The Spiritual and Missional Aspects of Adoption/Foster Care

*This is an excerpt from How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos for Adoptive/Foster Parents by Kathleen Guire

A few months ago, I wrote an article titled “What If We Treated Foster/Adoptive Parents as Missionaries?” I got lots of flack from non-Christians (which is understandable, to an extent), but I was shocked to also get some negative comments from Christians. So I started asking adoptive/foster parents what they thought about the subject. Then I took it a step further and created a survey that asked all the questions I was curious about. I shared it with my adoption/foster care support group, and several friends did the same. I’ll be sharing the results throughout this article along with some of the feedback via quotes.

Your Home as a Mission Field

Before I began the season of homeschooling in my life, I hadn’t thought of my home as my mission field or considered the far-reaching implications of family to the third and fourth generation. I pretty much thought about whatever seemed to be going on at the moment or what the church was putting on the calendar that I needed to attend to. 

When Jerry and I were married, we were just getting our sea legs when it came to Christianity. We were both sorting through the theology and doctrines handed to us by our parents. (You can read the whole scoop in A Positive Adoption Story.) I had a general sort of doctrine — don’t get divorced, don’t commit adultery, go to church regularly.  My beliefs about family were muddled somewhere in the middle of all that, but I had taken my cues mostly from the culture around me. These are just a few of the assumptions I picked up:

  • Having children is a choice and sometimes (even in the church) viewed as an impediment to true ministry. 
  • Ministry happens at the church, out in the community, or in some third-world country. 
  • If you have children, you can’t (or shouldn’t) bring them along to things that are holy or have the word “ministry” attached to them. You farm them out or wait until they are grown before you do anything of real value. 

I followed the church culture like it was the Pied Piper of Hamelin. I filled my schedule with church ministry activities and shooed my kids out of the way. I needed to do holy work, and they were obstacles to that — until Denny Kenaston planted a seed in that set of tapes, A Godly Home. That seed grew into the vague, unsettling idea that I was growing the wrong sort of ministry. In response, I began researching other authors, listening to other teachers, reading the Bible, and questioning everything I knew about family. 

Although I’m the type of person who likes systems, facts, and formulas, I have learned the hard way that without a foundation, these things aren’t effective. I was that way with family. I thought if someone could just give me the general formula — stay married, don’t commit adultery, feed the kids, etc. — then everything would be alright. But the how alone doesn’t work. There has to be a why. The Bible puts it this way: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). Families are destroyed because we don’t fully understand their importance. 

The Stay-at-Home Missionary

I sat on a comfy couch in the Chi Alpha room at Trinity. The smell of rich, brewed coffee permeated the air as the Keurig hissed for the tenth time. Women filed over and filled couches, chairs, and the floor. Soon, coffees were abandoned on end tables in favor of pillows to hug. Women cried as they poured out their woes, insecurities, and failings. This wasn’t a group therapy session. It was a Mom’s Tea I led every Friday at our homeschool co-op, THESIS. These women were my friends. 

The overarching theme was “I’m just a mom.” Some of these women had left nursing, accounting, teaching (in a public school), and other careers outside the home. The message culture was hissing at them was toxic: “The job you are doing is not important.” 

And we were not alone in that belief. As I mentioned earlier, only 56.9% of people I surveyed said they think of family as a mission or ministry. Meanwhile, 25.9% said family is not a ministry or mission, and 17.2% said maybe. I shouldn’t be surprised at the results, but I was!

But this idea of family not being a ministry couldn’t be further from the truth. The acts of raising, teaching, praying for, and attaching to our children are among the most important things we will ever do. Moms are stay-at-home missionaries. One survey-taker noted: “I believe God created our family to be together to minister to other families and our community — both with our own gifts and with our experiences. Plus, as a mom, raising my kids to know God is my greatest ministry.”

I agree. That’s why I love the movie Marley and Me. Jen, who has decided to leave her career as a journalist and stay home to raise her kiddos, says something like, “No one told me it would be this hard.”  Her husband John agrees and gives her an out, saying she can go back to work, but she won’t bite. She wants to raise her own children. 

