You might have heard it said “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”
When it comes to pastoral leadership on the issue of foster care and adoption I know dozens of pastors in Arizona who are both “doing” foster care and “teaching” from the pulpit. I have great respect for my colleagues living this ministry out and leading by example in this way.
My journey into engaging more deeply on this issue has been slightly different.
My grandparents and parents have been deeply committed to parenting adoptive and foster children for over fifty years. Throughout the course of my childhood I was raised with four adoptive aunts and uncles and my parents provided “in home” care to twenty-six children over the years, but own personal journey took me down a different path. My wife, Judith, and I had always talked about adopting, but for some reason or another we could never find the “right” time to focus on the process. My concern for the “plight of the orphan” was general and somewhat abstract. All of that changed about four years ago when I first toured a group home. A group home, for those of you who aren’t familiar, is basically a smaller scale version of what we would know as an orphanage. There are no parents, only rotating staff. Children and teens living in these homes have little privacy, sparse autonomy and no daily experience of family. Even the safest, cleanest, “nicest” group homes are a poor substitute for the warmth and care of a family home.
I learned that day, that in Arizona we have thousands of children living in this setting. Thousands. Let that sink in for a minute.
As I walked around the group home, I met a young boy, maybe about 11 years old who had notches in his bed for every day he had been in the group home. I asked him what he wanted. He replied something to the effect of “I already have three backpacks, but what I really want is a family”.
That conversation changed my life. I could take in this one child, but there are thousands more, what about them?
What is more, as a senior pastor I get asked to address a host of issues; homelessness, sex trafficking, broken families, addictions, crisis pregnancies, educational failure, hunger, crime. The list goes on and the weight of it, the biblical mandate to address these issues and my responsibility as a leader in the community can be paralyzing.
With all this in mind I have to ask myself questions, like every Christian has to ask themselves:
What grips my heart the most?
How could I use the full weight of where God has placed me to be a change agent for this particular heart-breaking reality right in my city?
For me, foster care has gripped my heart and has been something I could strategically impact for several reasons.
One, Arizona has been and continues to be in a foster care crisis. We have seen a 61% increase of the number of children in care in the last few years. This should alarm us all.
Two, foster care is often preparation for many of the other issues that I mentioned above. The odds stacked against children who age out of care without a family are almost insurmountable (for example only 1-2% graduate college).
By activating people to engage in foster care I could potentially help shift the outcome in some way for many of the other issues that burden me as well.
Three, I am a lead pastor and can use my pulpit to mobilize families to care for children who need homes and support those families well.
Four, I can use my place in the broader community, my network of other pastors to engage other churches, as well as my role in our state’s faith based councils to bring light to this issue.
In short, like any person, I am limited in what I can and think would be wise to do in this season of my life (ex. I am in a season of extensive travel in my global leadership role with Hillsong Church), but I have chosen to ask “What CAN I do?” and allow myself to rest in God and His ability to move others to do their part as well.
“What I want you to know about calling people to foster care (as a pastor) without having the experience of being a foster parent.”
Dr. Terry Crist
Lead Pastor of Hillsong Phoenix