For Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, orphan care is no small issue. For Russell Moore, it is no small issue either.
That is why it made sense for Moore, the new president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, not only to preach on the Marietta, Georgia, church's Orphan Sunday in July but to speak afterward at an adoption and foster care luncheon.
Moore—who has written one of the leading books on adoption for evangelical Christians and, with his wife Maria, has adopted two sons—acted essentially as a "cheerleader" for those attending the luncheon, recalled Johnson Ferry ministry associate Jim Watterson. The luncheon for adoptive and foster parents, as well as those who had been adopted, proved not only to be "kind of a pep rally" for attendees, but it demonstrated the diversity of a new ERLC initiative known as Church Equip.
In its effort to assist Southern Baptist churches, the ERLC is seeking to tailor events to meet the specific needs of congregations. These Church Equip events not only may vary in their formats, but they may differ widely in the issues addressed. The topic can be anything from adoption to human trafficking, a sanctity of life issue to racial reconciliation, marriage to pornography, and beyond.
Regardless of the subject, the ERLC is trying to "develop customized solutions for church equipping," said Phillip Bethancourt, the commission's director of strategic initiatives. The question, he said, is: "What does that church need at any given time?"
Preparing churches to address issues takes precedence for the ERLC, said Moore, whose administration at the entity began June 1. "The focus of the Kingdom of God in this age isn't primarily Washington or Wall Street," he said. "King Jesus is ruling in local congregations, colonies of His reign. That's why equipping congregations to think through ethical questions is the number one priority of the ERLC.
"From sexuality to infertility to parenting to church discipline to racial unity and beyond, the questions facing our churches are about how we will follow Jesus through the confusing terrain of the twenty-first century," Moore said.
For Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, it was orphan care at a Sunday luncheon. For Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas, it was homosexuality at a morning training session on the previous Monday.
For Johnson Ferry, it was an audience of about 175 people from both inside and outside the congregation who had been adopted, had adopted children, or were part of families who had adopted, were fostering children, or were preparing to be foster parents. For Austin Stone, it was a room full of elders and their wives, deacons and staff members numbering about 125 people from the Southern Baptist church’s six campuses.
At the Johnson Ferry luncheon, Moore encouraged attendees "to keep going in their care for the fatherless, that it was not always easy but necessary and close to the heart of God," Watterson said.
"He also addressed the children gathered for lunch, expressing his confirmation to them of what their parents had done and would continue to do, to love and care for them, that they were no longer considered a family with adopted children but children adopted into a safe and forever family," Watterson recalled.
In that morning's worship services, Moore had preached from Romans 8 on the adoption by God Christians experience and the adoption of children Christians can participate in. He spoke in lieu of the church's pastor, former SBC President Bryant Wright.
David and Danna Clary, members of Johnson Ferry, heard Moore's sermon that day, and the question of adoption hit them once again during a service focused on orphan care.
"When he talked about a calling to serve the children, that is a part of what I believe God is calling us to do," Danna said.
"At the end of the service, we just kind of sit there for a little while," she recalled, "and [David] looks at me, and I look at him. And he says, 'Do we need to talk about this more?' And I said, 'I don’t know. Do we need to talk about this more?'"
They are talking. They discussed adoption a decade ago, then were able to conceive and give birth to children, a daughter now nine and a son now seven.
The next step, David said, is "to learn more about it, understand the process."
Danna said, "It's kind of one of those things where maybe there's never a right time until you're obedient to God. So we're going to be obedient to God right now. We're going to find out more information and see what this path is that He's calling us on."
Their church's orphan care ministry is helping them as they walk the path, Danna said.
Johnson Ferry encourages members to adopt and provide foster care, hosts forums for couples considering either option, and partners with Lifesong for Orphans in its matching grant program for adopting families. Watterson, an associate in the church's marriage and family ministry, gives much of his attention to orphan care.
That Sunday's focus on orphan care resulted in thirty-five couples indicating they wanted to adopt and another thirty couples committing to receive foster care training, Watterson said.
Moore's training on sexual ethics the Monday before at Austin Stone Community Church was "a game changer," said Kevin Peck, the church's lead pastor.
Austin Stone desired equipping regarding homosexuality for two reasons, said pastor Todd Engstrom:
- "To continue thinking through how we can lovingly and truthfully pastor individuals who are attracted to the same sex;
- "To think through our individual, corporate and civic response as a church community in light of" the Supreme Court's June decision striking down the section of the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman for federal purposes.
Peck said, "With all of the noise in today's media-rich world, Dr. Moore spoke biblical truth and wisdom with a distinct level of competency and concern. He offered a level of clarity, thoughtfulness, compassion, and biblical precision that will enable my team to minister more effectively. We truly appreciate his candid, Christ-centered, and Gospel-saturated approach to issues such as homosexuality, transgender relationships, and other challenging issues in today's society."
Engstrom, Austin Stone's executive pastor of campuses and communities, said Moore's teaching "equipped our leadership to speak intelligently and lead pastorally. He tackles difficult topics like homosexuality with candor from a variety of angles—civically, pastorally, and personally—and provides a clear path forward for churches to contend for the Gospel in our generation."
Pastors or churches interested in hosting a Church Equip event may contact Sam Dahl, executive assistant to the ERLC president, at [email protected]