This post begins a new kid2teen series on Launching Special Needs Ministry. Sarah Burton is joining us, sharing from her experience as the leader of a special needs ministry. Follow along to the series as she unpacks what you should know to start a new ministry!
I’m guessing that God has filled your heart with passion and love for serving families and children with special needs.
You are reading this post, after all!
You have an endless list of things that you want your church and community to do to include families of all abilities. However, you keep running into obstacles getting your church on board but you can’t figure out why.
After all, the churches mission is to serve all people, right?
I had the opportunity to attend the Accessibility Summit recently at McLean Bible Church in Washington, DC. I attended workshops to seek to understand the “why” and “how” to get the churches on board with serving all families.
But before we can talk about solutions, we first need to understand our churches.
Problems In Our Churches
- Ignorance. The majority of our pastors want to reach more people in their community. They want the church to grow. However, the disconnect comes when the pastors haven’t had experiences with individuals with special needs. They are ignorant to the needs in their community and ignorant to how the needs affect the families.
- Fear. They don’t know “how” to include families with special needs.
- Ability. Churches feel they don’t have time to start a new ministry because they don’t have the time or resources.
- Doubt. Churches feel they don’t have anyone qualified to lead the ministry.
Solutions For Our Churches
We need to assume that churches want to do the right thing. They just aren’t aware of the needs.
Find out how your pastors “hear” information the best.
Is it through numbers? If so, use this website. Use an advanced search to look up the statistics of individuals with disabilities in your community.
Is it through relationships? Have a family share their testimony either through meeting with the staff, making a video, or writing it out.
Is it through serving? If you have an individual with special needs in your church, invite the pastors to volunteer as the child’s buddy for a Sunday or for an event.
If you don’t have anyone currently at your church, encourage your church to volunteer for a Special Olympics tournament, Challenger baseball, or a respite program in your area so that the church can see and experience working with individuals with special needs.
We need to educate our churches!
As Joe Butler, parent of a child with special needs and founder of Ability Tree, stated,
Communicate with your team and the congregation about WHAT you’re doing and WHY you’re doing it.
By telling this story, you are helping your church understand so that it makes it easier for them to do the right thing.
We don’t need to focus on a new ministry.
As Ryan Wolfe, Disabilities Ministries Pastor, stated, we instead need to shift our philosophy.
In John chapter 9, we hear a story about a man that was born blind. The disciples asked Jesus in verse 2,
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,”said Jesus,“but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
The disciples (and maybe even our churches) believed people with disabilities, or their parents, were sinners.
Jesus had a completely different view.
Jesus views individuals and families with special needs as no different than anyone else. Jesus tells us they belong to the body of believers, and they are capable of using their unique giftedness to do God’s work.
The church will learn so much from the individuals with special needs and their families when they include them in their church.
There is no try, only do!
Joe Butler had no experience in special needs before his son, Micah, was born.
He shared that children with special needs are born every day to parents with NO experience or knowledge about special needs. The parents simply take the time to love their child and get to know their needs.
You don’t have to have a background in special education to include individuals with special needs. Take the time to listen to parents, and take the time to get to know the child.
Our churches have the responsibility to fulfill God’s calling to serve the least of these in our communities. God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.
April is Autism Awareness Month, so I challenge you to pick one thing to do this month to educate your church. What strategy will you choose to raise awareness in your church or community? I would love to hear what you pick and how it goes!