I follow Tahni Cullen on Facebook.. Tahni is a longtime ministry leader in Minnesota who is also mother to an exceptional young man who happens to have autism. Through Facebook, Tahni frequently shares insights of life through her son’s eyes, and more specifically through what Josiah communicates on his iPad. Personally, Josiah has been a significant source of inspiration to me. Many days, Josiah is my reminder that children who do not communicate in traditional means (verbally) are often absorbing and processing far more than we can imagine. Kids like Josiah aren’t just capable of spiritual growth, they are often chosen to be powerful spiritual influencers on the rest of us. Believing this to be true, Tahni invests significant time and energy into her son’s spiritual development.
Today’s post is a guest post from Tahni about how she prepares Josiah to put on God’s armor each day.
Little Kids Big Armor
When I was a kid, I was quite the dare devil out on the concrete-padded playground or freewheeling on my afternoon bike jaunts—where both adult supervision and helmets were certainly not required. Something happened when I became a mama, though. Suddenly, the neighborhood park looked like a series of death traps. Without my watchful eye, I felt my son could be broken, cracked open, bit by a tick or a flu bug, and bullied by a little punk. It’s a jungle out there—and that’s just at the fun places!
If we could peel away the veil of our tangible realities, we would see another ominous battle that rages all around us. We don’t like to think about it, but it’s there. It’s a spiritual battle on an unseen obstacle course, and not only are we in it, but our kids are in it. In case you haven’t noticed, our enemy has no justice system that keeps him away from scheming against and preying on little kids. That makes this mama bear want to show her teeth. And also whimper that I won’t always be right there to protect him.
I have a seven-year-old boy who happens to have autism and currently doesn’t communicate through speaking, so my mommy radar is probably higher than most. But, I have to choose to refuse fear of what “could happen.” Instead, about three months ago I started a practice of suiting up my son for the day. C’mon mom or dad, it just takes a little imagination mixed with charades to outfit the family with fashionable and functional divine battle gear.
This is what I say out loud to help my son put on his armor and weapons in under 30 seconds (based on Ephesians 6:10-16):
- I put on your helmet of salvation to protect your thoughts and to remember Who you belong to.
- I put on your breastplate of righteousness to guard your heart and emotions as you live rightly.
- I put on your belt of truth to defend you from any low blows of lies and to tightly secure God’s promises.
- I put on your shoes of peace that will bring good news onto any ground that you walk on.
- I put in your hand the sword of the Spirit, which is the living word of God that defends and fights for you.
- I put on your arm the shield of faith that will extinguish every burning arrow hurled at you from your unseen enemies.
- And remember, you can move forward because Jesus got your back; he is your rear guard (Is. 52:12).
- Finally, don’t forget underneath it all you are wearing your all-purpose garment: love. (Col. 3:14).
As he goes out of my sight, I know that by my faith and by the authority I have over him as my son, he been outfitted with divine protection. The enemy may be ruthless, but I know that there’s no such thing as a junior-sized Holy Spirit. The big, powerful, wise comforting One lives in him, and an army of intimidating angels can be his entourage. And all this goes for us big kids too. So suit up, and if you mamas so wish—add some bling. ~ Tahni Cullen
Tahni Cullen was formally a full-time staff member at Eagle Brook Church for 13 years before recently leaving to invest in helping her son expand his communication. She is also looking to share her family’s autism journey through writing and speaking. You can like their page “Josiah’s Fire” on Facebook.
Three years ago I spent several days researching to find as many statistics as I could related to children with special needs. After reading through countless webpages of official government studies and data, I wrote this post to show church leaders that the number of families impacted by disability was growing and more prevalent than our church attendance reflected. That post turned out to be incredibly popular. And thanks to a increasing number of influential voices in special needs and ministry circles, churches are getting the message.
Because the older post with statistics remains so popular, I thought I’d offer an updated post today with the same stats I share in Chapter 3 of Leading a Special Needs Ministry: A Practical Guide to Including Children and Loving Families.
Feel free to repost or repin the infographic (image) above. When possible, t is appreciated if you link it back to this site. Thanks!
Also, here’s a PDF of the above image: Special Needs Stats June 2013 PDF
According to a 2005 U.S. Census study, 54.4 million Americans, or about one in five U.S. residents, have a disability. This demographic is equal to the population of Florida and California combined. Between 2002 and 2005, both the percentage and number of Americans affected by disability rose, as has been the trend for some time.1 Statistics also tell us that among children ages 3 to 17, nearly 14 percent have a developmental disability.2
Consider the increase in the incidence of autism. Between 1997 and 2008, the prevalence of autism diagnoses increased 289.5 percent.3 And by 2013, 1 in 50 children was identified with an autism spectrum disorder.4 The incidence rate among boys is actually as high as 1 in 31 (3.23%).5 Some professionals argue that these statistics are still too conservative, only taking into account children who have been formally diagnosed with an ASD (autism spectrum disorder). A respected South Korean study identified as many as 1 in 38 children as exhibiting characteristics associated with autism.6
With these statistics in mind, can any ministry ignore the need to prepare for participants with learning differences and disabilities?
- .14 percent of babies are born with Down syndrome (1/691 babies).7
- 2 percent of children have been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (1/50 children).8
- 7 percent of children ages 3 to 17 have been identified with ADHD.9
- 8 percent of children ages 3 to 17 have been identified with a learning disability.10
- 14 percent of children ages 13 to 17 have been identified with a developmental disability.11
- 17 percent of Americans are estimated to experience a communication disorder at some point in their life (1/6 Americans).12
- 19 percent of Americans of all ages are classified as a person with a disability (12 percent are severely disabled).13
- 25 percent of 13- to 18-year-olds are identified with an anxiety.14
In the coming days, I will continue posting more notes, pictures, and handouts from the special needs workshops at the recent Orange Conference. But I wanted to take a break and address a few questions I’m receiving right now about the new book:
FAQ: Did anyone with related credentials help with the book?
If you’ve ever heard me teach a workshop you know the very first thing I address is my lack of credentials. I have two degrees in accounting and a CPA certificate – but no formal training related to education, pediatric therapy, theology, or journalism. And I do not consider myself to be a parent of a child with special needs. I am a lifelong ministry volunteer. And my father is a longtime senior pastor (my dad is Dr. Gary Fenton, Pastor of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama). My goal in my writing is to help someone like me…a good-hearted lay person or church leader who lacks familiarity with the culture and vernacular of special needs world. To prepare the content for this book, I formally interviewed a large number of parents of children with special needs and church leaders (I share more about my research in the book.)
Recognizing the importance of “getting it right,” two contributing editors with special education credentials helped with the book. Four years ago, Dr. Alyssa Barnes was one of the first credentialed experts to grant me lengthy interviews. Dr. Barnes is an assistant professor in the Early Childhood/Special Education Program at the University of North Georgia. And she graciously agreed to partner with me again for the purpose of developing this manuscript. Dr. Barnes thoroughly reviewed every word in the book and her insight shaped the tone and content. Cara Martens also joined the editorial team, bringing a background in ministry leadership, special education, and curriculum development to the project. Like Dr. Barnes, Cara Martens is also a former special education teacher in the public school system. More lengthy bios of both contributing editors are featured in the book.
And “Yes”, this book can be used as a text book in an academic setting. Please contact me if you need more information for the purpose of making the book a required reading for a university or seminary course.
FAQ: What is the story behind the pinwheel on the cover?
Answer: The pinwheel is a concrete illustration for the abstract nature of faith.
All kids learn best when concrete illustrations are offered to explain abstract concepts. And this is especially true for the child with learning differences. In fact, a common attribute of autism is the need for a concrete learning experience in order to process new information. When I first started researching on special needs inclusion in the church setting, I began thinking about ways to teach Bible concepts to kids who were literal learners. One of the first illustrations I developed for teaching in my own church was the use of a pinwheel to explain the concept of faith.
No one has ever seen the wind. We’ve only experienced the effects and results of the wind. And none of us have ever seen God. Just like the movement of a pinwheel makes us sure that the wind exists, we have ways to be sure of that God exists. (e.g. answered prayer, the beauty of nature, etc). I first used this illustration two years ago in a VBS setting where we had a Bible lesson on faith. The children all took turns blowing on a pinwheel while we talked about how the pinwheel gives us proof that the wind exists. And we then talked about ways that we could experience God even though we couldn’t see Him. That day every child made a pinwheel craft to take home to remind them that God exists just like the wind exists.
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1 NIV
FAQ: Will this book help a small church?
I wrote this book in hopes that the ideas offered would be relevant to all churches. Of course some best practices in the book will be easier to implement in the medium-size or larger church. But I think a church of any size would benefit from the teaching tips offered throughout the book and from the sample policies and documents. I specifically address the topic of small churches briefly in chapter 8.
FAQ: How much of the book is new versus a regurgitation of what’s already on this blog?
Answer: Hmmm….maybe 75% of the book is new content while 25% is edited and organized material from the blog.
Some of the book’s appendix pieces are example forms and posts from this blog. And this popular series of posts was the basis for chapter 2. The sample mission statement featured in chapter 4 of the book is not the same sample mission statement featured in a post on this blog. In the book, I go into more detail explaining the wording that was carefully selected for book’s sample mission statement. Also, the Special Needs Ministry Policies and Volunteer Training Topics featured in chapter 7′s appendix are all new and not from any material on the blog. In addition, I offer greater explanation for a number of ideas in the book that a blog does not afford the space and time to elaborate on.
FAQ: We have questions related to a specific participant in our ministry or the unique dynamics of our church. Can you help us?
Answer: No and Maybe
Here’s the deal, I’m receiving a large number of requests for advisement and consultation via email, Twitter, and Facebook messages. And that is awesome! It reflects the exploding desire churches have to do a better job of including kids with special needs.
Unfortunately I am not able to respond thoughtfully to every communication and I do not have the availability to connect with everyone in person. If you have followed this blog for awhile or know me personally, you know that I put in many long hours on a curriculum project this past Fall. And then in January I started the book…finishing this 50,000 word resource in a short and intense time frame. And now my family needs me back (physically and mentally). (Candidly, I’m terrible when it comes to life balance.) While God has called me to this sphere of ministry, he has also called me to be the mother to a very precious eight-year-old boy. And my brain needs a break. So, if you have question related to special needs ministry, I would recommend (and respectfully request) that you read the aforementioned book, read this blog, or get the volunteer training DVD, Surviving to Thriving: Successfully Including the Child with Special Needs. I have done my best to answer all the common questions in these resources, and specifically in the book. (Forgive me for “pushing” these resources here and yet again. I too am turned off by people who are too self promotional. And yes, I’m guilty of it right now! I’m really sorry.)
If you think your situation or question is super unique, then you can throw an email my way and see if it hits me during some downtime. I just can’t promise I’ll respond. (And resisting the urge to respond isn’t easy for me, because I do love connecting with church leaders!) In the meantime, I encourage readers to reach out to each other and to seasoned special needs ministry leaders. There are a number of excellent networks, Facebook pages, and blogs created for the sole purpose of connecting special needs ministry champions to one another. Experienced special needs ministry leaders are the very best resource!
FAQ: Are you still working on developing a curriculum modified/adapted for special needs?
Answer: Yes, BUT…
I’m taking a break first. As part of my responsibilities with The reThink Group, we led a successful trial of a modified curriculum in a handful of churches with special needs ministries last fall. We put the project on “pause” in January so that I could whip out this book in time for the Orange Conference. We do intend to pick back up on the curriculum project. After my favorite eight-year-old returns to school in August (and my brain gets a rest), I’ll sit down with my co-workers at Orange and revisit the game plan for curriculum. I can already feel the questions coming…”no” I don’t know an expected release date or projected cost. I will post an update on the curriculum project sometime after my summer siesta.
Lastly, Thank you.
Many of you have reached out to me privately expressing encouragement and praying for me as I have had an especially tough year. Thank you for cheerleading me to the finish line, for providing book endorsements at the very last minute, and for showing the book’s publisher how valuable this resource is to the church community. Sales of the book in its first two weeks on the market have been surprising and affirming.
With fond appreciation,
Amy Fenton Lee
In the Orange Conference workshop Encouragement Events for Special Needs Ministry, Katie Garvert shared how her church is using MarriedPeople.org’s Can’t Wait Date Challenge as a tool to help parents to reconnect with each other and build a stronger marriage.
For several years, Woodmen Valley Chapel’s Access Ministry (Colorado Springs, Colorado) has offered regular respite events for its participating families. Katie has led the Access Ministry with the mindset that special needs ministry is a whole family ministry. And logically, as the special needs ministry grew the church added the respite piece of programming. The purpose of the respite was to not only provide parents a break but to also provide spouses the opportunity to reconnect through alone time together. But about a year ago Katie began noticing that mothers who once showed up at respite check-in with their husbands now arrived without their spouse. Instead of heading out for a date night, parents were doing their own thing, running errands while their children were in the church’s care. As a mother herself, Katie recognized the value of a shopping trip in peace, but was sad that parents weren’t refueling their marriage during this time. At the same time, Katie noticed that some of the parents who were spending the respite time together were showing up at pick-up more tense or sad, giving evidence that the “date” had not ended well. Fresh off these observations, Katie felt burdened to work more proactively to help the marriage inside the family with special needs.
And that desire led Katie to MarriedPeople.org’s Ted Lowe. Many parents of kids with disabilities need help connecting with each other. Katie wanted to give these parents something that would keep them focused on each other and with a tool that would facilitate constructive and encouraging conversation. Ted introduced Katie to the Can’t Wait Date Challenge Kits and Woodmen Valley Chapel began using them in conjunction with their Access respite events. As parents dropped of their children at respite, they were handed a CWDC script to go through together and during their time without their kids. Katie shared in the Orange Conference workshop that the response was immediate and rejuvenating to the whole ministry. Parents were again going on dates (rather than running independent errands). And more importantly, the spouses were arriving at pick-up giving evidence of a positive and uplifting time together.
“We realized that these parents had forgotten how to connect. They didn’t even know what to talk about aside from managing life details, usually related to the complex needs of their children. And many of these spouses had forgotten how to laugh. The ‘Can’t Wait Date Challenge’ questions gave our couples fun conversation starters. And for the first time, husbands and wives were focused on each other. And we saw this in their eyes and attitude when they arrived to pick up their children from respite. I honestly had no idea that adding this simple tool would have such a huge impact on the families and in our entire ministry.” ~ Katie Garvert
Katie Garvert is the Access Ministries Coordinator for Woodmen Valley Chapel in Colorado Springs, Colorado. WVC currently serves 70 individuals affected by special needs. Over the past eight years Katie has helped WVC establish special needs inclusion programming over virtually every age group and stage of life for this multi-site church. The Access ministry hosts a parent support group, regular parent respite events, sibling retreats and summer camp experiences for children and students with special needs. Prior to joining the WVC staff, Katie was a special education teacher in the Colorado public school system.
One of the most practical (and needed) workshops covered at last week’s Orange Conference was a breakout on including teens and pre-teens with special needs.
- Meaghan Wall of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas
- Wendi Akers of Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall, Texas
- Stacy Hodge of Joni & Friends in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas (Previously on staff at Hunters Glen Baptist in Plano, Texas)
The workshop began with each speaker sharing about how their church’s special needs ministry is set up. Each ministry offers different classes and environments, depending on the needs and ages of the participants. All three churches work to include kids with special needs in their typical ministry environments. However, for a variety of reasons, some ministry participants are better served in a ministry setting tailored to their needs and learning pace.
Meaghan Wall kicked off the workshop by giving a quick tour of Stonebriar Community Church’s “GIFT” Ministry’s space. (GIFT stands for God Is Faithful Throughout.) Pictures of Stonebriar’s space can be seen in this earlier series of posts. Meaghan talked about the “tweeners” ministry environment, touching on the fact this environment uses iPads as a tool to communicate Bible teaching.
Wendi Akers gave us a brief tour of the SOAR ministry space at Lake Pointe Church, which includes a room set up for older participants with special needs. Wendi also talked about the “Move and Learn” class which includes some middle-school aged participants. In addition, Lake Pointe’s SOAR Ministry offers an environment specially designed for older teens and young adults with Asperger’s syndrome. This relatively new class is designed to facilitate interaction and encouragement for participants who want a place they can be themselves, feel understood, and experience complete acceptance. This new ministry environment has already proven to be a huge success. for Lake Pointe’s SOAR Ministry.
SOAR Sensory Lab (Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall, Texas)
During the workshop Wendi referred to a “Participation Form” that Lake Pointe Church requires of all teen and adult respite participants. As promised, you can access that form here: Wendi Akers – Respite Application for Teens & Adults
Before joining the church relations team at Joni & Friends, Stacy Hodge served as the Minister to Special Needs at Hunters Glen Baptist Church in Plano, Texas. As it turned out, teen inclusion was Stacy’s primary focus while serving as the special needs ministry leader for Hunters Glen. When Stacy began leading Hunters Glen’s CARE Ministry she remembers the Sunday worship service following the church’s student retreat weekend (Disciple Now). Pictures of church teens engaging in silly activities and group Bible study were flashed on the big screen in the worship center. Noticeably missing were faces of the students with intellectual disability and special needs who also attended the church. Stacy talked about how seeing those pictures broke her heart because she knew that the CARE ministry teens were sitting in the worship center watching this big display of fun and friendship… and they weren’t included. Stacy wanted that experience for the CARE ministry students. By the next year Stacy had developed a plan for students with special needs so that they too could experience the church’s teen retreat weekend. For four years, Stacy led the a teen group for students with special needs as part of the church’s Disciple Now. In the picture below, Stacy is teaching a modified version of the Disciple Now curriculum that mirrored the material that typical students were utilizing in their own DNow groups.
During this teen retreat weekend, CARE ministry students were able to:
- Gather in a church member’s home for weekend Bible study and shared meals
- Return to their own homes at night (adequate rest is important)
- Participate in a group service project as a team (e.g. organize local food pantry)
- Play in fun and crazy games as part of the group experience
- Sit together as a group during the weekend worship services
Stacy provided an example of a modified lesson that she created for CARE students participating the retreat weekend. You can access the example lesson here: Teens with Special Needs Handout – Stacy Hodge Disciple Now – AFL 041813.
Stacy has also provided an example of a CARE Ministry newsletter which includes pictures of the ministry space: 2012-2013 CARE Newsletter Winter for Hunters Glen Baptist Church – Stacy Hodge
Meaghan, Wendi, and Stacy all talked about the sensitivity of providing a designated environment for older kids and teens with special needs. For a number of reasons, some students are more likely to experience success in the church when they have a setting tailored to their needs and learning style. All three ministry leaders shared stories where initially there was concern about the appropriate placement for a particular teen inside the church. Understandably, some parents had been resistant to having their child placed in a special needs environment. Stacy and Wendi both shared powerful stories (with fantastic pictures and video) where a student in their ministry had experienced significant spiritual growth as a result of their participation in the tailored environment. The intentional teaching and the facilitated connection inside an accepting environment had been key factors in helping some students develop a relationship with Jesus Christ. And perhaps the positive experience for the student wouldn’t have been as likely in the typical ministry environment. As parents were able to see their child understand and grow in faith (and make friends), they were more comfortable with the accommodation plan for their child.
For more complete bios of each of the workshop speakers, see this earlier post: The Orange Conference Special Needs Ministry Track Speakers.
NOTE: The pictures, handouts, and content presented in this post are shared with express consent of the named workshop speakers. If you desire to utilize this material for a workshop or to share elsewhere in-print or online, please obtain permission directly from the named ministry leader.
At this past week’s Orange Conference, Meaghan Wall led a workshop on recruiting and training volunteers for the special needs ministry. Meaghan is the Pastoral Leader of Special Needs for Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas. Stonebriar has a waiting list of volunteers for their special needs ministry. Yes, you read that correctly. There are more people in line to volunteer for the ministry than there are open positions. And this church regularly includes around 100 children and students with special needs.
Meaghan provided a power-packed hour of ideas and best practices during her OC13 workshop. One of the fun take-aways from the workshop was how Meaghan sets up the annual training for the ministry volunteers. Each year every volunteer who serves in the ministry is required to attend an all-day training for the special needs ministry. During this event Meaghan shares the philosophy of the ministry, provides tips for teaching the Bible lesson, and goes over the Sunday morning routine as well as responses to any type of emergency.
Throughout this Orange Conference workshop, Meaghan shared of her desire to create a fun atmosphere for ministry volunteers…whether it be on Sundays or in the volunteer training event. This past year Meaghan instructed all the volunteers to arrive at the volunteer training in comfortable clothes and prepared to be active. Without any notice and about mid-way through the training day Meaghan told everyone to come to the center of the room….and a Zumba instructor appeared. The instructor then led the entire team of volunteers in an impromptu Zumba class.
The Zumba class turned out to be a surprise hit among the volunteers. The volunteers were able to see each other in a different light and they got up and got moving about the time they would have been bored from an all-day training event.
At the end of the Orange Conference workshop Meaghan shared the video that the church played during their recent “Special Needs Sunday”. Nearly every aspect of this annual worship service is crafted to spotlight the participants and families involved in the church’s special needs ministry. In this video you will see where the ministry is referred to as the ”GIFT Ministry”. GIFT stands for “God is Faithful Throughout”. The emphasis Sunday is a big way the church gives visibility to the ministry and draws interest from prospective volunteers. (In this previous post, we give more details about Stonebriar’s Special Needs Sunday.) In the Orange Conference workshop, Meaghan shared the video that the church showed during the worship service. And Stonebriar has graciously given permission for us to share the video here. (Warning! Keep a tissue handy…this video is amazing!)
Stonebriar Community Church’s Special Needs Sunday Video
PLEASE NOTE: The photographs and video in this post are shared here with express permission from the staff of Stonebriar Community Church. Please do not repost these pictures or the video online without obtaining permission from Stonebriar Community Church.
Chapter 7 of the new book, Leading a Special Needs Ministry, offers more insight about how Stonebriar Community Church creates such a positive experience and attractive environment for special needs ministry volunteers. The book also provides a detailed appendix piece with topics to cover in a volunteer training event and an example policy manual.
Meaghan Wall is the Pastoral Leader of Special Needs at Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas. Stonebriar Community Church currently welcomes close to 100 students with special needs in the GIFT Ministry and provides various opportunities for the students and their families to be actively involved in the church. Meaghan is a licensed and experienced social worker with a degree from Texas Tech University. Meaghan is currently pursuing a Masters of Christian Leadership at Dallas Theological Seminary.
Today is the official release day for the new book to help churches welcome children and families impacted by special needs:
Leading a Special Needs Ministry: A Practical Guide for Including Children and Loving Families (The reThink Group, 2013)
The book can be purchased through the Orange Store today.
More information about the Appendix Pages:
|Appendix 1.1||Relational Etiquette Quiz|
|Appendix 1.2||Relational Etiquette Pointers & Give Disability Visabilty|
|Appendix 4.1||Sample of Ministry Mission Statement|
|Appendix 5.1||Sample Intake Form & Parent Questionnaire|
|Appendix 5.2||Inclusion Tips|
|Appendix 5.3||Participant- Specific Buddy Communication Sheet|
|Appendix 5.4||Weekly Ministry Communication Sheet|
|Appendix 5.5||Customized Participant Schedule|
|Appendix 7.1||Special Needs Ministry Policies and Volunteer Training Topics|
|Appendix 7.2||Sample Outline for Teen Buddy Training Event|
|Appendix 7.3||Training Event for Church Hosts and Sunday Morning Greeters|
|Appendix 7.4||One-Time Service Opportunities|
|Appendix 8.1||Teaching Tips & Behavior Management Strategies|
“Every congregation of every size should have this resource. They need it because there is no other resource that brings such experience, wisdom, and compassion to the blessings and challenges of welcoming every child and family to be a part of the community of faith. For every issue about special needs—from knowing how to express care for parents who are learning that their child has special needs all the way to developing programs, policies and education for volunteers working with children with special needs—this practical resource will be referenced often. I am ordering it for my church, and I am putting it on my students’ family ministry reading list.”
Diana Garland, Dean, Baylor University School of Social Work and Editor, Journal of Family and Community Ministries
“I cannot think of anyone who would not benefit from this incredibly useful and sensitively written guide! You may be a concerned friend or in church leadership, you may be considering the needs of this special people group or formally starting a special needs ministry, no matter how you have been touched by individuals with special needs this book will assist. Amy Fenton Lee has covered the important issues and uses the collective experiences she has encountered across the country!”
Cynthia Zierhut, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical and Research Psychologist, MIND Institute and Founding Director of the Special Needs Ministry of Capital Christian Center
“WOW! I expected this to be a book about how to start a special needs ministry. But it is so much more! This is a comprehensive guide to ministering to families touched by special needs! Amy has done an exceptional job of providing clear and concise guidelines on what to say and what not to say to hurting families. There are equally well thought out suggestions on how to minister to individual children/adults who learn differently as well as to their families. Whether you have one family in your church with special needs or a flourishing special needs ministry, this book is a MUST READ!”
Wendi Akers, Special Needs Ministry Leader, Lake Pointe Church (Rockwall, TX) and Mother of an adult on the spectrum
“With a heart for families of all abilities, Amy Fenton Lee has become the premier resource of practicality and encouragement for churches reaching out to special needs families. In her new book, Leading a Special Needs Ministry, Amy gives any ministry a practical resource to take the next step in ministering to this incredible slice of God’s family. Whether you are a ministry far down the road in this area or one that is just getting started, this resource will be a great help to take you to the next level in providing God’s best for EVERY family.”
David H. Anderson, Childhood Ministry Strategist of the Louisiana Baptist Convention
“This is a remarkable, much needed book. It is a comprehensive, insightful tool for all special needs ministry leaders. The practical, workable tools, methods, and sample forms are a massive help and time-saver, especially for budding new ministries. Sometimes the challenges of special needs ministry are perplexing. This book addresses even the hard topics and provides carefully considered suggestions and solutions. Thank you, Amy, for the time and heart you have put into this good and God-honoring work. It is my new go-to manual. I wish I would have had this resource years ago.”
Brenda Fischer, Coordinator for Disability Ministry or Bethlehem Baptist Church (Minneapolis, MN)
“I highly recommend this practical, easy-to-read resource to any church taking first or next steps in disability ministry. It is a wonderful complement to the resources already available and offers straight forward, clear answers to many of the questions I am often asked by churches considering intentional care of families affected by disability. I particularly enjoyed and will implement Amy’s attention to supporting families through the diagnosis and the training quiz questions she suggests.”
Debbie Lillo, Church Relations Manager, Bay Area, California, Joni and Friends International Disability Center
“An informative guide chocked full of practical ideas and suggestions sure to help every leader set up an effective special needs ministry that serves families. We have needed this information for a very long time. Thanks, Amy!”
Sue Miller, Author, Making Your Children’s Ministry the Best Hour of Every Kid’s Week, Executive Director of First Look, The reThink Group, Inc.
“I have been impressed with the ministry of Amy Fenton Lee for a long time as a regular reader of her blog. As I read this book, I was both challenged and inspired with every page turn. Amy has written a true handbook to guide Kidmin Leaders through the journey of ministering to families with special needs. From helping parents through initial diagnosis to building a thriving special needs ministry, this book has it all! Lives will be changed as a result of this book!”
Brian Dollar, Author, I Blew It, blogger at www.BrianDollar.com and Founder, High Voltage Kids Ministry Resources, and Kids Pastor at First Assembly North Little Rock
“Leading a Special Needs Ministry: A practical Guide—the title says it all. It is very practical in orientation. The highlight of the book is that the feelings and needs of parents are focused on. In the years my son was struggling to communicate, so many people told us how to deal with his inability to speak. It was hurtful to be told he would speak if we didn’t answer him, or he is making such great progress when his speech tests had shown he was still in the lowest percentile for his age group. This was at a time when no one knew how to remediate him, including the special educators and speech therapists.
Acknowledging that parents deal with their child’s needs in different ways based on their experience, knowledge and personalities is vital to a special needs ministry. Amy incorporates this important aspect into her book, giving churches valuable insight and tools to encourage parents and ministry leaders to work together.
Nella Uitvlugt, Executive Director of Friendship Ministries
“Amy Fenton Lee has written a book that I have been looking for for years. A guide that helps me minister to parents and children who are dealing with disabilities of all kinds. This book organizes all the materials I need to start or improve my church’s special needs ministry.”
Christiaan VandenHeuvel, Executive Team for Children and Students, Cornerstone Fellowship (Livermore, CA)
“This is an excellent resource designed to help the church encourage and support families who have loved ones with special needs. Amy Fenton Lee has gleaned the wisdom and experiences of many families and successful ministries giving excellent advice and tools on how to help, love, encourage and support. The reader will learn how to be a blessing and in turn will be blessed.”
Kathy Weltner, M.A. Special Education, Special Needs Ministry Director, CrossPoint Community Church (Modesto, CA)
“Amy’s book is an easy-to-read and understandable guide for churches that provide or are wanting to provide special needs ministry. The guidelines are clear and concise, especially for people who are not special needs aware. The ideas and tips are uncomplicated, simple and easy to assimilate and administer for almost any church. This is one of the best resources for any church including special needs ministry.”
Linda Ranson Jacobs, Creator and Ambassador, Divorce Care for Kids
“If you ever get a chance to sit down and have a conversation with Amy Fenton Lee, whether you’ve known her for five minutes or five years, you will feel like you are talking to a life-long friend. That same feeling permeates Leading a Special Needs Ministry: A Practical Guide to Including Children and Loving Families. Whether you and your church are just beginning to think about starting a special needs ministry, have an established special needs ministry or are just wondering about whether or not you should start a special needs ministry, this book has the information you need. Amy has brought to bear her vast knowledge of special needs ministry gained from years and years of research and extensive interviews with families of children with special needs and church leaders in the special needs community. That knowledge and expertise take the form of insightful advice and information along with practical guides and forms adaptable to your unique situation. Leading a Special Needs Ministry is destined to become the ‘go-to’ handbook for any church when it comes to special needs ministry.”
“As the director of a children’s program in a small church, this book is the exact tool I wish I had when I began in ministry 10 years ago. Written in a heart-touching and practical way, it focuses on the ONE important thing—that our goal as leaders is for all children to know Jesus.”
Brook Hickle, Ministry Consultant and Children’s Ministry Director, Northwest Bible Church (Enumclaw, WA)
“The church could be defined for generations to come by how we tackle the issue of special needs. Amy Lee’s passion and practicality sets the standard in solving this problem. A must read for every church leader whether a volunteer or on staff.”
Matt McKee, CEO of ROAR and Social Media Strategist, The reThink Group, Inc.
“This book is an excellent, detailed, and well-researched resource for any church looking to care for children with special needs and their families. As a mom of a child diagnosed with Aspergers, I can tell you that Amy Lee voices the exact experiences, emotions, and needs of families like mine and that the wisdom and practical advice she offers is outstanding. Churches and ministry leaders will make a huge impact on all kinds of families when they incorporate her strategies.”
Christine Hoover, Author, The Church Planting Wife: Help and Hope for Her Heart and Mother of a child diagnosed with Aspergers
“Leading A Special Needs Ministry by Amy Fenton Lee will easily become a ‘must have’ for any church of any size considering and implementing special needs ministry. It is practical, thorough, and up-to-date. I can’t wait to point churches and individuals to this book. What a wonderful resource!”
Gillian Marchenko, Coordinator for The King’s Table, Christian Fellowship Church and Instructor for Joni and Friends Equipping team Chicago
“As a parent of a child with special needs, and a children’s pastor, I hope that all who serve the next generation will read and learn from this book. Communicating with parents is critical, and this book provides Christ-centered tools to allow this communication to be more impactful. Thank you, reThink and Amy Fenton Lee, for educating and empowering those who serve in special needs ministry.”
Kristy Moser, Early Childhood Pastor, Montgomery Community Church (Cincinnati, OH)
“Leading a Special Needs Ministry is a ‘must have’ reference tool for those involved in ministering to families of children and youth with special needs. [Amy Fenton Lee] details important facts regarding the wide scope of special needs, personal stories of families with children with special needs, suggested structure and guidelines/procedures for a special needs ministry, and practical applications of her recommendations. Most importantly, she expertly weaves together these components with reference to Scripture and extending Jesus’ compassion for all of His children. This book provides valuable insight and resources for all levels of leadership within a special needs ministry.”
Janelle Wagner, Ph.D., Special Needs Ministry CoordinatorThe Church at BattleCreek (Tulsa, OK) and Pediatric Psychologist
“One of the challenges to the church and to pastors is how to provide spiritual and emotional care to parents of children with special needs. Caring pastors and compassionate lay people frequently struggle with how best to minister to families with children who have special needs. Amy offers some excellent and practical guidelines for those who have the God-given opportunity to minister to parents whose children have special needs as well as some very helpful insights on how to minister to children with special needs. I recommend the book to any pastor or layperson who is given this opportunity of ministry.”
Dr. Neal Schooley, Retired Minister of Pastoral Care, Dawson Memorial Baptist Church (Birmingham, AL) and Stephen Ministry Workshop Leader
This coming week is The Orange Conference 2013. This is basically the pinnacle of my year because for many months prior, I am planning the details of the special needs ministry leaders’ track. In addition to these conference responsibilities, this year the organization behind the conference decided to provide a new resource related to special needs inclusion. This decision was finalized in January. And so between January 30th and March 5th, I started and finished a 50,000 word book. (I don’t recommend such a writing timeline to anyone of sound mind!) And since March 5th, I’ve been wading through detailed edits of the new book. The last edit was made just last Tuesday. (If you see me at the Orange Conference and notice the dark circles under my eyes, you’ll know why!) The book is coming off the printer as we speak. And so on Wednesday April 24th, The reThink Group and Orange will release the new book:
Leading a Special Needs Ministry: A Practical Guide to Including Children and Loving Families
This book has two distinct sections. The first two chapters offer relational etiquette and pastoral care for how a church can show support to a family impacted by special needs. The last seven chapters provide practical insight for starting and growing a special needs ministry. The book provides several example documents, including a sample of ministry policies and volunteer training topics. The book was written for one single purpose: to help churches welcome children and families impacted by special needs. The first two chapters of the book were written after I interviewed 60 parents of children with special needs. The last seven chapters of the book are the result of my research on this topic for the past four years, which involved detailed interviews of more than 50 special needs ministry leaders and special education professionals.
I was fortunate to have the consultation of two special education professionals throughout the development of the manuscript. The bios of Dr. Alyssa Barnes and Cara Martens are included in the book and I can honestly say the book is a much better resource because of their advisement and insight. I was also blessed to have the editorial eyes of Jennifer Manley Rogers on much of the manuscript. Jennifer is an accomplished editor as well as the mother of a child on the autism spectrum.
On Wednesday, I’ll post more information about the book, including the table of contents, official endorsements for the book, and a link to purchase the new book. The resource will retail for $18.99 and be available through the Orange Store at www.WhatisOrange.org.
In the meantime…on Wednesday of this week, we kick off The Orange Conference 2013. We will have eight (8) one-hour workshops devoted to all things special needs ministry as well as a networking event for special needs ministry leaders. We have a great lineup of special needs ministry leaders speaking on the track. We hope to post notes, pictures, and highlights from each of the special needs ministry workshops. The internet at the convention center is sometimes unreliable and our time is busy, so the posts may be sporadic. But rest assured we will find a way to bring you in through posts, much like we did in 2012. (Sorry, the audio of the workshops for the Orange Conference are not available to non-registrants…that’s a longstanding policy of the conference.) In addition, the conference will be live streaming. All of the main stage speakers will be interviewed during the live feed. And on Friday, I’ll be on the live stream sometime around 11:45am to talk about special needs ministry. (Be warned, the interview times do often change at the last minute.) The live stream will be offering free give-aways to viewers all through the conference. And on Friday there will be a great give-away from the new book, Leading a Special Needs Ministry.
For more information about Orange Conference Live Stream, check out this post on Orange Leaders. (And no, there is no cost to view the live stream. View at your pleasure, for free!)
I have spoken before about Friendship Ministries and the resources they provide churches, including Bible studies and curriculum units written specifically for adults with intellectual disability. Friendship is also the organization behind the book Autism and Your Church. Friendship Ministries works with churches all over the the world to help them establish small group settings for “mentors” and “friends” to engage in relationship and Bible study.
Last week I received the news that Nella Uitvlugt, Executive Director of Friendship Ministries, passed away unexpectedly. Personally, this is a tough loss because Nella had been a dear friend and mentor to me (and to countless others who work in disability ministry circles). Just last Monday Nella emailed me, helping me with my own a writing project. She was a gem of a person!
Today I received my quarterly newsletter from Friendship Ministries which featured Nellas most recent (and last) column. The story Nella shares is a beautiful reminder to every volunteer and leader who serves in a special needs environment. With Friendship Ministries permission, I am reposting Nella’s column here.
Ministry of Presence
We’re hard-wired to crave feedback.
We want to be assured.
We want to be affirmed.
We want to know what we’re doing is worthwhile and important
So what happens when we don’t receive feedback? How do we know we’re making a difference?
Friendship programs across the country are made up of a diverse group of people, and each friend has unique abilities and disabilities. Some can speak, but others can’t. Some make eye contact, while others turn away. Some can drive, and others can barely walk.
How do we know we’re making a difference to each of these friends, regardless of their abilities?
I have spent a lot of time thinking about this question, as I have worked to support Friendship mentors throughout the country and the world. Too often mentors become frustrated when we do not receive the feedback that assures and encourages us. We think we’re failing. We think we aren’t good enough.
It’s time to relax our expectations and to be content in our ministry of presence. What does that mean?
For a year and a half I have been working with John, a young man with autism who doesn’t speak. Every Tuesday night I show up and I see John. I speak to him. I’m not doing anything special. I’m not doing anything substantial. But by simply being there – by simply giving of myself and my time – I am ministering with John.
Do you know how I know that?
I recently invited John to the front of our group to sing. I handed him a microphone knowing full well he would not utter a word, but I wanted him to feel loved, accepted, and affirmed in his ministry with us.
Guess what happened? John sang. “Oooooooo,” he sang. “Ooooooo.” I was taken aback. I was blessed.
Ministry of presence is about living the gospel as reflected in our actions and our deeds. It’s about spreading the gospel message simply by being in a relationship with those around us.
God uses our ministry of presence. John is proof of that. And though John’s “feedback” isn’t the type of feedback we’re so hard-wired to crave, or the assurance and affirmation we so desperately seek, we know that what we’re doing with John is both worthwhile and important.
How do you minister with your presence? What are your ministries of presence moments? Share them with Friendship Ministries on Facebook.
Reposted with permission of Friendship Ministries
The Orange Conference is six weeks away. Tickets are still available for the preconference workshops as well as the rest of the conference. However, we have the strong possibility of selling out of tickets for the Thursday breakouts. Along with the other special needs workshop speakers, I’ll be hosting a networking event onsite at the Gwinnett Convention Center on Thursday night. This is a great way to meet other people with the same passions and experience. Last year’s Q&A and networking event was arguably the highlight of the whole conference experience (at least it was for me!). We had more than 50 special needs champions in one room for two hours - and this group became fast friends.
For more details on the Orange Conference, including registration and lodging details, click here.