Jen alluded to the fact that her career outside the home was easier than raising kids. I cry every time I watch that scene because it resonates with me so much. It’s as if the culture tells us women that we bring no value to the world if we “just stay home.” The world wants us to raise children who are well-rounded, emotionally stable, educated, and contributing members of society — but often looks down on those who leave a career outside the home to focus on that responsibility. 

Our society is full of therapies, counselors, and facilities designed to help people heal from childhood trauma and its long-term effects. We have an army of women willing to stay at home and raise kiddos so they don’t have trauma or help them heal from past trauma, and the voice they hear is, “You aren’t worth. You aren’t doing anything of value.” In Parenting is Your Highest Calling and 8 Other Myths that Keep us Trapped in Guilt and Worry, Leslie Leyland Fields shares:

“The intense spotlight on the home comes to us at this point in our history for good reason. All of us know, the traditional family is under serious attack. Family units now include same sex couples and three parent families in which children’s needs are sometimes less important than the rights and whims of adults. Child abuse is rising so fast that it is described as an epidemic by the Child Welfare League of America. As families fracture and states scramble to fill the gap, more and more children are entering foster care. Against the backdrop of such moral fragmentation, surely we can assert that our highest call is our families!”

Leslie goes on to say our highest calling is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27). While I wholeheartedly agree with her, we cannot overstate how important raising your family is. This mission is a big part of our highest calling. I point this out because the feminist pendulum has swung so far to the left that it can actually damage and divide women. It often leaves the impression that being a stay-at-home mom is an second-class, almost subhuman role.

Foster Care as a Ministry or Mission

Out of the families surveyed:

  • 70.7% said that yes, foster care/adoption is a ministry.
  • 17.2% said no.
  • 12.1% said maybe.

If your family is a mission, isn’t it a natural progression that foster/care and adoption is? If we categorize being a mom as a mission, why wouldn’t we include foster care and adoption? 

Let’s be clear: We don’t adopt or foster to create a ministry. We don’t have children to create a ministry, either. God puts us in ministry. Often, we’re not even aware of it until we look back and see His handiwork. Our job isn’t to create a ministry; our job is to be obedient. Ministry exists in every area of our lives when we are obedient to Christ.

Ministry draws us closer to God. When we walk in obedience, our relationship with Jesus is fuller, more dependent, and more intertwined. Our relationships are affected and enhanced. That is true ministry. It’s not a plaque on the wall or a saying on a tee shirt — it’s relationship. Through our relationship with Christ, we become new creatures. Our old habits and ways have passed away, and we live with His light shining through us. That is the ministry we engage in and that the world longs to see. This sort of ministry isn’t planned in your Google calendar or written into a mission statement. It’s found in your everyday life with Christ, led by the Holy Spirit. 

As foster or adoptive parents, our home is a long-term (forever) mission base. We bring these kids who have been discarded by the culture, hurt by their parents, and harmed by trauma into our homes. There is rarely a respite.

I talked to Elizabeth King, a full-time missionary with twenty-two years under her belt. When she and her husband were presented with the opportunity to adopt two girls, they said, “More ministry? Yes!” They were up for it. Hadn’t they been practicing this for years? She says:

“But we were not really ready for the total onslaught of doing ministry right from the very core of who we were. Always before we had ministered outside of our home or had temporary visitors in our home. Our residence was a place of refuge from the rigors of ministry. But now, by accepting these broken girls into our lives – there was nowhere left to retreat to. Nowhere to relax. No escape from the desperate needs and destructive behaviors of the two hurting souls. We found that all our weaknesses, which we could hide pretty well in the course of normal ministry, were now staring us in the face every day.”

Rachel Judd, another adoptive parent, said this:

“I didn’t have that mentality when we started adopting, but when we brought home two from Ethiopia from traumatic backgrounds, my views shifted. I could no longer be involved in certain things as I needed to keep my focus on these children and the rest of our family. I knew our family was different from most and people didn’t understand. I didn’t even have the energy to help with VBS most years or simple volunteer work at church. I was burned out. I had to shift my thinking and see that we were parents and caretakers to some very traumatized children and that one day our season would be different.”

Another said: 

“I believe anytime that you walk with the Lord in your calling, it is a ministry. Google defines ministry as ‘the spiritual work or service of any Christian.’ Foster care and adoption is a beautiful display of bringing one into the home and trusting the Lord with the process.”

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t include some of the opposition: 

“No, it is not for us, and it irks me when I hear it referred to as such by other foster parents. With all the faith-based agencies I see that for the majority of foster parents it is a ministry. I feel like calling it a ministry or mission makes it less about the children and more about the foster parents’ religious commitment. Calling it a mission sounds like it’s an obligation and the foster parents are checking off a box to ‘get into heaven.’”

I kind of get her point. I might agree if I were only fostering/adopting to have a mission. Like I said earlier, it was in hindsight that I saw it as a mission. I didn’t set out to adopt so I could have a mission. I became a Christian, and then everything became a mission, because as the Word says, “Whatever you do [whatever your task may be], work from the soul [that is, put in your very best effort], as [something done] for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23).

I love what Rich Mullins said in an interview with 20 The Countdown Magazine: “A spiritual thing is folding your clothes at the end of the day. A spiritual thing is making your bed. A spiritual thing is taking cookies to your neighbor that is shut in or raking their front lawn because they are too old to do it. That is spirituality.”

Whatever we do for God and others is ministry, whether it is making peanut butter sandwiches, reading a Magic School Bus book to a child, singing a nursery rhyme with a toddler, cleaning up the kitchen, or adopting an orphan. It’s all ministry. 

To address the last point of the survey-taker, I would add that Christians don’t earn their way into heaven. The only way to heaven is through Jesus — it’s by grace alone that we are saved. No ministry work we do will secure a place in heaven.  

And as far as it not being about the child, raising a child is about the child. It has to be, because anything else is unsustainable. Fostering or adopting can’t be about some lofty ideal, checking something off your to-do list, or making yourself feel good or important. None of those motivations will survive the everyday realities of parenting kids from hard places. I can’t imagine telling my kiddos — as I serve up the third batch of chocolate chip pancakes on a Saturday morning before spending the rest of the day at swim meets, birthday parties, or whatever else they have on the agenda — that it isn’t about them. Raising children is about children. There’s no other way around it unless you are the worst-case scenario in the system: an abuser, neglecter, child molester, or pedophile. 

One survey respondent summed it up well: “The Bible says religion that is pure is caring for the orphans. Children in foster care are modern day orphans [with] parents that are absent in their lives. Providing a safe and loving home for these kids to enjoy their childhood with their basic needs (and beyond) met is fulfilling Scripture!”

Want to hear more about the Spiritual and missional Aspects of Adoption?

Listen to the podcast interview with Sandra Flach of Orphans No More Podcast.


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What If We Treated Foster/Adoptive Parents as Missionaries?

I’ve long held the belief that adoptive/foster parents are missionaries. When I tell people about our international adoption, I like to say that not only did I visit the country, but I also brought some natives home.

This true for all adoptive/foster parents. We don’t clock out and go back to our dorm or hut or whatever the missionary lives in. We also don’t get on a plane and go back to the comfort of our own home.

What if We Treated Foster Parents as Missionaries_

As foster or adoptive parents, our home is a long-term (forever) mission base. We bring these kids who have been discarded by the culture, hurt by their parents, and harmed by trauma into our homes. There is rarely a respite.

