A City-Wide Missional Focus
As I’ve shared briefly in some previous articles, a small but growing number of pastors in our community have joined forces to tackle the issue of foster care and to unite around the mission of serving vulnerable kids in our region. We are convinced that this is an issue near to the heart of God and something the Church can’t ignore. I want to share a few of the specific steps we are taking in our community as well as some insights from my friend, Paul Jones, pastor of Reality Church in Olympia, WA. He and several other pastors have been working together around this issue in their city for the past couple of years.
Don’t Do it Alone
According to childrensrights.org, in 2015, over 670,000 children spent time in U.S. foster care and in the same year more than 62,000 children, whose mothers and fathers had lost their parental rights, were waiting for adoption. In our county, a large percentage of kids in need of foster care are being sent out of the county due to a shortage of available foster families. In neighboring Thurston County, there were over 300 kids in the foster system in 2016 and less than 80 licensed and active foster homes. In other words, this is a major issue and something that can hardly be addressed by one local church but rather by a movement of churches working together.
So don’t try to do it alone. The first step to addressing this need is to get other pastors and leaders from your city to share in the vision. This will require the development of trust through relationships and much prayer. For some practical steps to begin moving in this direction, see my previous articles here and here on working towards gospel-centered unity with local churches.
Keep the Church Central
More agencies, programs, and committees alone will not bring the change that is needed––the Church is God’s primary agent of healing for the brokenness in our cities. Over the years in Olympia, different agencies, including Christian organizations, worked tirelessly to recruit foster parents but saw little fruit from their labors. Informational meetings were poorly attended and progress was slow. However, when pastors began to come together around this need, things started to change. Foster awareness meetings went from only a handful in attendance to several hundred, and the number of licensed foster families increased dramatically.
Having church leaders who regularly bring the need before the church and connect it to the gospel is a key component to the growth and success of this kind of missional cooperation.
On the flip side, it is possible for zealous pastors and churches to jump into this cause and start running without an adequate understanding of how the system works. Therefore, it is crucial for this effort not only to be led and initiated by pastors, but informed and serviced by agencies and social service workers who have valuable knowledge of the legalities involved and hands-on experience in the field. Church leaders have the opportunity to take the posture of learner here and familiarize themselves with the many nuances of the foster system.
Organize an Awareness Event
The pastors in the Olympia region have committed to putting on one awareness event each year in November—corresponding with Orphan Sunday. I dropped in at this event last month and was thrilled to see several hundred in attendance from multiple area churches. At one of three breakout sessions, seven different licensing agencies were present and provided information for those ready to take the next step. Another breakout session was hosted by a ministry called Safe Families (they work through churches to prevent kids from being placed into the system in the first place… you should definitely check them out). A third session included information on other ways in which those who are unable to go through the licensing process can serve and support vulnerable kids and foster families.
It’s also worth mentioning that social agencies and Christian organizations are eager for opportunities to freely share their information at events like this, so that significantly lightens the load of content preparation for pastors and leaders. Be sure to check out the Serve Thurston website for more info on how Olympia pastors are addressing this need in their city.
Underline the Fact that There are Multiple Ways to Get Involved
If our people think that becoming a licensed foster parent is the only way to be a part of the solution, then we’ll lose a lot of steam from the get-go. Yes, we must encourage couples and individuals to lay down their lives and show these precious children the love of the Father by bringing them into their homes, but the fact is that not everyone is able to be a foster parent.
Here’s a brief list of ways to serve vulnerable kids in our communities:
- Donations (Clothing, winter coats, school supplies, etc.)
- Provide date nights for foster parents
- Adopt a foster family (Become foster grandparents, or uncles and aunts)
- Get licensed (Full-Time or Respite Care)
- Prevention and Reunification (Safe families, serving at shelters for women and families)
- Provide parenting classes
Cast a Vision for Unity
We really believe that this is something every follower of Jesus should care about (James 1:27 seems pretty clear), and that Jesus wants to unite his church in order to saturate our communities with His presence (John 17 is also clear). So here is an opportunity to bring those together.
Our dream as pastors in Grays Harbor is to see the whole Church in our region proactively take on this challenge in the name of Christ. This means as many congregations as possible working together to play a part in alleviating foster home shortage and striving to keep families intact. We are asking every gospel-believing church in our county to participate over the next year in at least one of the ways mentioned above (prayer, supporting foster families, encouraging their people to come to our awareness event, etc.).
Our prayer is that through this united effort, even more pastors in our community will see the benefits of intentionally laboring together. In the midst of a fractured time, we can show the oneness of the body, bring greater renewal to our communities, and greater glory to our Savior!
How can you begin taking steps toward unity with other churches around you?
–> Join the online community, ask questions, and get answers from seasoned practitioners.
–> Check out some helpful resources: