Our longing should be for vulnerable kids to encounter the love of the Father through our community, for parents and kids who have been separated to get a picture of the reconciliation that comes through Jesus, and for those without a supportive family to experience the Spirit-empowered embrace of the family of God.
Using the Saturate resource 5 Essentials for Effective Mission by Todd Morr as a template, the following is an example of proactive engagement for missional communities that want to focus on serving vulnerable kids and families in their city. We’ll look at some specific ways that these five essentials of People, Places, Proclamation, Plan, and Prayer might get worked out in the context of foster care and related missional opportunities.
A missional community that chooses the area of foster care as a shared focus will need to be especially intentional about identifying specific people to love and serve. It can be easy to slip into viewing the mission simply as a project to raise foster awareness or address the crisis in broad terms rather than an intentional effort to invest our lives in actual people.
As your group seeks to discern in prayer who God is calling you to pursue together, the following are some of the specific groups of people you could choose to tangibly serve throughout the week:
- Current foster families and foster children. Even if no one within your group has a foster license, you can get started by reaching out to current foster families in your city––building relationships with them, and learning how you can serve them as family. Because foster parent retention is a real concern in many areas, providing a support network of relationships for existing foster parents is a legitimate way of addressing the crisis as a whole. So while State agencies may not agree with our gospel convictions, they do recognize the need for supportive communities to come around foster families, and in our experience, they have actually helped facilitate points of contact for that to happen.
- Children waiting for placement. This would typically require someone in your group becoming licensed for foster care.
- Families who are at high risk of losing custody of their children to the State. This can be done through a ministry called Safe Families or possibly by connecting with local family or women’s shelters.
- Parents who have already lost custody of their children and are in the process of seeking reunification. You could meet these people by volunteering at shelters, recovery programs, food banks, etc.
Once your group has identified some specific people in these groups, you’ll need to discuss and prayerfully discern the best times, places, and ways to spend time with these people. Consistency is key. It’s difficult to be family to people we only see a couple times a month.
Here are some specific ways you might find or create spaces for spending time with these people:
- Hosting a date night for foster parents and providing childcare at a church building or community center.
- Hosting a play date in a local park on a consistent day for foster moms and their children.
- Providing parenting classes at a church building, community center, or your home.
- Volunteering at a school, sports team, or club where foster families to whom you are being family are involved.
- Inviting them over for dinner at your home or the home of someone in your group.
Our longing should be for vulnerable kids to encounter the love of the Father through our community, for parents and kids who have been separated to get a picture of the reconciliation that comes through Jesus, and for those without a supportive family to experience the Spirit-empowered embrace of the family of God. We want to be intentional not only to demonstrate the reality of the gospel but be prepared as a community to speak the good news of Jesus into the lives of those we are loving as family.
Below are some examples of how your group could live and speak with gospel intentionality.
You can display a picture of the gospel by:
- Regularly providing a meal for one of the foster families on a night that they are extra busy.
- Providing multiple meals during a time they are sick, are changing jobs, or have some other stressful circumstance such as a court appointment or taking in a child with special needs or extreme behavioral challenges.
- Giving foster parents a gift card to go out for coffee or on a date.
- Providing childcare for foster parents so they can go on a date, and preparing some fun activities for the kids. Having some (if not all) of the members of your group get background checks is probably a good idea for this kind of missional focus (childcare/babysitting rules for foster children may vary by State).
- Helping with a house project, yard project, or garden project. When possible, involve foster kids from the group in this in order to build relationships and make it enjoyable for them (a former foster daughter of ours looks back on projects that she did together with my wife as some of her fondest childhood memories).
- Helping with cleaning or maintenance on their house or vehicle.
- Encouraging at least one individual or couple in your group to go through the foster licensing process to do full-time care, and an additional individual or couple to do respite care (the same license is required for both). Families in the group that do respite care can serve those who are doing full-time care by watching their kids overnight and giving the foster parent(s) a much needed rest.
You can proclaim the good news verbally into those relationships by:
- Inviting them to study the Bible together with a few others in the group
- Having a discussion with foster parents about practical things such as marriage, parenting, or finances from a biblical perspective
- Asking them to tell you their life story (note that greater sensitivity is needed when asking questions about a foster child’s past)
- Telling them a thirty-minute version of your life story
- Equipping (biological or adopted) kids in the group to contextually share the gospel with foster kids in the group
- Going through the Story of God for Kids together as a group (involve the kids and make space for them to ask questions and have fun)
- Asking them if there are any specific ways you can be praying for them
- Telling them practical stories of how God is changing the lives of people around you and your group (testimonies from other foster families, former foster kids, etc. could be especially meaningful).
Especially because this missional focus is not usually geographic specific, much attention must be given to communicating with the group about how and when you will act on the objectives that have been identified.
In leading different missional communities over the years, I’ve witnessed first-hand the lack of fruitfulness that came (at times) from my failure to plan in advance and to call our group to make specific commitments to regularly spend time with the people we believed God was calling us to serve.
As Todd Morr writes:
“Great intentions without a specific plan usually lead to a lack of fruitfulness. Be specific. Be consistent. Be focused. Your group doesn’t need to commit to ten things on a monthly basis. Do a few things regularly with the same people, and do them well. Remember, the goal is to go as deep as possible in relationship with the eight to twelve people God has called your group to love and serve.”
How will your group pray for these people and your specific plans in a focused way?
In one sense, prayer is where all of this begins. Everything that I’ve shared above has come about in our own context as the result of months of prayer. Prayer is not only crucial in identifying the initial focus and objectives but at each point along the way. Our God powerfully works through prayer and without constant dependence upon Him, serving foster families or being a foster parent will soon become overwhelming. God alone can change the hearts of troubled and vulnerable kids in our cities and do a work in them that will live on and impact the next generation.
Begin by asking the Spirit to do a work in your own hearts. Without guilting anyone, regularly encourage the members of your group to pray about their role in loving these kids, that God would open their hearts to pursue licensing if that is His will, and if not, to be faithful in supporting foster families in some of the specific ways mentioned above. Plan times to pray about these things together as a missional community.
Create a detailed prayer plan for those you believe God is calling you to pursue. This may include writing down the names of each vulnerable child you encounter, and specifically asking God for opportunities to serve them. We’ve used emails and Facebook groups to keep each other updated on how we can be praying, and on what God is doing.
I’m convinced that these smaller expressions of the church that we call missional communities are an incredible way of providing support for foster families, many of whom feel isolated, abandoned, and misunderstood (sadly sometimes even within the church). I look forward to hearing how God continues to use an increasing number of these gospel communities to impact the lives of vulnerable kids and at-risk families for His glory across North America.
What role is God calling you to play in the lives of those who are vulnerable in your city?
–> Join the online community, ask questions, and get answers from seasoned practitioners.
–> Check out some of our resources: