Building Bridges

Defending the Fatherless

Callie Lillard joins our conversation today as we explore serving the often overlooked in our churches. I’m grateful for her passion and lifelong work to serve children & families journeying through foster care & adoption. I’m grateful for the practical ways she encourages & challenges all of us to support & love these families. But mostly, I’m grateful for her heart that loves God and seeks to follow His command to love the “fatherless”.

“Defending the fatherless” has been a part of my life ever since I can remember. When my mom was growing up, her parents opened their home to children in foster care and later to pregnant young women who were planning to place their babies for adoption. My grandfather, who was an attorney, volunteered his legal services to families who were adopting. When my older brother and I were eleven and six years old, respectively, our parents dove into their own foster care journey by saying yes to a newborn baby who needed a home for a little while. On Christmas day 1990, my mom left our family get-together to go to the hospital, and she returned with a tiny pink bundle who was most certainly everyone’s favorite gift that year. That kind of day soon became pretty normal for our family, with many more babies passing through our home over the next 22 years. I was eight years old the first time my parents took me with them to serve at a children’s home in Kingston, Jamaica. In 2001, when I was seventeen, I gained a brother through adoption, and in 2003, a sister.

Foster care and adoption were just what my family did. It was our thing. Anyone who knew us knew that. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I really began to understand that it wasn’t just our thing; it was the church’s thing. Or at least it was supposed to be.

“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17

Caring for the fatherless is not a suggestion; it’s a command. One that’s repeated over 40 times in scripture. It’s not just a command for those who feel “called.” It’s a command for the whole church. We are all called. If we call ourselves Christians, we must respond. All of us.

I have good news for those of you who are starting to sweat. You don’t have to foster or adopt to care for the fatherless!

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If God’s not leading you to foster or adopt, He’s probably leading you to serve those families who are. No one understands “it takes a village to raise a child” more than foster and adoptive families. We need people in our church to come alongside us and help us give these kids what they need to heal. Maybe that looks like bringing a meal once a week. Maybe you’re good at math, and you could offer to tutor a child who’s struggling in school. Maybe you could provide respite care or free baby-sitting for tired parents who need a night out. Maybe you could help a foster parent entertain their kiddos on those long days spent at juvenile court (and encourage a struggling birth parent in the process!). Maybe you could donate financially or plan a fundraiser for a family who’s adopting. Maybe you can be a prayer warrior for a child or family. Maybe you’re a photographer and could donate your time to your state’s Heart Gallery or offer to do free sessions for children in foster care (do you know how many former foster kids have childhood photos of themselves? Just about zero.). Maybe you could help meet a child’s emotional needs by helping pay for counseling that’s not covered by insurance. Or maybe you could help meet a parent’s emotional needs by offering to pay their way to a conference or retreat (or by babysitting while they attend said conference or retreat).

Another important aspect of supporting foster and adoptive families in your church is recognizing that our kids have some unseen special needs. Our kids have all come to us from hard places. What looks like misbehavior to most may actually be survival skills that our kids used when they couldn’t trust an adult to meet their needs. They need us to teach them how to replace those unhealthy survival strategies with healthy ones. Many of our kids have been exposed to drugs or alcohol in utero or suffered abuse, neglect, or trauma. Or all of the above. And every single one of them has suffered the loss of their first family. These events have changed the way our children’s brains work. Instead of inquiring about their stories, ask us how you can help meet their needs.

Fostering attachment and building trust is a huge focus for families with new arrivals…and maybe even for those who’ve had their children for years. Let our families participate in church activities according to our kids’ needs. Our babies may never be in the nursery, and our big kids may need a parent to come with them to VBS. It’s not that we don’t trust you with our kids; it’s that we are trying to teach our kids that they can trust US. We get that it seems a little weird to you (it did to us once, too), but trust us – we have spent lots of time trying to learn how to help our kids heal. Help us help them by encouraging, supporting, and believing us, even when our parenting seems a little “out there.” And we would LOVE it if you wanted to educate yourselves about our kids. Attend a conference with us or ask us about resources we use (Empowered to Connect is a good place to start). We want you on our kids’ team!

One year on Orphan Sunday at our church, an elderly woman approached our ministry’s table after service. We had a sign-up sheet for our email list but she didn’t have an email address. She wrote down her phone number and told one of our volunteers, “I can’t foster or adopt, but I’m an artist and I can give free art lessons to children.”

This woman got it. She understood that God commands all of us to care for orphans and vulnerable children. And she was willing to use the gifts God gave her to respond to that command. This is “taking up the cause of the fatherless.” This is the gospel made touchable. And you don’t have to foster or adopt to be a part of it.

