November 18, 2013

How Pastors and Churches Can Help Adoptees

 There are between 6 and 7 million adult adoptees in America. 

Photo Credit: Lori Stalteri, Flickr
In my 26 years as a pastor, I have met many adoptees who would never darken the door of a church because they've receive hurtful and dismissive messages when they have dared to open up and share their feelings with spiritual leaders. 

 Adoptees who reach out to the Christian community may be hurt instead of helped if Christians do not come to understand the differences between a spiritual understanding of adoption (known as "salvation") and being an adoptee in a world where most people are not adopted.

When adoptees finally open up and share their pain, it wounds them all over again to hear from a Christian and especially from a trusted authority figure such as a pastor:

“Just be grateful for life. Be glad you were adopted and not aborted..."

"Trust in the sovereignty of God. He is the one who planned your adoption."

"Why do you even care about your birth family? Don't you know your real parents are the ones who raised you and changed your diapers?"  

"Don't you see how your search for your birth family is hurting your parents? I pray you can see the disappointment you're causing..."

"Move on. Leave the past behind. Don't you know God has bigger plans for you than worrying about something that happened when you were a kid?"

"Wait a're telling me that something that happened to you as a baby has an effect on your life now? Isn't that kind of a little overboard?"

"You're upset over an event you can't even remember..."  

"Didn't you know Moses was adopted? Hey, technically we're all adopted! Scripture says so! Even Jesus was kinda adopted.."

"Don't you know that you need to be thankful? Things could be worse."

"All things work together for good..."

"Everything happens for a reason..."

"So, how do your adopted parents feel about all this? They are really heroes to have taken you in and rescued you..."

"God gave you as a gift to your adopted just need to change your perspective."

With every word like this that is spoken, the adoptee gets the message: “The church is not a safe place.”

There are many things you can do to come alongside of adoptees and be a part of their healing process.

Let’s start with…

 8 Tips When Reaching Out to Adoptees

Photo Credit: Jimmy Harris, Flickr
1) Don't use quotes like the ones I did, above. Or, anything that sounds like them.

2) Listen more than you talk. Adoptees are so used to everyone telling us how we should feel and few people actually listening to how we do feel.

3) Give adoptees space to share their feelings without fear, or judgment.

4) Try to suspend what you already know or think you know about adoption, and look at it with fresh eyes. Listen to what adult adoptees are saying. Adoptees are the best resource concerning what it's actually like to be adopted. What you believe about adoption may very well be the "Americanized" or "Christianized" view of it. The truth is that adoption as an institution in the world today is nothing like adoption in the Bible.

5) Consider starting a life group, support group, recovery group, small group, prayer group or some other form of gathering to give adoptees space to share and heal. There are thousands of them in your city, just waiting for an invite. They will probably be shocked that they're getting one from a church.  Chances are, you've already got at least one adoptee in your church and perhaps they would consider facilitating the group.

6) When a girl or woman in your church unexpectedly becomes pregnant, let the first thing you say be, "how can I help you?" Never should the first response be, "have you considered adoption?" Adoption is a last resort, after everything has been done to keep a child with their original family -- not a first response. Get involved in preserving families.  If you are a pastor I'm sure you probably counsel couples and your church may provide specific ministries that help marriages and families. Consider taking things a step further. Get involved when unexpected pregnancies occur, to assist in practical ways so that babies can stay with their original family. To read just one story of how this was accomplished recently, go here.

7) Be a good representative of the Father. Trust issues, rejection, abandonment issues, lack of confidence in authority figures, are just some of the common issues adoptees face. For many of them, thinking of God as Father is a serious roadblock to faith. They need to see God is good, He loves them, and wants healing for them. Here's the catch - the way they see His love is through you, His representative here on earth. Be an integral leader who can be trusted -- someone faithful and consistent, and worthy of following.

8) Support equal rights for adoptees.  To find out more about it, go here.

Maybe you think, “This is the first I’m hearing anything about this being an issue for so many people. I’d love to find out more about how I can help.” Contact me. I’d love to help you.