Churches need to take seriously their responsibility to support and minister to families blessed by adoption.
This task is not an easy one, for the most helpful ways in which to minister to these families is not always obvious, and ministering to adopting couples can be confusing, given that there is now a great variety of ways in which families adopt. But ministering to adoptive families is a task that the 21st-century church should embrace.
The great need for churches to minister to adoptive families is clearly evidenced by adoption statistics. The National Adoption Information Clearinghouse reports that 127,441 children were adopted in the United States in 1992. Of those adoptions, 42 percent were adoptions by step-parents or relatives; 15.5 percent were adoptions of children in foster care; 5 percent were international adoptions; and 37.5 percent were adoptions through private agencies or lawyers. The number of adoptions has steadily increased since 1992.
So what are some ways in which churches can faithfully minister in these situations? What can ministers and church leaders do to encourage and support adoptive families? What are some practical ways in which their needs may be addressed?
First, realize that families who adopt travel through the adoption journey in their own ways, and thus, there is no one right way in which to minister to an adoptive family. Some families like to share their journey with friends and acquaintances. They want lots of input and continual encouragement from their friends. They greatly appreciate questions their friends ask about their adoption journey and about their children, and they are sadly disappointed when no one takes an interest.
Other families are much more private. They do not share details about the process, nor do they share information about their family situation. They are offended by what they perceive to be intrusive and annoying questions about the cost of their adoption, the birthparents of their child or their family’s experience. These questions are hurtful to them, even when the questions come from their families and close friends.
The responses of most adopting families fall somewhere between these two distinctly different reactions to adoption. The only way to know how to minister to adoptive families and to know what they need as far as openness, sharing and encouragement is to ask them. Ask how best you may pray for their family. Ask if they want to share information regularly. Ask if questions about the adoption process or about their experience as a family built through adoption annoy them or encourage them. And finally, ask what they need from you, your church or your group of friends.
One painful lesson that I personally learned is that the arrival of a child through adoption often is treated much differently by the church than an arrival of a child by birth. Ministers and church leaders should seek to insure that an adopted child receives a warm and loving welcome from the church family. Be sure that adoptive families are given a “baby” shower—even if the child arriving is not an infant.
Do not forget that when an adopted child arrives, the family should receive home-cooked meals delivered by loving church members. Place flowers in the church following the arrival of the child. Encourage adoptive families to participate in child dedication services. In other words, churches should treat the arrival of an adopted child just as they treat the arrival of a birth child.
One final way that churches may minister to adoptive families is to observe National Adoption Awareness Month. During the month of November, incorporate adoption as a theme in worship services.
Explore the stories of adoptive families in the Bible. Talk about Joseph, who parented an “adopted” son named Jesus. Tell the story of Jochebed, who, in seeking to save the life of her son, allowed Pharaoh’s daughter to adopt Moses.
Read the great adoption verses of the Bible, including Romans 8:15: “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as children by which we cry out ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”
Preach an adoption sermon, emphasizing that all who have a faith relationship with God have experienced the joy of adoption. Emphasize that those who are God’s children have no genetic relationship or biological ties to God, but they are God’s children because he has adopted them into his family through his grace and love.
November is not only National Adoption Awareness Month; it is a season for thankfulness. So take time this month to minister to, celebrate with and be thankful for adoptive families.
Pam Durso serves as assistant professor of church history and Baptist heritage at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, N.C.
Read “A Personal Story of Adoption,” also by Pam Durso.
Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry.