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Special Needs and Family Ministry

September 26, 2011

I am delighted to feature today’s guest post from Meaghan Wall.  Many of you are familiar with Meaghan and her ministry because of the series of 10 posts showing pictures of my visit to Stonebriar Community Church’s Special Needs Ministry. ~ Amy

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Helping the Mama Bears Fight for Souls 

Does family worship and family ministry apply to special needs families?  That’s the question I’m guilty of not asking.  Somewhere in my clouded thought, I assumed that the average special needs family was too overwhelmed with added life requirements to ponder how they could bring Scripture and faith into their home.  After all, would their child with cognitive disabilities even be able to grasp the teaching?   How could such a family convey the Gospel to their child with a neurological impairment?  While listening to a speaker at a recent children’s ministry conference, God began to reveal to me His desire for special needs parents to pursue the hearts of their child with a disability.

Why had it not dawned on me before now that the children involved in our Special Needs Ministry were worth as much of their parents’ spiritual investment as their typical siblings?

I’ve done a disservice to our families of children with special needs.  Let me explain.  I am the Special Needs Ministry Leader for my church.  I’m supposed to be the forward-thinking staff leader when it comes to special needs ministry.  Rather than inspiring, encouraging, and equipping our parents with the words of Scripture, to this point I’ve viewed the Bible teaching to be the primary responsibility of our ministry team.  In retrospect, our church’s ministry team spends only a fraction of the hours with each child compared to their parents.  While the importance of our ministry can’t be understated, it is the parents that have the real opportunity for sustained influence in their child’s spiritual development.  Up to now, I have devoted minimal thought to helping our parents help their child grow spiritually.

I wonder how many special needs parents have seriously considered the importance of their child’s spiritual development.  Understandably, these parents are operating in survival mode most days.  Meeting the basic needs of the child with a disability can be all-consuming, making the idea of devoting attention and forethought to spiritual formation seem like a pipe dream.  In our church setting we see how families view anything we offer beyond physical accommodation.  When parents observe our ministry servants teaching a Bible lesson oftentimes they are surprised.  The fact their child is participating and engaged during Bible education is an unexpected bonus.

As a special needs ministry leader, I believe God is calling me to encourage and arm our parents to spiritually nourish their children with special needs.  Imagine if we had the same mother that so skillfully protects and provides for her child with special needs, also fighting for their soul?  We’ve all seen the admirable “mama bear” who fights to make things right when there is an injustice in her child’s life…when the insurance provider declines payment for required therapy, when the school won’t agree to appropriate accommodations, or when the neighbor children are poking fun in front of the typical siblings.  Picture these same passionate and competent parents pursuing the heart of their child for Christ.

So where do we go from here?  As a church leader, I believe I’m called be intentional with parents, equipping them to disciple their child with special needs.  Going forward, we’ll be doing a few new things in the Special Needs Ministry of Stonebriar Community Church to help parents.

Parents will be invited to listen in on and participate in our “circle time” on Sunday mornings.  We think many parents will be surprised and blessed to see their child engaged in the Bible lesson.  They may even hear their child respond to a simple question or pray, providing evidence of their child’s capacity for spiritual development.  As a church, this also gives us the opportunity to model Bible teaching for these families.  Parents can repeat the questions we ask and reiterate parts of a story they listened to themselves during the circle time.

Weekly pointers will be provided on a parent handout.  Parents can leave the church with a reference sheet providing the Bible verse we learned as well as a brief description and Scripture passage for the Bible story we covered in class.   While sitting in the car waiting to exit the crowded church parking lot, parents can ask their child suggested discussion questions  that will be provided on the handout.

We’ll research and suggest resources to help parents.  Perhaps the parents could purchase a music CD or download a particular song that we use in our special needs ministry.  The parents may learn as much from the songs as the children.  And the repetition of having the music played at church and home further reinforces the Bible concepts and stories presented in church environment.

I’m going to continue to pray about how I can help our parents take church home during the week.  One thing I do know, and this has changed my view for eternity, is that special needs parents are not excluded from the work typical parents are called to do.  Just because their package is wrapped differently than others, their role is the same.  What a blessing it will be to see these mama bears fighting for their child’s faith! – Meaghan Wall

Meaghan Wall  is the Special Needs Ministry Coordinator for Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, TX where she has served for the past five years.   Stonebriar Community Church currently welcomes 80 students with special needs, many impacted by autism.  

10 Comments
  1. Madeline permalink

    Such a challenging and encouraging post!

  2. Talk about timely. As a parent, I was just wondering yesterday HOW I could present the gospel to my 9 year daughter. She has severe intellectual/developmental delays and her behavioral issues keep me from taking her to church. Because of her delays, I didn’t think much about her abilities until I started watching her play with her iPad and started doing some homeschool curriculum with her in addition to her school work. Now, I am looking for more resources on how to present to her the gospel at home as part of supplemental homeschool that I do with her.

  3. I am so glad to hear that you are doing this. There are many ways parents can do this in spontaneous opportunities. Many of the suggestions in my book HOW DO OUR CHILDREN GROW? can be used with most children with special needs. We do need to offer help where we can.

  4. So glad you shared this – we struggled with this for many years. We just started reading some Bible story books my dad had bought when I was a child, and they have been the perfect level for our son!

  5. I just received Stephen Elkins’ book + CD “100 Bible Stories, 100 Bible Songs” and I HIGHLY recommend this product as a starting point for teaching Bible lessons at church and at home. This product provides an easy way to make Bible stories fun for a typical child or one that with learning delays or cognitive disabilities.

    I can’t say enough good things about this for use in special needs settings!

    http://www.thomasnelson.com/consumer/product_detail.asp?sku=1591452392&title=100_Bible_Stories,_100_Bible_Songs&author=Stephen_Elkins

  6. Stacy permalink

    Leanna, since you mentioned your daughter working on her iPad, I thought I’d mention a couple of apps I’ve found helpful with our students. They are Noah’s Ark, Abraham, and Baby Jesus (all by Kid’s Bible), Theo, and My First Bible Stories by Copenhagen Publishing House. I hope these help present Truth to your precious girl!

  7. Hi, there:

    I have two children with special needs, and a church in our area has recently started providing special needs services. One feature that has been a great help to us has been the use of picture symbols, particularly within a schedule so that the kids understand what is happening and how much longer the service will last. Sitting can be difficult, and to keep attention span, mixing the flow of the service so that there is movement/singing alternating with talking portions is also a great help. Good luck, and thank you for your efforts!

  8. Amy – Thanks for your comment! I talk about the use of picture symbols and schedules in the following two posts (and I give places to download some pictures):

    https://theinclusivechurch.wordpress.com/2010/10/03/teaching-children-with-autism-the-tangibles/

    https://theinclusivechurch.wordpress.com/2011/01/25/lifeways-picture-word-cards/

    ~ Amy Fenton Lee

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. 2012 Orange Conference Special Needs Track « The Inclusive Church
  2. Orange Conference 2012 « Special Needs Kidz

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