5 things to think about when preaching on adoption

img_0907This Sunday is ‘Adoption Sunday’ in the UK, which offers a chance for churches to have focused time to consider our adoption by God and also the needs of vulnerable children in the UK. Do visit Home for Good’s website for more information on this important day.

For my contribution I wanted to write something brief for those who are spending this week getting ready to preach or speak on the theme of adoption in their church. Plenty more could be said, of course, but here are five things to think about as you prepare.

#1  You are not asking the Church to do anything the body of Christ has not done before

As you step into the pulpit, remember that you are not bringing a brand new innovation to God’s people. At our best the Church has always cared for the vulnerable, including children in various desperate circumstances. Put simply, caring for vulnerable children is part of the DNA of God’s people. Have a look at last year’s series to follow this up: 5 reasons fostering and adoption are in the DNA of the church

#2  ‘Orphans’ then and now

If you mention passages in the Old Testament like Deut. 10:18 ‘He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.'(ESV) or Ps. 146:9 ‘The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.’ (ESV), try not to make jumps that are too simplistic between ‘orphans’ in biblical times and today. The word, ‘orphan’ in the Bible tends to refer to a child who has lost their father and whose loss, because of the societal structures of the time, meant they were economically, legally, and socially vulnerable.

‘Orphan’ in the UK often conjures up Dickensian images that feel remote and outdated, implying a child who has lost both parents. While this might still be the case for some, most children in the UK care system have been removed from parental care. In over 60% of cases this has been because of abuse.

These texts are, of course, still deeply relevant but, as with all biblical interpretation, we need to account well for the original context and be sensitive to how we relate them to contemporary issues and people. Albeit with this caveat, do be adventurous in exploring the different strands of relevant material in the Bible…

#3  A rich tapestry

The Apostle Paul has some wonderful and profound things to say about adoption (see, for example, Gal. 4:1-7; Rom. 8:12-17), but there are many other ways of reflecting biblically on fostering, adoption and the care of vulnerable children. Here’s a few examples of texts that can be reflected upon:

  • Stories of ‘adoption’ in the Bible; e.g., Moses and Pharaoh’s daughter; there is also a sense in which Joseph is said to have ‘adopted’ Jesus;
  • The theme of God’s ‘adoption’ of Israel is a key way of understanding his relationship with his people. See this post for more: Why understanding adoption enriches our Bible reading;
  • God’s ‘adoption’ of king David’s descendants and how this informs our understanding of Jesus’ kingship (e.g., 2 Sam 7:12-16; Ps. 2; Mark 1:9-11);
  • The Torah‘s requirements that Israel look after the fatherless, widow and alien (Exod. 22:22-23; Deut. 24:17-22);
  • The Psalmists celebration of God’s fatherhood of the fatherless (Ps. 68:5) or crying out to God to intervene for the vulnerable (Ps. 10:16-18);
  • Job’s modelling of just and righteous behaviour towards the fatherless (Job 29:11-17; 31:16-23);
  • The prophets’ fury at the mistreatment of the vulnerable (Isa. 1:1-17;  5:20-31);
  • Jesus’ blessing of the marginalised children (e.g., Mark 10:13-16) and what this deeply subversive act means for the church today. See this post for more: Jesus blessing the children: why it isn’t a ‘nice’ story and why it calls us to action on behalf of vulnerable children
  • James’ call to authentic discipleship: ‘to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.’ (James 1:27, ESV)

There is an enormous wealth of biblical material that can help us reflect on God’s call to care for vulnerable children: be faithful and creative in how you approach the topic.

#4  Be rooted in your local context and, where possible, make it personal

With 70,000 children in the care system, including 4,000 waiting for adoption and 9,000 waiting for foster families, the national statistics can seem overwhelming or abstract. Try to find out about the local picture so that it feels more ‘real’ to people. If you are in England, a good place to look for the raw statistics is this page: Children looked after in England including adoption: 2015 to 2016. So, for example, I can see there are 550 children recorded as being in the care system in Gloucestershire, where I am based. This is perhaps a more ‘real’ figure but it is still rather abstract. So, are there ways we can make it more personal; for example, with an interview with someone who has experience as an adoptive parent or social worker? (stats on children waiting from Home for Good website)

#5  Be practical and join with others

What kind of practical details can you bring into your talk so that the biblical vision of God’s heart can connect with your church’s locatedness. Ask yourselves, how can we become a more supportive community for those caring for vulnerable children (either those already in the church or those who might come to us for the first time)?

Are there local networks you can become part of? If you haven’t already, could you connect with the excellent work of Home for Good?

What attitudes, structures and practices (small or big) might need to be changed to respond to this challenge from Krish and Miriam Kandiah:

‘What if we the Church could be known as the people who truly care about the pain and problems of children who have no other family to turn to and whom, it seems, nobody wants? What if the Church was known as the most compassionate and hospitable family in the country?’ (Home for Good, p. 4)


What advice would you want to add? Leave a comment here or on Facebook to join the conversation.

About timjdavy

I teach and research on Bible and Mission at Redcliffe College and lead the 'Bible and Mission' and 'Scripture Engagement' streams of our MA in Contemporary Missiology. I am the Director of the Centre for the Study of Bible and Mission, and also lead Redcliffe's 'Fostering, Adoption and the Church' research project, .
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