I talked to Elizabeth King, a full-time missionary with twenty-two years under her belt. When she and her husband were presented with the opportunity to adopt two girls, they said, “More ministry? Yes!” They were up for it. Hadn’t they been practicing this for years? She says:

“But we were not really ready for the total onslaught of doing ministry right from the very core of who we were. Always before we had ministered outside of our home or had temporary visitors in our home. Our residence was a place of refuge from the rigors of ministry. But now, by accepting these broken girls into our lives – there was nowhere left to retreat to. Nowhere to relax. No escape from the desperate needs and destructive behaviors of the two hurting souls. We found that all our weaknesses, which we could hide pretty well in the course of normal ministry, were now staring us in the face every day.”

If we change the way we think about adoptive/foster parents and slide them into the missionary category, there will be changes in four areas:

Our Prayers

First, adoptive/foster parents will be prayed for more often. Think of how often we pray for missionaries. We tack their photos up on the fridge to remind us to pray for them daily. If we see adoptive/foster parents as missionaries, we will do the same for them.

  • Pray for safety. Adoptive/foster families need a hedge of protection prayed around them. They are in the midst of a battle.

“The protection of children isn’t charity. It isn’t part of a political program fitting somewhere between tax cuts and gun rights or between carbon emission caps and a national service corps. It’s spiritual warfare.” – Russell Moore

  • Pray that they can minister the gospel. It’s tough to be in the middle of the battle and keep ministering the gospel at the same time. While there may not be actual bullets or bombs, foster and adoptive parents face many spiritual and emotional battles.
  • Pray that adoptive/foster parents will be able to teach and reach across cultural lines. Kids that have come from hard places have come from a different culture. Many of them have come from a culture of abuse and neglect. They don’t speak the same language or believe the same things. Most often when a kiddo is being fostered and he is brought to church with the family, the assumption is that he will immediately speak the language of religion. He won’t.
  • Pray that “the natives” will trust them enough to listen. Once these kiddos walk through the doors of our homes, we expect them to feel safe and secure and attach immediately. They won’t — and beyond that, they can’t. When kids come home through foster care or adoption, the foster parent isn’t automatically held in high esteem. Mom and dad aren’t regarded as trustworthy. They may be viewed as just another pit stop for kids with a garbage bag full of belongings. These kiddos may be thinking that these people will hurt/abandon/molest them too. These kiddos have never felt safe. Why would they feel safe with foster or adoptive parents they just met?

“With “normal” families, you can assume that if they haven’t asked prayer for something specific, they probably don’t have any really urgent needs. But foster/adoptive families kind of habituate to a higher level of chaos and urgency, and you feel like this is what they signed up for, so they won’t usually ask prayer for specific things.” – Kristin Peters, adoptive parent

Our Expectations

If we really, fully understand the full-time ministry that is fostering or adopting, we won’t be shocked when these families aren’t at church every Sunday. We would just assume they are doing their job.

Sometimes foster/adoptive parents are so deep in the trenches, they can’t escape. They’re working so hard on attachment with these kids that any break — even just to come to church — can destroy the work they have done. When my newbies first came home, we didn’t go to church or homeschool group for a while. After a while, I heard the gentle grumblings of the leadership wondering when I was coming back to teach.

When we did come back, I kept my kids with me. It was my primary job to attach to them. All of my other commitments were secondary.

Our Contributions

If we view foster and adopted parents as missionaries, we will do everything we can to make sure they are equipped spiritually, emotionally, and physically before going on their “mission.”

When my family traveled to Poland to adopt our four, we had Rubbermaid containers of supplies, suitcases, and books. On the second trip, the children’s church filled those same containers with supplies to leave at the orphanage for the kids and staff.

Missionary families need physical supplies. They also need training. Would you travel to another country to preach the gospel if you didn’t speak the language or at least have an interpreter? And wouldn’t you go to a Christian source for training instead of a secular one?

So, why don’t we offer spiritual and physical training from a Christian perspective for our adoptive/foster missionaries? It does exist. Why not offer it within the four walls of the church?

Our Involvement

Finally, if we view foster/adoptive parents as missionaries, we will consider it an honor to invest in their journey.

