The call to shepherd a church is a call to shepherd the community. When God led me to West Bradenton, He not only gave me a responsibility for pastoring a church but also a responsibility to serve our community. Churches are not islands in the community, set up to isolate believers from the ails of society. The walls of the church are not protective barriers to community problems. Quite the opposite—the church should be the vehicle by which people are sent into the hardest, darkest parts of the neighborhood.
But how? Most will agree the church should be part of the solution, at least in theory. You can get a lot of head nods and amens when you preach about solving community problems. Many churches have good intentions but do not know where to start. The hard part is putting the sermon to action. How does a church become part of the solution to improve a community?
The list of ideas is long. While each community will have neighborhood-specific problems, one issue stands out as a neglected nationwide solution most churches are not considering. Fostering is one of the most overlooked ways to get your church solving community problems.
Fostering connects you to the heart of community problems. Do you want to jump into the thick of evil? Whatever issues are producing foster children are often the core of a community’s sins. Take a foster child into your home, and you are immediately connected to some of the most difficult issues in your community. In Bradenton where I live, drug addiction, specifically heroin, is ravaging the city. We are the top county in child removal rates in all of Florida, due mainly to heroin addiction of parents.
Fostering is a way for pastors to lead by example. The foster movement at our church began with a couple of families and our student pastor. Now several families are fostering, including some of our staff. Do you want to practice what you preach? Then foster. You will live several sermons a week.
Fostering gets churches taking care of the most vulnerable. Fostering is one way to be both pro-life and pro-justice. A pro-life ethic and a pro-justice ethic are not diametrically opposed. When James wrote of widows and orphans, both life and justice are present in the text. When you foster a child, you are championing both ethics.
Fostering creates a culture of sacrifice. Foster parents lose privacy, money, security, and a whole lot of sleep. Sacrifice is required from the moment you start going through the certification process. Get enough people fostering in your church, and a culture of sacrifice will form.
Fostering supports the biblical notion of church as family. While rules vary by state, many of the adults in your church will qualify to foster. You can be single and foster. You don’t have to have biological children to foster. Other options, like providing respite care, are also available if you don’t want to take on the full responsibility of fostering. Frankly, you will need the support of your church to foster. When a church has several foster children, the idea of a church being family becomes quite real.
Fostering gets people off the church island. Do you want to free your people from the concept of the church offering protective isolation? Start a movement of fostering. The church is not a fallout shelter from a radioactive world. You can’t be salt and light hunkered down in isolation.
My family forever changed when we started fostering. Our foster son brings joy, frustration, confusion, and contentment—sometimes all emotions at once. It’s not easy, but I’m thankful.