Is Adoption Missional?

My friend Johnny Carr, National Director of Church Partnerships for Bethany Christian Services, wrote this piece for the Q Ideas blog. I think he nails it. Johnny also lives it; he and his wife have two adopted children who are both deaf.


Is Adoption Missional? 

I guess the first thing is to define missional. “Missional” is one of those junk drawer buzzwords that has become common in our Christian vocabulary with several definitions floating around. Wikipedia says that “missional” is a missionary-term that describes a missionary lifestyle, and I guess that is as good a definition as any. To live “missionally” is to express the Gospel holistically in the way you live – every day and in every thing. It is a way of life, not a program. It means living like Jesus lived. If you know much about Jesus you know that includes helping to meet the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of others. Living missionally means making a conscious decision to live each day with others in mind, rather than yourself.

In other words, YES – adoption is missional.

Recently, I was speaking with a lady who had asked her church for financial help for their adoption. The church leader responded that the church did not help with “optional” things like adoption. The pastor’s perspective seemingly saw adoption more like consumption than ministry. He saw adoption as a want – much like I want an iPhone. He was not viewing adoption from the perspective of the child.

When I meet with Pastors to discuss adoption ministries, I will often ask them, “Who does adoption help?” The typical response is “infertile couples.” That is when I lovingly explain that adoption primarily helps children. Whether the child is an orphan from war, genocide or disease in Africa; whether the child is an orphan due to abuse and neglect and the state has severed the rights of his/her birth parents, or whether it is a new born baby that was born due to an unplanned pregnancy – adoption is (or, at least, should be) always about the health and best interest of the child. Unfortunately, many Christians are focusing on adults (us) rather than the child (them).

When adoption is seen through a child’s eyes, it is easy to see the missional nature of adoption. In fact, this may be the ultimate missional decision because adoption is a lifetime commitment. Many people today are adopting children with special needs. Some of these children will never grow up to be independent. The people who are adopting these little ones know that they are making a decision today that will affect the rest of their lives. Instead of raising a couple of healthy kids, sending them off to college, and then sailing off in their motor home into retirement, they will be serving the least of these until one of them “retires” into eternity. That is truly missional.

Someone once said missional living was “religion without all the junk added,” I thought that was interesting in light of James 1:27, “Religion that God our father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (NIV)

There are many different perspectives on the best ways to care for orphans, but with 143,000,000 orphans in the world today, something must be done by followers of Jesus Christ. Only 1-2% of these children will be adopted. We need many strategies that will best fit the cultures, values, and
environments of the places where these orphans live, and adoption is a one great strategy.

Adoption is not the one-stop cure all for the orphan crisis, but it is a strategic and effective mode to care for the orphans of the world. It’s also a commitment of sacrifice, a holistic manifestation of the Gospel, a missional posture and a service to Christ.

6 thoughts on “Is Adoption Missional?

  1. Missional is a life where “the way of Jesus” informs and radically transforms our existence to one wholly focused on sacrificially living for him and others and where we adopt a missionary stance in relation to our culture. It speaks of the very nature of the Jesus follower. It describes WHO we are. It doesn’t describe WHAT we do.

    Adoption is not missional, but it is the fruit of a missional life. Big difference.

  2. 2.

    When you speak about “adoption” you cover a lot of different types with one broad brush. Not all are equal – by a long shot – and thus not all deserve our equal platitudes, encouragement and support. In fact, some actually ere more harmful than good.

    Theres is: in family and step adoption; private domestic infant adoption and international adoption – each of which can be open or closed; and there is foster adoption.

    Private adoption: domestic and international, open and closed comprise a $6.3 annual global industry and $2.3 billion a year within the U.S. based on supply and demand with babies being in such great demand prices rise and ethics diminish. Private – including many non-profit agencies are in BUSINESS. Many teeter in the fine line between gray and black market and it is impossible for consumers of their services to know how ethical they truly are.

    Take, for example, the very recent case of Jennifer and Todd Hemsley of Los Angeles who, like many, thought they were helping to provide for an orphan only to find that the someone in Guatemala forged DNA results to pass off a child who was likely stolen or kidnapped and a victim of massive international child trafficking.

    Adoption’s intent is to find homes for orphans and children whose families are unable to provide a safe environment for them after receiving all the support they need to do so…NOT to find children to meet a demand.

    There are half a million children in US foster care. If those, 129,000 could be adopted. Every child adopted from anywhere else is one less child who could benefit from a family that fails to find one.

    All adoptions are not equal. Many are very corrupt and definately NOT missional.

    Mirah Riben, author “The Stork Market: America’s Multi-Billion Dollar Unregulated Adoption Industry” and Vice President of Communications,

  3. Jason,

    I have enjoyed getting acquainted with your blog. On the other hand, Mirah and Greg are a little off their rocker.

    Greg: WHO we are informs WHAT we do. As James clearly states, “I will show you my faith by works.” Also, maybe you want to go back and check out the whole fruit and tree thing. In short, the scripture states plainly that you can tell WHO someone is (or perhaps more appropriately WHOSE someone is) by what they DO.

    Mirah: Blah, blah, blah, blah. Johnny wasn’t talking about the corrupt kind of adoption. There are people who evangelize for the wrong reasons (e.g. – just to meet a quota), but we don’t have to put an asterisk on the end of the word “evangelism” everytime we talk about it. Johnny was speaking about the type of adoption that Bethany supports…you know, the good kind. Nice plug for your book, though.

    Keep up the good work, Johnny and Jason.


  4. Mirah,

    At Bethany, we share your concern that adoption is sometimes about a child for a family, instead of a family for a child. My article was addressing the ministry and spirit of adoption, not the industry. Regardless of the type of adoption, when parents are empowered to make decisions that they believe are best for their child, when it is about the children, then adoption is missional. However, there needs to be balance with the idea that adoption does not become a “mission project” either. Vulnerable children and orphans are a gift from God and deserve a loving home. Thank you for your work. I can see that you want what is best for children.

    -Johnny Carr

  5. Pingback: Adoption: A biblical vocation « Castle of Nutshells

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