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Ministry in the Wake of Adoption

November 27, 2012

November 11, 2012

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father Is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” 

James 1:27

Lisa Qualls recently posted a great Tuesday Topic: “How do you balance family needs with ministry and activities?”

Alyssa asked Lisa, “When your children have such a deep level of need, how do you balance outside activities and ministries? ….I have stepped away from nearly all volunteer work since we adopted our son 1.5 years ago…. I know God leads each family and there are seasons for things… I’m just wondering how others make these decisions in a balanced way?”

It is a wonderful question and the comments are insightful. Luana’s thoughts, especially, spoke to me.

The truth is: it is easier to grasp the plight of orphans —they need families –and visit them in their distress —to give them a family –than it is to imagine that the symptoms of their “affliction” might not be healed by adoption. Or perhaps not for a very long time. When our child comes home, it is easier to think we’re taking an adoption leave from our accustomed ministry roles than to imagine we may be saying goodbye to those ministries. Period.

God does not choose this path for all adoptions; by God’s grace some moms take a sabbatical, incorporate a new child into the family, and resume their former ministry roles outside the home. God did not choose that path for me. That, too, has been grace.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. It will take several posts to tell this story. The first two cover the painful, stripping-away part of the journey that only later revealed the grace beneath.

There are right reasons for ministry. But righteousness isn’t one of them.

God has been leading me to a growing awareness that before we adopted children,  my identity –my sense of self-worth –had put down deep roots in many things besides Jesus Christ.

Eight years ago, had we discussed this question in person, or had I written about it, I think my words would have passed. I was oblivious to this dynamic and could talk the talk. I have understood the doctrine of  ‘solus Christus‘ –Christ Alone –for all of my adult life.

Nevertheless, I was deriving a sense of value from my ministry roles; I thrived on them. Here’s how the logic of the lie worked in my heart and in my head.

God gives believers spiritual gifts He intends them to use to build up the Body of Christ. The Body functions as God intends it to when its members use their spiritual gifts in ministry to each other. So far, so good.

However, ministry often comes with a positive feedback loop: it feels good to bless other people and when they give evidence of being blessed, it reinforces our desire to continue ministering. In fact, in the Church, we measure giftedness for ministry by whether this feedback loop functions positively.

Consider this example. A worship committee is holding auditions to add vocalists to the worship team. Everyone who shows up for the audition has a beautiful testimony and some desire to minister in music. Everyone sings. Then the worship committee must decide. Will they choose the woman who loves the Lord, but whose audition shows she cannot carry a tune? Probably not.

Who leads Bible studies? People gifted in teaching the word. Who preaches? People gifted at exposition and exhortation.  Who teaches children’s Sunday School? People gifted at working with children.

I conflated “ministry,” with “giftedness,” with “blessing.” I invested my ministry time in arenas where I had a reputation for being gifted, where I could see and hear and feel I was blessing others. (See how easily our sense of self can slip in?)

Enter: God working via traumatized children.

What happens when you follow God’s lead, adopt, and settle in for the long-term ministry of parenting, but discover there is no positive feedback loop? When the child shows little evidence of being blessed, but, to the contrary, his behavior shows he perceives your ‘ministry’ as torture? When your heart longs to escape, to go back to ministering in an area of giftedness because you clearly feel not gifted, inadequate to minister to the heart of this child?

That’s where I’ll pick up this story next time.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 27, 2012 9:49 am

    This is something I also ponder and I’m glad you are tackling it. I’ll be following your story.

  2. November 27, 2012 11:44 am

    Thank you for starting the conversation by posting Alyssa’s question! God uses you to give me so much to ponder!

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