“God asks us to reach out to those who need Him. Adoptive families have done this in a more sacrificial way than most people could even comprehend. It is the right thing for the body of Christ to support those who have given themselves so fully to the care of the little ones God has sent them.” – Elizabeth King, missionary and adoptive mom

This is probably the most difficult one for the body of Christ to swallow. I’ve been told that since I chose to adopt, I just need to suck it up, so to speak. In case you are wondering, I did not receive or ask for money from the church to fund my adoption. But I sure wish it were available for other families. We pay monthly support to missionaries so they can do their thing. Why not do the same for foster/adoptive families on some level?

And there are other ways to invest in foster care/adoption, too.

“You’re either called to bring a child into your home or support those who do! – Real Life Foster Mom

You can take them dinner, offer to babysit, buy school supplies, get them a gift card, buy Christmas gifts, or — my favorite — take a foster/adoptive Mom out for coffee and LISTEN. Not all investments require tons of money. What they do take, however, is time. Sacrifice a bit of your time for those who have surrendered all of theirs.

“Adoptive parents are like missionaries on steroids. There is no furlough from this job, no let-up in sight. If missionaries should be honored and supported, adoptive families – especially those who have adopted children from trauma – need our love, our respect, and our support just as much – and likely more. Maybe finances aren’t an issue. But finding time for friendship when you know your friends will never understand what you’re going through anyway and the demands at home are overwhelming – it’s just so hard.” – Elizabeth King

 

 

 

Five Helpful Tips for Running a Fringe Ministry

A fringe ministry is extreme in relation to the rest of the church. A fringe ministry is on the outer edge, often considered secondary.

*If you missed the first in the series, you can find it here.

If you are part of or run a fringe ministry, you may feel isolated, alone, frustrated and sidelined. People my run the other way when you ask for help. It’s hard. Let me just tell you friend, Jesus understands. He started a fringe ministry. He preached a message of UN-comfortability:

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to follow Me [as My disciple], he must deny himself [set aside selfish interests], and take up his cross[expressing a willingness to endure whatever may come] and follow Me [believing in Me, conforming to My example in living and, if need be, suffering or perhaps dying because of faith in Me].

Jesus spoke of denying ourselves, setting aside selfish interests and being willing to endure whatever may come. The religious rulers of the day preached adherence to rules, not acts of selfless love. When Jesus didn’t adhere to their way of thinking and doing, he was chased out of towns, questioned, whipped and finally crucified. YIKES.

So, how do we fringe minsitries handle rejection or being put on the back burner? How do we respond in Christ-like ways?

 

  1. Don’t take people’s reactions personally. When you offer a message that God has placed on your heart and your only return is blank stares, don’t take it personally. I delivered a whole message on adoption being part of God’s plan and one of my friends in the audience looked angry the whole time. I approached her afterwards and asked her if I had offended her (whoops, my insecurity slip was showing). She said, “No, that was my thinking face. I was thinking deeply about what you were saying.” Turns out, the message was new information for her and she was processing. This is just one example, there have been other instances when people have totally rejected the message. That’s okay too. When you are being obedient, that’s what counts. Ministry is not a popularity contest. Not everyone will jump up and down about your God-sized dream. Just remember, obedience is better than sacrifice. Don’t sacrifice the call on your life to be liked. Your ministry is not about you, it’s about helping others and heeding the voice of the Holy Spirit.
  2. What does Jesus say about your ministry? Look up verses that support what you are doing and circle them. Write them done. Post them everywhere for yourself, not others. Before my family adopted, God have me a set of scriptures to pray, circle and write down. They were the foundation of my home mission. Isaiah 61 was my framework, prayer and full-time job for my family, especially those kiddos from hard places. I had to believe I was anointed and commissioned to raise kiddos from hard places. I needed to remind myself of it often.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
Because the Lord has anointed and commissioned me
To bring good news to the humble and afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up [the wounds of] the brokenhearted,
To proclaim release [from confinement and condemnation] to the [physical and spiritual] captives
And freedom to prisoners,
 
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord,
And the day of vengeance and retribution of our God,
To comfort all who mourn,

