The Hole in the Heart of the Missional Church

Some of you might want to dismiss this post as the rantings of an overzealous convert. The conversion I’m talking about is not the conversion to Christ but the conversion to a belief in the importance of adoption. My conversion has been gradual over the past 2 years and has been set against the back drop of preparing to plant a new church in our city. Church planters in general, I think, are keenly aware of the need for a “missional heart” in every church and in every believer. And during this time I’ve come to see that the hole in the heart of the missional church is the home.

Hearts don’t change very easily or very quickly. Mine has taken at least 2 years just on this subject. So I don’t really expect that anyone will change his mind about what it means to be missional just from reading this post. But I do hope to at least give you something to think about that in time might become part of a change of heart.

Just thinking for a moment about what it means to have a missional heart, church planters and leaders of church planting movements are quick to point to passages like Mark 2:16-17,

And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
(Mar 2:16-17 ESV)

The reason this passage provokes church planters is that very often established churches fail to multiply, and so fail to reach their cities in a significant way, because they tend to take care of their own rather than to keep on calling sinners. They lose their sense of mission. It is the natural entropy of any movement to gradually cease being an agent for change and increasingly become resistant to change. This is apparently true of the Christian movement as well. One needs only survey the churches in any particular city to find evidence for this principle.

Another such passage is Luke 19:10 which contains Jesus’ famous declaration, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luk 19:10 ESV) Here he was borrowing from Ezekiel 34:16 in which God the Good Shepherd affirms His mission:

“I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.” (Eze 34:16 ESV)

And this mission of God, this care for the sheep, precludes merely attending to the sheep already in the fold; God goes out looking for sheep to bring home:

“And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country.” (Eze 34:13 ESV)

In the language of the New Testament, when Jesus brings lost sinners–wandering sheep–home, it means an individual comes to know the Gospel, to repent of sin and trust in Christ thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit making him “born again” or regenerate. And a common metaphor found in the New Testament for describing the process of lost sinners coming home through faith in Christ is the language of adoption.

  • For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, (Rom 8:15-16 ESV)
  • And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom 8:23 ESV)
  • But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Gal 4:4-6 ESV)
  • In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Eph 1:4-6 ESV)

So if the Holy Spirit considers adoption to be an apt metaphor for God’s missional activity in saving lost people through Jesus Christ, doesn’t that at least suggest that adoption itself is an activity that is consistent with what it means to be missional? Seriously, I’m not arguing for the moon here. This is not a big concession. Yet.

But then what should we think about who Jesus wants to reach on His mission? Some of us who are relatively missional in our thinking might be tempted to say that we are busy trying to reach lost people and therefore to go out and actually adopt orphans would slow us down in our mission. That’s a good point. Okay, it’s actually not a very good point… it’s like saying “I’m too busy trying to reach lost people to actually care for the lost people I keep finding. They just slow me down.” So the only real question is whether orphans are among the “lost people” Jesus wants to bring home. But again, that’s kind of dumb. Of course they are. Actually, the question we need to come to terms with, in the missional church movement, is where in the prioritization of the mission of God, do we find orphans?

Well, looking at the context for Jesus’ affirmation that He came to “seek and save the lost”, we have only to ask how clearly does Ezekiel 34:16 apply to orphans? Are orphans “straying”? Usually, yes, check. Are orphans “injured”? Check: psychological and emotional injury is typical for every child who has been removed from his or her biological parents, even when those situations were damaging–the removal itself adds injury to injury–even when necessary. Are orphans “weak”? Again, check. If a church wants to be missional, how then can it neglect the youngest and smallest and most vulnerable of those whom Christ seeks to save? So then, why does adoption seem to be such a low priority for otherwise missionally minded people?

Jesus said, “”I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (Joh 14:18 ESV) And his brother, James, wrote, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (Jam 1:27 ESV)

Throughout this post I’ve been using the word “orphan”. An orphan, traditionally, might have been defined as a child without parents. The term is no longer widely used with reference to children waiting to be adopted–there are no more orphanages in Canada. We have a government agency that handles these things now. But the fact that there are no orphanages any more does not mean that the problem is any less than it once was. The Ministry for Children and Families’ website states that “at any given time, BC has about 1000 children… waiting to be adopted.” Check out their website for more information:

I applaud those who feel called to adopt and take in a child from some place overseas. That’s great. But many of us are not in a financial position to bear that expense. Whereas, there are literally thousands of children close to home who need loving parents and adopting through the Ministry is not costly.

So what’s keeping you from considering adopting a child Jesus seeks to save? Is it the inconvenience? Is it the personal sacrifice involved? Is it the belief that your biological children need you most right now? Those are big considerations. But let me leave you with this thought that has been nagging me for almost 2 years:

Aren’t these the same sort of excuses dying churches have used for years to avoid joining Jesus in His mission to seek and save the lost?

Meet the children waiting for adoption right now in British Columbia: