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Book Review "Adoptive Church" by Chap Clark

Long time youth worker, author, and professor, Chap Clark, recently returned to local church ministry. In Adoptive Church, Clark offers his vision for what he calls “creating an environment where emerging generations belong.” Drawing upon his prior work developing the concept of the Adoptive Youth Ministry [1] Clark draws from his vast experience in para-church youth ministry, teaching at Fuller, and now his role as Senior Pastor at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach to craft a vision for what it means for a church to truly embrace adoptive ministry with children and youth.

Clark defines adoptive ministry as:

  • A family, not an adoption agency

  • A unified family, not a collection of disconnected subgroups

  • Building family connections, not piling on programs.

In this approach ministry with children, youth, and families is not a program done for families, but rather an intentional and relational partnership with families. Adoptive ministry does not see youth ministry as something done by one staff member or board/committee, but rather the ministry of the whole congregation. “The point of adoptive youth ministry is to help young people see that by faith in Christ they are part of a new family. Our role in this is to create an environment and employ strategies that will not only introduce adolescents and emerging adults to faith in Jesus Christ but also help them to live out that faith as participants and contributors to the family of God.” [2]

Having a familiarity with Adoptive Youth Ministry as well as the research recently coming out of the Fuller Youth Institute (Sticky Faith and Growing Young), the direction that Clark takes in this book seems the natural next step. For those unfamiliar with this prior work (more the Fuller research than Adoptive Youth Ministry which is more academic than practical), there may be wisdom going back and examining where the flow of his reasoning is coming from. The larger concepts of forming community and the connection of the family to the life of the congregation is not groundbreaking. However, this book may still prove a challenge to some who struggle to see this as a mission for the whole of the local church and not just a task to be delegated to some and not the responsibility of others.

While Clark is a pastor in a Presbyterian church, this book is written for a mainstream multi-denominational audience and thus is instructive for its practical theological value and not for doctrinal guidance. Clark is very familiar with the multi-cultural nature of ministry, especially having served in Southern California for a long time, this book does not attempt to address distinctives that may provide challenges or benefits to leaders in ethnic ministry contexts. That said, this is an excellent book for a leader to take a leadership team through if they desire to form a church wide emphasis on ministering adoptively with children, youth, and families.

Author's website:

[1] Clark, Chap. Adoptive Youth Ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016.

[2] Clark, Adoptive Church, 35.

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