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Avoid Controversial Topics & Remain Focused on the Mission

May 3, 2010

The subject matter of neurological disorders and developmental delays is a fascinating and popular topic in the mainstream media.  Few days pass without a headline related to the cause of these diagnoses or the latest claim to a cure.  It is important for the church to recognize its role and stay on mission: to accept, accommodate and advance the spiritual development of each person inside the family of a child with special needs.  It is not the church’s responsibility to debate the cause or develop the cure to diagnoses such as autism. And as soon as opinions are expressed, influence is potentially lost.  There is virtually no consensus on reasons for the spike in autism and the options for treatment are endless.  As a result, when a church representative not personally impacted by special needs expresses a strong opinion on one of the aforementioned subjects, invariably someone directly impacted by such a diagnoses is offended.

Dr. Cynthia Zierhut, Clinical Psychologist with the University of California Davis’ M.I.N.D. Institute and Director of Capital Christian Center’s “Champions Ministry” (Sacramento, CA)* shares, “No matter how much you have read or delved into the subject of autism, unless you have absolutely walked in the shoes of a specific family and have a full understanding of what those parents have been through, you don’t have the ability to give them advice.  The family has plenty of places to go for medical or educational counsel.  The family needs the church to listen and support them.”

As a natural crusader my father continually reminded me, “Amy, pick your battles.” In a sense, that’s my aim with this post.   It is perfectly acceptable and even encouraged for volunteers and church staff to listen to parents as they share their own opinions resulting from their personal experiences.  However, in the interest of keeping the main thing the main thing,  it is advisable for those same staff and volunteers to avoid expressing their own views on related topics.  This message and reminder is especially important for ministry workers to hear as a part of their caregiver training. Dr. Zierhut reminds the Champions volunteers “it is less important that you share your knowledge than for you to provide an environment where an attending family can just be normal and talk.”

Similarly, the church staff should carefully guard against outside organizations and vendors who may market targeted products or services through the church’s special needs ministry.  Again, the role of the church is to provide spiritual nourishment.  And while it often makes sense to host support groups or spotlight unrelated organizations that can help families with special needs, it is important to avoid association with a third party that could detract from the church’s mission of advancing spiritual development.

For more on this topic, see When a Child Shows Signs of Autism.

Amy Fenton Lee

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