 

 

BONUS: The First Step

Remember how I said sometimes we’ll just throw the format out the window? Today is one of those days.

ntF1MUuTClint Askins joins us today all the way from Ghana, Africa where he & his wife, Hailey, work for Mercy Project. Mercy Project strives to eradicate child slavery on Lake Volta through long-term, sustainable solutions to empower & equip Ghanaians who use the children for fishing. Prior to Clint’s work with Mercy Project, he served in Youth Ministry for 7 years. Clint has a heart for the marginalized & boldly challenges all to live a life worthy of being a Jesus follower.

You can hear more from Clint & Hailey on their blog and on Twitter @clintaskins. Welcome, Clint.

My friend Jim Hinkle wrote on discipleship plans for children and youth, but I wanted to write something specific to all adults involved with churches and these ministries.
During my time as a youth minister, our intentional plan for discipleship relied heavily on mentoring given to youth from adults (other than their own parents) in our church.
Mentors influenced me more than any other factor in my own spiritual growth. In high school, it was my youth minister. In college and graduate school, three of my professors were incredible mentors. And in youth ministry, I learned from watching some of the best.
So naturally, I wanted to provide our youth an opportunity to be mentored by Christ-following, wise adults in our church. We started mentoring groups led by 2 adults and 5-10 students.
Only one problem. Continue reading

Wish List for a Child’s Heart

There are few people I know who are more intentional about every aspect of ministry than my friend Jim Hinkle. I mean seriously some days meetings will last twice as long as necessary because of how much he thinks through every detail, word choice used and the implication of decisions made. But it’s born out of wisdom and his deep love & passion for the local church and how she should love others well. Jim was one of several who sat down and tackled this overwhelming job of creating a discipleship model for Children’s & Youth Ministries. I’m so excited to invite him to our conversation today to share just how they set out to tackle this feat.

It’s an entertaining mental exercise to make a wish list. What would a wish list look like for a remodeled kitchen? How about a new car? What about the ultimate super hero? All of us, at some level, have let our imaginations dream about what could be if we could simply make a list of what we’d like to have in a kitchen, a car, or maybe even a super hero.

But what about our wish list for a child’s heart. What attitudes, skill sets, and perspectives Continue reading

Intentionally Making Disciples

Screen-shot-2011-09-16-at-1.19.01-AMThen Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:18-20

In ancient Jewish tradition, children would attend Bet Sefer where they would memorize the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy) from 5 – 10 years of age. The best of those students were selected to attend Bet Talmud (at 11 years old) to begin learning the interpretation & application of the scriptures. If you weren’t selected you went home to learn the family business. The best of the Bet Talmud students were chosen by the Rabbi for Bet Midrash about the age of 15. The Rabbi would declare, “Lech achori.” or “Come, follow me.” The Rabbi would train, teach, worship with, live life with, and mentor his students in the ways of God & faith. “Lech achori” was the phrase every Jewish child dreamed of hearing from a Rabbi. This command meant more than physically following the Rabbi. It meant the Rabbi thought you were capable of becoming like him. It was a statement of the Rabbi finding worth & value in you.

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Being Practical: Building Bridges Between Children’s & Youth Ministries

I am so exited to invite Fawn Bauer to the conversation today. Fawn’s heart beats for Youth Ministry & the students God has brought into her life. She makes bold decision to follow wherever God leads her, and I’m honored to call her my friend. Today she shares with us some practical ways to build bridges between ministries that often seem to live in separate countries.

I’ve served in youth ministry over the last 13 years as an intern, a ministry assistant, a volunteer, and now, as a full-time youth minister at Sycamore View Church. I’ve spent a lot of time watching strong youth ministries become even stronger when they partner with children’s ministries.

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Building Bridges with Youth Ministry

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When I first started in Children’s Ministry I was fortunate enough to work for a small church that already had a strong bridge between Children’s & Youth* Ministries. My first formal experience in ministry taught me a way to do ministry that couldn’t function without the help of one another. Most events were dependent on youth volunteers. Children’s Worship depended on teens. And I saw those teens discover gifts they didn’t know they had while teaching children & becoming mentors. Immature teenagers grew up under the attentive concentration of little eyes & ears. I also learned that I needed to build relationships with teens as much as children. I found myself attending almost as many Youth Ministry events as I orchestrated for Children’s Ministry. (It didn’t hurt that the Youth Minister was really cute either**.)

Continue reading