3. Let God do the heart work. You can’t shove compassion down someone’s throat (believe me I have tried.) You can only deliver the message and show compassion to the person yourself. Some days I would love to round up the big “C” church and tell them all of the statistics on foster children and have them sign on the dotted line to adopt. It doesn’t work that way. I’ve found from personal experience that a message doesn’t produce the fruit of understanding the first, second or even third time I hear it. So, don’t lose heart. Keep kindly sharing and pray that God draws the heart of those He wants to participate in the minsitry. You certainly don’t want a bunch of foot-dragging disciples on the front lines of your ministry. You want people who have a revelation from God and a holy spark in their britches.

You certainly don't want a bunch of foot-dragging disciples on the front lines of your ministry.

4. If a person, church, organization or fill in the blank doesn’t receive the ministry God has placed you in: Shake the dust off your feet and walk away. This is a tough one. I know. I’ve bloodied my knuckles on the doors that don’t want to hear the message of adoption/foster care. I’ve been alotted my “placate Kathleen” moments when people give me a moment but have predetermined they don’t want the message. It’s hurtful. Painful. The truth is, those people, organizations and churhes are not rejecting me, they are rejecting the message. That’s on their conscience. Not mine. It’s best for me to shake the dust off my feet, that means the negative feedback, the denial of the message, the condescending looks and walk away. Don’t argue about theology and quote the Bible, just walk away. 

5. Find a group of friends who will cheer you on. This is super important. Jesus surrounded himself with twelve disciples, three of them were His inner circle. Find your inner circle. This inner circle must believe the God-sized dream you are serving out is meaningful, important and helpful to the kingdom. This doesn’t mean these friends do everything you do or serve in the ministry every second of every day. These friends are your prayer partners, your support, your encouragers and you do the same for them.

 

Being part of a fringe ministry is exciting, exhasting and exhilarating all at the same time! God doesn’t call the gals that have it all together (are there any of those?) He calls those who feel incompetent, have imposter syndrome complexes and yet have a huge heart for the kingdom of God. If you are part of a fringe minstry, could you share one word that describes it? We’d love to hear from you!

Are you leading a fringe ministry?

Have you ever felt as if the ministry God gave you isn’t part of the popular group?

Does your ministry feel like a wallflower at the church square dance?

Is everyone else lining up to join the popular ministries?

Do people run when they see you coming with your flyers and sign-up sheet?

Does your ministry feel like a wallflower at the church square dance_

 

You may be part of a a fringe ministry. What’s a fringe ministry?

A fringe is defined as:

an outer edge; margin; periphery:

something regarded as peripheral, marginal, secondary, or extreme in relation to something else:

 

A fringe ministry is extreme in relation to the rest of the church. A fringe ministry is on the outer edge, often considered secondary. Participating in a fringe ministry requires one to be extremely uncomfortable. You must do hard things. Feel frustration at not being heard. You get the back seat of the bus so to speak. Riding in the back of the bus means it’s cold and you get car sick from all the twists and turns. But God is in control. You must have total trust in God to participate in the fringe ministries.

Adoption/foster care is one of the fringe ministries. I know. It’s one God placed in my lap and in my heart. Often people turn the other way when they see me.

“Oh no, here comes Kathleen, she’s going to ask us to foster children, AGAIN.”

“She’s going to ask us to come to the “Thinking about Adoption seminar.”

If you are a fringe ministry, I am sure you have a similar set of stories.

Fringe ministries are ones that ask for a lifetime commitment of selflessness.

You can’t fake an adoption for Sunday morning service. You have to be committed for the rest of the week to raising a child who may not love you back.

Many fringe ministries look great on paper. Running a food pantry. Visiting the sick. Fixing a roof for someone who can’t afford it. Serving the homeless at a mission. They sound amazing. People “ooo and ahh” over them. That’s wonderful. But you know if God has called you to a fringe ministry, they are full of sweat equity and hanging onto the promises of God for provision for dear life.

A fringe ministry is counting loaves of bread at the day old store and sorting out the moldy ones so you have something to give out in the food pantry.

A fringe ministry sitting calmly with a kid from hard places who has punched a hole in the wall because he can’t regulate.

A fringe ministry is circling verses about provision and praying them when there is no money to keep the building running.

A fringe ministry is begging, knocking on doors, cajoling, begging again that people will listen to the message that God is given you that they need to hear but don’t want to.

Often people don’t want to hear what the fringe ministry is all about because they will have their hearts pricked and they would rather be comfortable.

So… what do you do when your God-sized dream is a fringe ministry? I’ll get into five tips tomorrow. 

Hey friend, if you feel as if you are in a fringe ministry, could you tell us about it in the comments? If you’re short on time, just name your ministry in three words or less. We’d love to hear from you.

 

 

THREE THINGS THE CHURCH NEEDS TO DO TO PREPARE FOR THE LOST COMING HOME PART 2

A few weeks ago in church, a prophecy was given about an influx of people coming in from “the hollows” (this is WV, people). We were instructed to “get ready” multiple times. When I left the service, the phrase was echoing in my head, get ready, get ready, get ready. Why aren’t we ready? More importantly, why don’t we stay ready? Or why do people come and check out church and promptly turn away?

These are some hefty, thought provoking questions that I don’t know all the answers to. After some thought, prayer and conversations with God and whoever else would listen, I came up with three simple things we regular folk could do.  You can find the first here. Here’s the second:

  1. Become relationally oriented, not rules driven.

Before you think, I don’t have that problem, stop and think for a minute. How do you respond to people behaving in ways you don’t think are appropriate? Do you have an unwritten set of rules in your arsenal that shoot out when people don’t adhere to them? Confession- I do! If you do, you’re not alone.

We all have expectations and perceptions that are based on our nurture and our nature.

In our homes we were nurtured to behave in certain ways: don’t burp at the dinner table, do enter in conversation, brush your teeth before bed, we will have a bedtime story, we don’t scream at one another to get our point across and the list goes on. Our nature puts in its two cents.  Introverts may not appreciate lengthy parties full of noise and surface conversations. The point is, we all have our isms.

The problem is when we extend the expectations of these unwritten rules or isms to new visitors in our home or the church- relationships are risked. This takes some forethought and self examination.

Is this rule fulfilling an eternal objective or just contributing to my comfort right now?

When a newbie comes into our church smelling of weed, speaking loudly with expletives or standing when we sit, what is our response? To build the relationship or the rules? What if a child comes into our kids church who can’t regulate, not won’t but can’t? What sort of accommodations do we make for him? Do we favor sitting in a seat over a child receiving unconditional love and planting the seed of an eternal relationship?

Build relationshipsnot rules.png

We aren’t the first generation to struggle with this issue.The early church had the same struggle. In Acts 15 we find some history of the early church. Some were being recited:

Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.”

The modern version of the directive may be different:

You can only be saved if….

  • You don’t drink
  • Don’t smoke
  • Don’t cuss
  • Don’t follow my rules of behaving in church

The early church struggled with the adoption of a new culture and melding the old converts with the new Gentile converts. What kind of rules must be instituted?  What sort of language should they speak? Should they memorize the Torah? Should they abstain from unclean meats? Be circumcised? How far did grace go and how much of the law should be observed?

It was decided that a letter should be sent with a few instructions. Don’t eat things that have been sacrificed to idols and keep yourself from sexual impurity. Simple and to the point.  

It seemed good to the apostles not to overload the newly adopted Gentile brothers and sisters with too many rules (Acts 15:28-29).

By the same token, church newbies are learning to be part of a family and the instruction has to be limited and meted out with grace.

God sent His Son to die for each of us. God wants us to be in relationship with Him. We can’t behave our way to Christ, it’s because of our sacrifice that we are part of the family of God. If someone crosses the threshold of your home  or home church, welcome them! Work on relationship. Pray. Let the Holy Spirit draw him. Rules won’t. Unrealistic expectations won’t.