(From the Archives) Special Needs: Managed or Ministered To?
To the blog’s faithful readers, please accept my apologies for a quiet spell here. Since the last week of January I’ve been writing a book. Even as I load this post for this coming Monday’s launch (I’m writing this on Saturday evening, February 23rd), I’m rounding out a 10 hour day of writing, and finishing out a week of…you guessed it…writing day and night. With only a couple of exceptions, today is my 25th day glued to a screen and keyboard. And tomorrow will be the same. (Yes, I would welcome a prayer from any of you who so desire.) In preparing for this book I’ve been reminded of short articles from past years. Just a few minutes ago I remembered the piece below and I thought it was worth reposting.
And in case you wondered….the book I am currently writing is on the subject of leading a special needs ministry and loving the families it serves. The book is designed to be a practical and meaty guide for church leaders and volunteers. As with this blog, the book’s emphasis is on including children, which has been my personal research focus of the last few years. The ReThink Group is releasing this book as one of the new product offerings at The Orange Conference 2013 in April. The book will be available for sale at the conference and afterwards online. ~ AFL
Special Needs: Managed or Ministered to? (Originally written in November 2010)
Recently I attended a training event for church greeters and children’s ministry hosts at Grace Church in Greenville, South Carolina. The audience in training included front line volunteers who welcome and place first time visitors into Sunday morning small groups. Also in attendance were children’s ministry coaches who frequently respond to unique needs during children’s ministry programming. The purpose of the training was to equip the church “hosts” and children’s ministry coaches on how to recognize and appropriately assist families affected by special needs. In recent years Grace Church began noticing an increasing number of attending families who had a child with a disability. And like many churches, Grace Church launched an intentional focus on special needs inclusion. As a part of the church’s special needs strategy, the education effort started inside the children’s ministry team and then spread to other logical ministry areas. On the night I was visiting Grace Church, the special needs ministry team was educating the faces placed at church information desk, the welcome center, and key entry points on both of this church’s campuses. The 60-minute training was incredibly informative and well received by the listeners, many of whom had little or no knowledge of the church’s special needs ministry.
As a part of the volunteers’ education, two families of children with special needs were briefly interviewed. The training leader guided each set of parents through what was essentially a short synopsis of their family’s story. The five to ten minute dialogue was incredibly moving for the audience as we heard how each family’s experience inside Grace Church had visibly impacted the spiritual growth of the entire family. Like many in attendance, I found myself reaching for a tissue through the parent interviews. Conveying a sense gratitude toward Grace Church, one mother offered a profound insight,
“Parents of children with special needs don’t want to be managed. They want to be ministered to.”
This mother then shared of the meaningful interactions she and her husband experienced when they first started attending Grace Church with their daughter, who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Every touch point with volunteers, staff, and other church members offered affirmation and acceptance to this hurting and previously wounded family. Now having been a part of the Grace Church community for some time, both parents are contributing ministry servants themselves in other areas of the church. And the listening volunteers understood the important role they play in creating similar experiences for other families affected by special needs.
I chewed on the mother’s aforementioned statement for the remainder of the training…the two words “manage” and “minister” were both well chosen and significant. Reflecting on my own journey, before I started writing on the topic of special needs inclusion I viewed disability accommodation as a necessary and mechanical component to church programming. Sure, we ought to have a wheel chair ramp somewhere inside the worship center. Yes, providing an interpreter was a good idea. And I would have nodded in agreement that curriculum modification was a good idea to enable greater particiation. But it wasn’t until I entered into the lives of people affected by a diagnosis or physical challenge, that I understood the significance of my attitude even over my actions. As your church ponders a greater emphasis on inclusion, pray for your staff leaders and ask God to actively shape your own approach and heart-view of disability. – Amy Fenton Lee
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For training event details: Special Needs Training for Church Greeters