Wednesday, April 24th PreConference Workshops 9:30am – 4:00pm
|PreCon #1||Creating a Special Needs Ministry Space on a Budget||Briley|
|PreCon #2||Including Teens & Pre-Teens with SN||Wall, Hodge & Akers|
|PreCon #3||Supporting the Family with Special Needs||Lee|
|PreCon #4||Technology in the Special Needs Setting||Wall & Hodge|
Thursday, April 25th Conference Breakouts 11:30am – 6:30pm + 8:30pm Networking Event
|Breakout A||Making Bible Stories Come Alive||Lee|
|Breakout B||Creating Opportunity for Volunteers||Wall|
|Breakout C||Encouragement Events for Families Impacted by SN||Wall, Akers, Garvert|
|Breakout D||Special Needs FAQs||Lee|
|Networking Event||SN Leader Gathering||Panel of all SN Speakers|
For detailed descriptions of each preconference workshop and conference breakout, see this earlier post.
The Orange Conference 2013 Special Needs Workshop Speakers
Wendi Akers is the Children’s Ministry Associate for Special Needs at Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall Texas. Lake Pointe’s “Soar” Ministry currently serves 250 individuals with unique needs. Wendi has served in this role at Lake Pointe for the past 13 years. Lake Pointe Church offers a comprehensive special needs ministry providing multiple environments for various ages and learning levels, a sensory lab, an indoor playground, and a computer lab. Lake Pointe recently began offering a class for adults ages 18-30 who have high functioning Asperger’s. This group enjoy a weekly bible study, great fellowship and a monthly social event. In addition to a thriving mother’s support group, parent workshops and regular respite events, the Soar ministry hosts a summer camp experience and a fall festival for children and young adults with special needs. Wendi lives in Rowlett with her husband of 29 years and is the proud mother of 2. Her son Austin is in his first year of medical school and recently married Coryanne, a high school English teacher. Her daughter Taylor just started work on her Master’s in Special Education. Taylor also happens to have Asperger’s.
Denise Briley is the Special Needs Coordinator for Houston’s First Baptist Church. The “Thru the Roof Ministry” of HFBC currently includes 35 families. Prior to joining the HFBC staff in 2011, Denise led the JOY Ministry for adults and children with special needs for 16 years at Graceview Baptist Church in Tomball, Texas. While serving as the Minister to Families with Special Needs at Graceview, Denise helped the church build a facility designed with enhancements for individuals with special needs. Denise also launched programming for parent support groups and regular respite events. Currently, Denise serves on the leadership team of Super Place Camp, a summer experience offered by Houston area churches for children with special needs. Denise has led countless training workshops and written training manuals, equipping other churches for better special needs inclusion. In Denise’s book, Feathers from Heaven, Denise celebrates the life of her son Clayton and shares the story of starting a church’s special needs ministry. Denise was a 2012 recipient of The Orange Award, an honor Orange gives leaders who have made a lasting and eternal impact on the lives of participants in their ministry.
Katie Garvert is the Access Ministries Coordinator for Woodmen Valley Chapel in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Woodmen Valley Chapel currently serves 70 individuals affected by special needs. Over the past eight years Katie has helped WVC establish special needs inclusion programming over virtually every age group and stage of life for this multi-site church. The Access ministry hosts a parent support group, regular parent respite events, sibling retreats as well as summer camp experiences for children and students with special needs. Katie also oversees the church’s deaf ministry and hosts multiple sign language classes offered through the church. Through her role with WVC, Katie connects attending families to different agencies in the Rocky Mountain Region while also serving as a family advocate at students’ meetings in schools. Katie frequently speaks at other ministry conferences to train church leaders for better special needs inclusion. Prior to joining the WVC staff, Katie was a special education teacher in the Colorado public school system.
Stacy Hodge is the Church Relations Manager for the Dallas/Ft. Worth office of Joni and Friends. Prior to joining JAF in 2013, Stacy served as Minister to Special Needs at Hunters Glen Baptist Church in Plano for five years. In her role with Hunters Glen, Stacy helped the church launch a special needs ministry for all ages that involved ministry through Sunday mornings, Wednesday nights, sibling workshops, parent support groups, and Vacation Bible School. Stacy also developed a “Disciple Now” weekend experience for teens with special needs in addition to teaching a mid-week Bible study for adults with special needs. Stacy has lead training events for the Collin Baptist Association to help other churches expand their special needs ministries. Stacy has a degree in Deaf Education with a minor in Sign Language Interpreting from Baylor University as well as a Masters in Christian Education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Amy Fenton Lee is the Special Needs Consultant to Orange. Amy has written extensively on the subject of special needs inclusion in children’s ministry for in-print publications, journals and websites, including www.TheInclusiveChurch.com.
Meaghan Wall is the Pastoral Leader of Special Needs at Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas where she has served for the past six years. Stonebriar Community Church currently welcomes close to 100 students with special needs in the GIFT Ministry (the Special Needs Ministry of Stonebriar Community Church) and provides various opportunities for the students and their families to be actively involved in the church. From having specialized classrooms and inclusion programs on Sunday morning, to a weekly Art Class for the older teens/adults, to four hour respite once a month, to a dedicated Sunday simply to highlight the GIFT Ministry , Stonebriar Community Church seeks out opportunities to serve families affected by special needs. Meaghan leads training events for other ministry leaders to help other churches develop and grow their own special needs ministry. Since college Meaghan has worked in several roles that shaped her for eventual ministry at Stonebriar, such as working for Colorado Easter Seals, serving on a church staff in Lubbock, TX and working as a social worker in a long term care facility. Meaghan is a licensed and experienced social worker with a degree from Texas Tech University. Meaghan is currently pursuing a Masters of Christian Leadership at Dallas Theological Seminary.