (Phil. 1:6). We can press on to know the Lord, and rest in knowing that when we do, God will respond and reveal himself through his Word (Hos. 6:3).
THE STORY THAT NEVER GETS OLD
We don’t need to feel inadequate because our story never changes—it is our lifeline. It’s the solid hope to cling to for a world drowning in ever-changing uncertainty. So let’s enter our Bible studies and conversations with humility and confidence in the truths that have lasted from the beginning of time, and will continue to last for all eternity.
The unchanging God, the Ancient of Days, has revealed himself to an unstable and shifting people. Through his Spirit, he has chosen to make inconsistent people more and more like their consistently faithful God. And that story (John 1:1) never gets old.
Brianna Lambert is a wife and mom to three, making their home in the cornfields of Indiana. She loves using writing to work out the truths God is teaching her each day. She has contributed to various online publications such as Morning by Morning and Fathom magazine. You can find more of her writing paired with her husband’s photography at lookingtotheharvest.com.