(Part 1) What is a Family Advocacy Ministry?
Coffee Amongst Friends
We may have never had the chance to meet, and that thought brings a tinge of sadness. However, let's take a moment to imagine ourselves sitting together in a cozy local coffee shop in your city. Even if you happen to reside in a small town, my dear friend, that's no issue at all. You see, I hail from a quaint spot in rural Kansas, so I'll gladly grab some warm beverages (those powdered lattes lacking real coffee) from the nearest gas station and make my way to your kitchen, where we can have a delightful conversation. I find few things in life more exhilarating than conversing with like-minded believers about improving at-risk children's lives.
As I arrive in my spacious passenger van, I may not fit the typical expectations. I'm not dressed formally but in a t-shirt that reflects my faith in Jesus. If you're fortunate, I might have applied some concealer today, although I can't guarantee it since I've already sent seven children to three different schools. There won't be any freshly done manicures, as I have a habit of biting my nails, and self-care isn't my top priority.
As we delve into your history and background, we discover numerous shared experiences. The depth of your story fills my soul as I witness Jesus intricately woven throughout your life and your family. In the face of challenges, struggles, sacrifices, and loss, you have developed an intimate knowledge of Him beyond what you could have imagined. You have been refined through it all, emanating a radiant glow that reflects God's love to those around you. Now, an extraordinary calling has been placed upon your heart.
Suppose you deeply sense that God is urging you to initiate a foster care ministry or any other endeavor focused on vulnerable children. In that case, it's natural to wonder why you were specifically chosen for such a significant responsibility. Where does one even begin to embark on such a journey?
Why is God asking you? I have often questioned why God has chosen me. Throughout my time leading ministries, I have asked myself this repeatedly, sometimes in frustration and even through tears. I am an ordinary, unremarkable mother without formal training in ministry or leadership. Moreover, my situation is temporary as my spouse serves on active duty, and our time here is never guaranteed. While I have grand ideas, I often require assistance with the details. My top priority is my large family, and I am responsible for caring for a medically fragile child. My husband's demanding work schedule often includes long hours and weekends. I am pretty sensitive and tend to take it personally when individuals choose not to support vulnerable children. At times, I find myself carrying the brokenness and burdens of others instead of entrusting them to the capable shoulders of Jesus.
So, why is God asking us, with all our flaws and imperfections?
Because you keep saying yes.
You dedicate hours to fervent prayers.
You fiercely advocate for hurting children.
You stand at the doorstep of the brokenhearted.
You bring your children along, teaching them to love.
You may annoy your spouse with your passionate discussions.
You surrender your own aspirations for the will of God.
You remind others of Jesus' profound love for us.
And you say yes to this when you already have so much on your plate.
You say yes to this despite your lack of experience.
You say yes to this with joy and faith, trusting in God's plan even when it isn't yours.
As you embark on this journey of ministry and leadership, never forget why God chose you -
There are no perfect people for such a task - just people willing to say yes and serve God's mission for His glory.
"Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus."
If your resume highlights qualities like being uneducated and ordinary, you are an ideal fit for this job. Consider yourself hired. However, I can confidently assure you that when people witness your compassionate heart and genuine love for others, they will recognize that you have a strong connection with Jesus.
Given that we understand that there are no mistakes in God's plans and that you are the ideal candidate for the task let's now address the following question: where should you begin?
When I chat with people who desire to lead a foster or adoption or any ministry related to vulnerable children, I typically start with the same question. Is your church already serving what the Bible would describe as Fatherless in some capacity?
Biblically (in the ESV version), the word orphan is only used four times. Instead, the term "Fatherless" can be found 42 times. Fatherless comes from the Greek word Yathom, frequently mentioned in the Old Testament. It was typically used in association with the widow and the stranger, specifically referring to those unprotected and subject to oppression.
Is your church serving children who are unprotected and subject to oppression? If the answer is "Yes," your church may already have a Family Advocacy Ministry; they just haven't called it that.
So, what is the difference between a foster care ministry and a Family Advocacy Ministry?
A foster care ministry serves children in the foster care system and often times serves children who have been adopted from the foster care system as well.
A Family Advocacy Ministry focuses on providing support and advocacy for vulnerable children and families. This type of ministry works to ensure that families have access to the resources they need to thrive and that children are safe and protected.
It can have one or more focus areas that may include:
Unborn/ Unexpected pregnancies
Other areas that support vulnerable children
The model works to break down silos between different church ministries to ensure that church members serve in the area they feel the most called leading to their own walk with the Lord deepening. I am very visual, so I want to show you an illustration.
If you planted a foster care ministry like a tree, it would look like this:
The tree's appearance is not unattractive. It begins with a solitary branch, maybe with a support group, and then extends into other areas, such as wrap-around care. Gradually, a comprehensive foster care ministry takes shape. Nevertheless, not everyone is called to foster care, yet we are all commanded to care for vulnerable children in some capacity. Additionally, your church already collaborates with a crisis pregnancy center and boasts a thriving special needs ministry. Presently, the ministries can be depicted as follows:
Many churches have ministries that exist in this fashion. Another term for this is ministries that operate in Silos.
I am from Kansas. My family's land had a silo on the property, and my husband often rode his bicycle to the silo and back because he lived in the country and his parents wanted him to blow off energy. I did not understand when people used the term silos concerning church ministries, so let me pass this to you so you don't have to shake your head like you know what it means in meetings. Or, maybe you already understand this term, and I would like to say "Bravo" to you as you are already further along than I was when I started in ministry.
Patrick Lencioni, best-selling author, and management consultant, describes silos as "nothing more than the barriers that exist between departments within an organization,
causing people who are supposed to be on the same team to work against one another."
Establishing similar but separate ministries can give rise to challenges. Unhealthy competition may emerge, fostering jealousy, pride, and hurt. Moreover, it can lead to a lack of trust among leaders, resulting in conflicts over limited resources.
A Family Advocacy Ministry could likely be a solution.
I heard of a church that could have greatly benefitted from having a model in place as multiple ministries began to flourish. They had a longstanding partnership with an organization that held an annual diaper drive with the congregation. Several years later, a foster care ministry with a clothing closet emerged, and they began accepting diaper donations throughout the year.
And so it happened, on the month of the official diaper drive for the outside organization, people placed the diapers in the area for the church's foster closet. There was a great quandary, a real pickle of a situation. Who's diapers were they? Because the answer is always Jesus, the same applies here. They were Jesus's diapers.
However, it was explicitly stated that the diapers should not be taken to the closet; they were the responsibility of the external organization. Based on my understanding, they reached a mutually agreeable resolution. Nonetheless, there may have been minor frustrations between the two leaders that could have been swiftly resolved if there had been a pre-established plan and effective communication from the beginning.
They could have promoted the drive for both, likely receiving more and splitting the bounty. For complete transparency, I would go toe-to-toe over boxes of size five and six diapers for any ministry I lead. Seriously, people, we need larger diaper sizes for our kiddos. But you get the drift! We are united in this endeavor.
"I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose." (1 Cor. 1:10)
A Family Advocacy Ministry has one underlying purpose:
In response to Christ's love for us, Family Advocacy Ministry empowers the local church to provide support, love, and protection to children and families in need of care.
In addition, this model acknowledges numerous areas where the church can focus.
Let's go back to your question from before. What is the difference between a foster care ministry and a Family Advocacy Ministry? If a Family Advocacy Ministry is a tree, foster care would be a branch.
For the model above, the Family Advocacy Ministry focuses on the Unborn, Foster Care, and Special Needs. Each of those areas will likely have separate leaders with different activities. These leaders meet every quarter to share the activities planned for each focus area and find ways to work in unity. A Family Advocacy ministry helps leaders with different focuses collaborate, serving the church and community better.
Am I suggesting you lead an entirely different ministry?
No! I am still encouraging and urging you to say yes to that one specific area of focus. If your church is already doing work in other areas, this may be helpful when you meet with your pastor. You may not be looking to start a new ministry but rather build upon and add a new focus to the work.
As a foster mama, I have an unwavering passion for foster care. It's a system that allows believers like me to step into complex and broken situations, offering love and support to families we may have never encountered otherwise. Foster care provides an accessible avenue for us to extend a helping hand and say, "I am here for you. I believe in you, and you can overcome this." It's an opportunity to emulate Jesus' radical love for others. In my church, I'm surrounded by leaders equally devoted to championing causes such as protecting the unborn, fighting against human trafficking, supporting children with special needs, and many other areas.
I understand that God is not exclusive to how people respond to caring and loving others, especially children. There is no singular or superior path. Each of us has a calling in this area, irrespective of our individual passions.
What if my church is not serving vulnerable children yet?
If your church does not have any ministry serving vulnerable children, I recommend scheduling a meeting with your pastor to discuss the possibility of starting a Family Advocacy Ministry. Initially, the ministry can focus on the area you feel called to. Some Family Advocacy Ministries may always be focused in one area. But it has the potential to expand if other leaders desire to serve in other areas. By doing so, your church can experience growth in the future and extend an open invitation to others to join this critical work.
In our community, there was a remarkable church that had a flourishing foster care ministry. A dedicated church member desired to initiate a new ministry to support young mothers facing unexpected pregnancies. We may always be concerned that this new ministry might draw volunteers away from the original work. However, it will likely attract new volunteers yet to contribute or serve. By uniting together, we can accomplish more than we can on our own.
What is of utmost importance for the kingdom? The answer lies in having a more significant number of individuals who embody Jesus' love and compassion, following him by serving in multiple different areas. This is a big win.
Establishing a Family Advocacy Ministry built on collaboration creates a welcoming environment for serving children and families. This foundation enables us to flourish and extend our love, mirroring the boundless compassion of Christ. It acknowledges our inability to foresee the future yet affirms our duty to embrace love for others as long as we draw breath.
In the grand scheme of things, it is without a doubt that God intended for you to undertake this work. You possess the unique qualities and abilities that make you the perfect fit for this job. All that is required is for you to wholeheartedly commit to it. Will this be one of the most challenging endeavors you've ever faced? I cannot definitively say. However, what I do know is that lives will be transformed as a result of your obedience.
It will be a tremendous blessing to join forces with you, my dear friend.