Our God is the “Father to the fatherless” (Ps. 68:5; 146:9,) and God’s people are called to love the vulnerable (Is. 1:17, James 1:27). Few, however, make the connection between church planting and mercy ministry, or in this case, church planting and orphan prevention.
We live in a world full of orphans. War, poverty, disease, and family deterioration have resulted in millions of orphans today. About 10 percent of these children are total orphans—children who have lost both parents; 90 percent of orphans have one, if not both, parents living. Most orphans are abandoned because their parents don’t have the financial resources to care for them, or simply aren’t willing to do so.
While local churches should encourage and equip their members to foster and adopt children, this work only addresses part of the problem. We also need a comprehensive strategy for engaging the global orphan crisis; one that alleviates poverty and combats the root causes of vulnerability.
Church planting can help do this. To be clear, we’re not saying our primary goal in church planting is orphan prevention, only that it is one indirect blessing of church planting—especially when planting churches in areas with much family breakdown.
The local church is the context for family discipleship. Without the local church, men won’t be taught to lead their families, parents won’t be taught about healthy discipline, and the gospel won’t shape lives and communities. We want to see Christ exalted by keeping families together, and the planting of gospel-centered churches will aid in doing this.
Target the Source
If you have a leaky roof, you put a bucket underneath the dripping water. This is a necessary, albeit temporary, solution to protect your home from water damage. But if you want to stem the leak for good, you get up on your roof and fix it altogether.
Likewise, orphan prevention seeks holistic solutions that target the source of the problem.
Several factors contribute to fatherlessness. Russell Moore writes, “We should work for justice for orphans and for widows, by empowering people of good will to fight the root causes of fatherlessness (war, disease, genocide, famine, poverty, divorce cultures).” Orphan prevention does just that: it addresses the source of children becoming orphaned instead of reacting to the effects of it.
Millions live in the darkness of polygamy, abandonment, and poverty. Many cultures devalue women and children, which perpetuates divorce.
But church planting is about infiltrating these cultural strongholds with the life-transforming message of the gospel—a message that includes the glorious story of adoption.
As churches are planted, one effect will be families coming to mirror God’s love and care for his children.
Acts 29 pastor Paul Boekell, says, “As the gospel advances, it transforms the lives of fathers, mothers, grandparents, local leaders, children, and everyone else touched by the true story of Jesus crucified and risen for the redemption of sinners.” As churches are planted, one effect will be families coming to mirror God’s love and care for his children.
Church planting gives us the opportunity to disciple men and women to understand their biblical role as parents. We must teach parents to care for their children according to God’s Word. Applying the gospel to parenting, in the context of the local church, helps keep families together.
Pastoral training in poorer communities is desperately needed. In 2017, Acts 29 hosted a pastor’s training conference in Nairobi, Kenya. More than 100 pastors traveled from all over Africa to participate in the training. These pastors were taught, specifically, about the importance of family discipleship as a means of caring for the vulnerable.
In some cases, parents abandon their children because they can’t afford to take care of them. This tragedy presents a unique opportunity for local believers in impoverished areas to create sustainable, income-generating solutions for their communities.
Churches can collaborate with professionals to create economic solutions for impoverished communities. For example, Acts 29 awarded a grant to 127 Worldwide, a nonprofit ministry of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, that partners with local leaders around the world caring for orphans and widows. The grant will help fund an aquaponics system in Lilongwe, Malawi, at the site of New Life Church, led by pastor Robert Manda.
One goal of the aquaponics system is to enable church members to buy fish and vegetables at a reduced rate. This allows them to sell the fish and vegetables in the local market to increase their livelihood.
In turn, parents are better able to provide for their children, meaning they will be less likely to hand them over to a children’s home.
Church planters in majority-world contexts will be met head-on with the global orphan crisis. To meet the needs of these local communities, we must pursue orphan prevention, joining Jesus in the continuing work of making all things new (Rev. 21:5).
Church planting is about seeing lives transformed by the power of the gospel: husbands faithful to their wives, parents present with their children, poverty met with generosity, and communities united by the gospel.
We plant churches because the gospel is a story of adoption: God the Father turning rebels into his children.
We plant churches because the gospel is a story of adoption: God the Father turning rebels into his children. By God’s grace, let’s plant churches that put the glory of God’s adopting grace on display.