Orphan Care, the Church, and Evangelical Fads
While I am incredibly grateful to see a movement towards orphan care well up within the evangelical church in unprecedented ways, I am equally concerned that the rate of growth in zeal may at some point outpace the capacity we have to most appropriately respond to the crisis before us. In the end, if our passion for orphans exceeds our understanding of how to truly serve them, we will do more harm in the cause than we will good.
Scripture says that zeal without knowledge is not good because it causes us to make careless, otherwise avoidable mistakes (Psalm 19:2). The Apostle Paul even suggests that a zealousness about doing the things of God without a depth of knowledge of how and why we should be doing them ultimately produces wrong motivations and leads to wrong actions (Romans 10:1-3). Scripture is not against being passionate - it is against your passion being uninformed and unbridled by truth. It's not against feeling strongly about things - it is for learning how to appropriately act on those strong feelings. In practical terms, zeal without knowledge, like my 2 year old left alone with a marker around furniture, is not good - it's actually very, very dangerous.
ZEAL WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE
Zeal may have good intentions but without knowledge it almost always produces undesirable outcomes. When learning to ride their bikes with no training wheels, the hardest part for my girls was not keeping their balance and peddling at the same time. That seemed to come naturally to them - almost too naturally - to the point where they became overly confident too quickly in their ability to ride. The greatest struggle they had was not riding without falling; it was learning to stop without crashing, and the zealousness with which they would ride only exposed all the more painfully the major fundamental flaw they had in their whole bike riding experience - they couldn't stop themselves! They would charge down the street with big smiles and bigger egos, only to crash and burn when it came time to stop.
If we're not careful, our zealousness about orphan care in today's evangelical culture will speed out of control, and our inability to develop theological rootedness, sustainable support structures and proper equipping initiatives will cause us to crash and burn when it comes to making a sustainable impact on the crisis around us. We'll come blazing hot into foster care agencies, group homes, state child welfare offices and international orphanages zealously waiving the orphan care banner only to find that in the end, we've done more harm than help. We've brought our ideas, our perspectives, our agendas and our expectations with little to no regards for the multi-faceted and complicated nuances that exist within the child and family welfare arena. Zeal without knowledge, like a bike with no brakes, is dangerous.
ORPHAN CARE IS NOT A FAD
Momentary peaks of passion are what ultimately perpetuate the fad-driven culture we live in - and unfortunately the Church is not immune to it. In my junior high years it was Girbaud jeans, Starter jackets and Reebok pumps. They were all the rage. Now, they're gone. I can't tell you the last time I've seen anyone wearing any of those things. For the Church lately it's been words like postmodern, emergent, missional and gospel-centered; causes like clean water, human trafficking or orphan care; styles like contemporary, traditional, or my favorite of them all - blended (which really meant 80% traditional, 20% contemporary and 100% awkward). It's beards or no beards. Thick rimmed glasses or no glasses. Suits and ties or skinny jeans and v-necks. None of these things are inherently bad nor are they necessarily fads, but they do all represent particular pieces of church culture that are constantly evolving, shifting and changing - some here today and gone tomorrow - most hard to keep up with.
Orphan care is not this generation's evangelical fad - but if we're not careful, it might turn into that. It is not a sexy feature of the Church today that will only lose its appeal tomorrow - but if we're not careful, we all know what could happen. Caring for the marginalized, abused, neglected and orphaned is the historical heart of God from the very beginning to the very end. It is by nature focused on changing the lives of children and families forever. There's no room for fads or trends in forever. Forever is forever. It's not here today and gone tomorrow. Orphan care, by definition then cannot be a fad.
TEMPER THE ZEAL
Passion is not enough to sustain the timeless call to care for orphans. It must be undergirded by a more sustainable base of knowledge, belief and practical understanding. In many cases we must temper the zeal of the orphan care movement if we ever want to see it thrive long term. We know historically what the Church is capable of doing with momentary passion and no long term follow through. But this is not a fad, so let's ensure we're not treating it like one. I celebrate the growing momentum shift in the Church towards the care of marginalized, abused, neglected and orphaned kids. I also advocate that unless we're undergirding this passionate movement with biblical truth and sustainable resourcing we will crash and burn. Let's put the necessary work in to ensuring its sustainability by establishing some fundamental truths around it, such as:
- A theological framework of the Gospel of our redemption in Jesus and the call celebrate its impact in our lives by demonstrating its effects into the lives of others.
- A deeply held conviction that God's heart is particularly pained for the plight of the helpless and hopeless, and that any work to care for them is ultimately a reflection of His care of us and an expression of our care for Him.
- A belief that although the work to care for orphans may at times get hard, it is right and worthy and honorable to God and therefore deserves our endurance, perseverance and faithfulness.
- A commitment to always allow our efforts to be driven by the depths of the orphan's plight and not the fleeting nature of our passions.
- A practical outlook on what to expect, how to prepare, what to do when the unexpected happens and how anyone can get involved and everyone has a role to play.
The best thing we can do for the growing orphan care movement in the Church is to temper its zeal - not to stop the momentum of the movement but to teach our people how to appropriately and effectively maneuver within it. The point is not to diffuse passion but to educate it, inform it and provide the proper guardrails in which that passion can thrive and flourish long term. In the end, everyone will win - the children being helped, the families responding to the call and the long-term sustainable impact of the movement as a whole.
Our passion and excitement to care for orphans must never be separated from the fact that these kids in no way are passionate or excited about being orphans. It's not about us, it's about them. So we fight for them today with an unwavering commitment to do the same tomorrow.
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