How Caring for the Widow and Orphan Impacts Your Church

By Corey Johnston

Scripture calls us to care for those in need. Here's how our service sanctifies our churches as we offer our gospel hope to the world.

True Religion

In James 1:27, the apostle James explains true religion: “Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Just prior to these verses, James tells us that God, “By his own choice… gave us birth by the word of truth so that we would be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:18).

The idea of “firstfruits” is incredible in light of why one should consider foster and adoptive care. The church and other advocates will regularly quote James for his call to “true religion” without first giving a framework and a calling to the gospel. Firstfruits, for an agrarian culture like James’s, meant everything to the people. Farmers would consider and long for what was to be revealed in that first budding of the crop. Their livelihood was dependent on the firstfruits. Upon that first bloom or budding, the farmer would take into his hands those firstfruits. He would examine the produce, inspect it for imperfections, and then finally take a bite of that long-awaited produce. If the firstfruits looked and tasted good, then the farmer knew that the harvest to follow would be good as well!

The Impact of Adoption

As a foster-adoptive father, I had an understanding for how fostering could potentially impact my family; however, I could have never seen how bringing someone into my family would impact our church culture. Due to health issues, our first foster placement was challenging. We knew bringing this child into our home would cause us all to have to sacrifice. Our family would have to give up time and money, as well as a great deal of emotional and physical energy. Through the process, our kids have learned to sacrifice greatly. They have been placed in a position to have to believe the gospel for themselves as they have had to navigate sacrificing toys, clothes, vacations, and time with their parents. The gospel had to become real for my children, rather than of something they believed because their parents were sowing it into them. We expected much of what happened within the home. We could have never planned what would happen within our church body, though. We did not foresee the impact that a foster baby would have as a firstfruits on our church body, nor could we have guessed the cultural harvest that would follow.

Heights Community is located in Collinsville, IL. According to statistics for our area, if one in four churches fostered, there would be no more children in the foster care system in Illinois. This was the statistic that ultimately led us to take a foster placement. As we were walking through classes to get our foster care license finalized, we began to pray that four families from our church would consider fostering. Fast forward just four years later, and there are more than 30 families within our church who now have foster/adoptive/vulnerable children in their care! One in five of the children that attend Sunday morning worship are foster/adoptive/vulnerable children.

Passing the Baton

Do you want to see your church serve? Would you like to see them be invitational? Are you interested in seeing the church respond to the gospel in the everyday stuff of life? Do you want to renew your city? I would ask that you also consider how your church might respond to the call of James to love the widow and the orphan. You have the opportunity to be a firstfruits in your community, as well as an opportunity to see God save people through the word of His own good will. People at Heights Community are now serving the widow and the orphan in ways we would have never seen coming. The diversity of our church has shifted to reflect the city in which we live. Biological parents and foster parents are worshiping together on Sunday mornings. Discipleship is happening among the vulnerable. Mission is taking place as the church has begun to serve state-employed child welfare workers in our city.

Obedience through Service

The apostle James tells us that by God’s own good will, He saved us through the gospel to be a firstfruits. Recall 1 Corinthians 15:20: “But as it is, Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” In order to understand the church’s call to foster, adopt, and pursue vulnerable children, you first need a gospel framework. 1 Corinthians specifically says that in light of the resurrection, Jesus is our firstfruits. This means that we are called to look to Jesus, inspect Jesus, see Jesus, feel Jesus, and taste and see that Jesus is good. After we have encountered the resurrected Jesus, then and only then do we move forward, as James would say, “as a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” Jesus is the firstfruits, and we are the harvest to follow. As the world looks to us as the church, we should simply point to the One who came before us. One of the ways we can point to Jesus is through serving the widow and the orphan.

Jesus will never invite you to do something that He Himself was not first willing to do. With the gospel in mind, you need not respond with religious or legalistic hearts, but you should respond as people who were once orphaned, and that God, by “his own choice… gave us birth by the word of truth so that we would be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:18).

Published December 4, 2023

P.S. Get our best content in your inbox

We send one email per week chock full of articles from a variety of Church Planting voices.

Corey Johnston

Corey Johnston is the Lead Pastor of Heights Community Church in Collinsville, IL and has 10 years of church planting experience. Corey has been married to his wife, Andrea, for 13 years, and currently has 4 kiddos - 2 biological, 1 foster/adoptive, and 1 foster. The Johnstons, in partnership with Heights Community, have done an incredible job of creating a culture that recognizes and embraces the vulnerable. Their church and leaders have been pioneers in reshaping the way Christians can engage foster/adoptive/vulnerable families. They have been instrumental in their partnership with SEND relief and Promise 686.