More on Getting Started in SpNeedsMin (& thoughts for small churches)
Recently several of my articles written for other publications were made available to readers through other websites. All of these articles provide guidance on helping a church launch a special needs ministry.
Special Needs Ministry Checklist (written for ministry-to-children.com)
Special Needs: Getting Started and the Pre-Launch Path (originally written for K! Magazine and now made available through headhearthand.com).
Communicating a Vision for Special Needs Inclusion (written for OrangeLeaders.org)
Leading through the A’s of Special Needs Inclusion (written for OrangeLeaders.org)
Leading Leaders of Special Needs Ministry (written for OrangeLeaders.org)
For more help with links to sample forms and best practices, see the earlier post: Starting a Special Needs Ministry
A few thoughts on small churches…
This week I was in discussion with someone about the responsibility and expectations for inclusion inside a small church. First I want to say that everyone defines big and small differently. The church with 200 children attending on any given Sunday morning may consider their program small when comparing themselves to the mega-church around the corner. And to the rural church with a part-time or volunteer children’s pastor that includes 50 children (or fewer) on any given weekend….the church with 200 participants seems huge! In the end, emphasizing small vs. large can be dangerous and used as an excuse for a ministry leader to distance themselves from a responsibility for inclusion. Some children’s ministries may not have all the bells and whistles of another church due to a lack of resources. But there is never justification for leading a ministry without a spirit of excellence. Not every church leader has the same work ethic. Without a doubt a staff person’s personal drive and ability (or inability) to wisely mange their time has direct bearing on their willingness to accommodate children with special needs.
However, I would be doing smaller churches a disservice if I didn’t recognize the differences for churches of varying sizes and resources. My father is and has been a church senior pastor my entire life. He has pastored churches of all shapes and sizes…serving as a part-time preacher for a rural congregation many years ago to now leading a church blessed with numerous staff members and an abundant volunteer base. From personal experience I can say that smaller churches do have more limitations. Creating a buddy rotation for a single child on Sunday mornings may be a considerable accomplishment. Especially for churches staffed with bi-vocational, part-time, and volunteer leaders, coordinating a special needs inclusion program may be close to impossible. In churches where staff members are wearing multiple hats, there are real physical limitations on that church. As a pastor’s daughter who heard the home phone ring at all hours with needs inside our congregation, the expectations for a church staff can be daunting. Even the best pastors cannot meet every legitimate need inside their church. For a smaller church with fewer staff members, it can be more challenging to fully minister to the family and child impacted by special needs.
If you are a leader of a small church, do your best to accommodate the needs in your midst. Work so that the families God has brought to your church can remain active on Sunday mornings. Create a partnership with the parents (when possible) while taking ownership for finding and equipping special needs helpers. Initiate a relationship with the parents and provide followup communication as if you were walking in their shoes. And remember, you are reporting to the highest authority. There is a higher expectation of ministry leaders. And while it may not always be fair, it is Biblical (1 Timothy). (For a staff person serving in any size of church…if planning, organizing, and managing the sometimes necessary details of children’s ministry and special needs inclusion is something you dread, pray for God’s guidance. Take the time to do meaningful self-examination and address those weaknesses. Sometimes ministry minded individuals are actually better suited for lay ministry where the requirements of administration, organization, and follow-through are less crucial).
If you are the parent of a child with special needs, do your best to share some ownership in coordinating the care for your child – especially initially. If you observe a staff person who exhibits a high personal work ethic and evidence of legitimate efforts to include your child, give grace when your family experiences a set-back (perhaps an assigned buddy is a no-show one week). Pace your hopes and expectations while also placing yourself in the ministry leader’s shoes. Think about what you can do to ensure the church leader’s success (they fear failure too!). If your family experiences push-back or an ongoing lack of follow-through from the church staff, pray for God’s hand in the situation. Sometimes God calls for perseverance and other times He directs us elsewhere…where a path for inclusion has already been paved.