I just finished watching one of my favorite movies of this year. Instant Family has got to be one of the most relevant, heartwarming, holiday movie of the season. But more than just the funny dialogue (which earned its PG-13 rating) or the beautiful story that tugs at all the feels, this movie is the best picture of what the gospel story looks like in a culture that is entirely post-Christian.
Christians, since the time of the apostle Paul, have used family identity as ways to communicate the implications of the gospel. In Christ, we are adopted in, and our identity is as sons and daughters. We have a new identity as a daughter or son of the King with all the rights and responsibilities that come along with that. When we say yes to the adoption invitation we are grafted into the family and away we go! A tale as old as time, a song as old as rhyme. :)
But in a post-Christian context, the story of adoption may have many similar elements, but the implications and applications are entirely different. You see, in a more “Christian” environment, being adopted into the family of God is pretty easy, and the assimilation process is quite painless. Most people have a good sense of right and wrong, are well acquainted with the pillars of the Judeo-Christian world, and now with this new sense of identity, forgiveness for their sins, and their newfound identity with adoption into the body of Christ is icing on the cake! This story runs parallel with stories of adoption where parents adopt babies and have their entire lives to assimilate them into the family, clarifying that all the rights and responsibilities are theirs because of their adoption.
The adoption invitation in a post-Christian context is not the same picture that many of us are used to when we think of adoption. Instead, adoption in a post-Christian context is much closer to the story of foster adoption. Here are a few reasons why:
1) A unique heart for the lost: When most people adopt babies they are looking to make their family complete. This is a right and noble calling. With foster adoption, there is an added layer. It is a recognition that these older kids, the leftovers of the system, the truly lost and forgotten deserve the same love and transformational identity as any other kid. People who foster adopt are like the Navy Seals of the adoption world. And in the same way, God has the biggest heart for the lost, he is the one who left heaven to come to earth and make way for the whole world to be adopted into the family of God. Jesus, himself, talked about leaving the 99 to search for the 1. This is what foster parents do. And this is what the church should do!
2) There is a trial period: What is crazy about foster adoption is that kids come and live with the family for a trial period. This period is just as much for the kids as it is for the parents. In the gospel analogy, God never reneges, nor should the church. But the kids come to the family, and they get a say whether or not they want to be adopted. In the same way, the church needs to open their doors, open their fridges, be generous as all get out, and at the same time be clear about the unique culture, manners, and rules of this new family. We get to love people trying out Christianity and continually invite them to make the big step. But that decision is on their timetable and one we shouldn’t pressure. We are like foster parents, and generously open up our homes to people from every background so they can examine and explore what being part of the family of God looks like.
3) The family has to change: This is where the rub is. I think this movie does such a great job of walking through the foster adoption story with several families, all with naive hopes of what bringing in a new child into the family will look like. But every single one of them gets crushed as they realize, one by one, that the addition of a new child, especially an older child with all sorts of different habits and stories means one thing, the parents much open up their naive hopes for their family and become the real family they are called to be. If we are going to have people become Christians from an entirely post-Christian context, then when they finally say yes to Jesus and are part of the Church, their perspectives, backgrounds, convictions will look entirely different than the life longers. And it is on the church to change! Our church culture needs to change in order to make space for these new kids so that this new home will be fully theirs as well.
4) The parents have to be mature: Kids who come into the home through foster adoption have crazy stories. Stories that the good-hearted people who want to adopt them really have no understanding of. This means that they bring all sorts of chaos that the family is unprepared to deal with. This is where the parents have to do the self-work and be mature. The church must be mature and ooze so much love, grace, mercy, and empathy as we seek to fling wide the gates and then love that real-life people who are being adopted into the family of God. But as they say yes to Jesus, they don’t automatically become “good church folk.” They bring with them their totally post-Christian worldview, convictions (or lack there of), and sensibilities that are different from the church. This is a good thing and a thing that “parents” or church leaders need to hold loosely and realize that there is much to learn from these “foster adopted kids” that will make the church more interesting, more compelling, and more closely aligned to the Kingdom of God.
5) The kids have to agree to the adoption: What is great about foster adoption, especially adopting older kids is that the kids are part of the process and have to agree. Think about how differently we would approach evangelism and assimilation if we knew that there is a partnership, an agreement that those exploring faiths have to align with. In foster adoption, this is not done through power or authority or intimidation. Instead it is done through love. Our stance towards those who are exploring faith is the same. We are fascinated by our guests, we love them, we long for them to be part of the family and we would be heartbroken if they say no. But it is a humble invitation where we are powerless and simply stand with our arms wide open.
6) The longterm assimilation is full of heartbreak and joys: This is where it all falls apart of the church. People who have spent their entire lives outside of the church, outside of Christendom, by God’s grace find themselves adopted into the family of God. But at such a late age that their sensibilities are so different from the excellent church people they are rubbing shoulders with. As part of the church folk, we must die to our cultural assumptions of what “good Christians” look like and throw away our timelines. We can’t expect that within a month of conversion they will become good social conservative, religious right, prudes who hate alcohol. That will never happen. Rather the push and pull, the path towards assimilation is long and windy and in the process the family changes just as much as the new kids do. There will be hiccups, setbacks, heartbreak. But there will also be incredible joys that prove that God is alive doing new things in and among your church family.
7) This is the high calling of the church, and we must embrace it! That’s it. In a post-Christian context, evangelism is so fun. It is just like foster adoption. We love the lost, we open our homes and invite women and men into the family of God with all the rights and responsibilities that come from being actual daughters and sons of the king. But that is not the end of the movie, it is the beginning of the story. And, just like foster adoptive parents need support all the way through for the high highs, and the low lows, we too need to be prepared for the unique challenge it is to open wide our doors for the most lost and forgotten among us and strap in for the ride of our lives!
And we do all of this because we share the heart of Christ, who gave up his throne in heaven for us, who leaves the 99, who loves the margins. And we, as the church must model this same love, grace, and mercy for the lost among us, or we have totally missed the boat!
May we embrace the foster adoption model, may we use PG-13 language, and may we open wide our church, and even our homes so the lost and forgotten may know that they dearly loved and wanted children who deserve a home, and that home is here with us!