From Orange: Special Needs Champion Spotlight – Denise Briley
One of the best things about the Orange Conference is the chance to connect with people who have the same passions. For me personally this is the time of year to “fill up my tank” of renewal and encouragement. Last night, even before a single artist has taken the stage, sang a song, or given a talk, the inspiration has begun for me. During preregistration last evening several special needs ministry champions gathered in an open area. It wasn’t 10 minutes before the stories and laughter had started. And the best storyteller among us was without a doubt, Denise Briley. I often describe Denise as “the aunt everyone wishes they had.” Denise can make you laugh and cry all in the same story. On the days I am tired and have lost my way, even as a writer, it seems less than coincidental that I hear from Denise is some fashion (God knows what we need some days, doesn’t He?) Denise embodies every reason I am called to promote special needs inclusion in churches. For those of you who aren’t with us in person at OC12, I want you to know Denise.
Denise Briley founded the JOY Ministry of Graceview Baptist Church in Tomball, Texas in 1995 and led the church’s special needs ministry for 16 years. Today Denise is the Special Needs Ministry Coordinator for the “Thru the Roof” ministry of Houston’s First Baptist Church. 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. Since 1995 and thanks to Denise’s leadership, hundreds of Houston area families impacted by special needs have found a welcoming church home.
AFL: Serving special needs families and children can require a tremendous emotional and physical investment. Denise, How would you advise other S.N. ministry champions to balance their personal life with their ministry? How do you prevent burnout?
DB: Serving families with special needs can require an enormous amount of emotional support and physical strength from the leader. Having served hands-on in special special needs ministry for nearly 20 years, I cannot begin to give you a list of how to’s without giving you some encouraging words of wisdom in how not to’s!
When I began I leading my church’s special needs ministry, I had a special needs child of my own as well as two additional young children and a husband who worked a lot.
I learned early on that a single person cannot save the whole world, although you can sure try. Praise the Lord that there are so many churches now that are coming alongside of us and desiring to open their doors for children and adults with special needs. Pace yourself! Often the sky is the limit in a new ministry. I would ask myself, “If dreams could happen what would I do?” And usually I did it!
- Build a team of caring volunteers who will work alongside you. Find people to serve on the team who have compassion and then pour into those leaders. For me, I had to learn to pace in the race!
- Do not answer your cell phone or email 24/7. Let your family see you make that choice. Set your hours and keep them unless it’s an emergency. The question,“Is there church tonight?” is not an emergency need.
- Allow your ministry times for breaks. Holidays like Thanksgiving, rhw week after Christmas and Spring Break are great times to give volunteers time off. Close the Special Needs ministry on the holiday Sunday/week to say thank you to your volunteers. Giving downtime and off days helps families to appreciate what you do and your volunteers will feel valued to have a time off.
- Be present with your own children. They are proud of you as a mom or dad, but they want YOU. Learn to ‘turn off’ the special needs switch. And that is truly hard if you are a parent of a child in your ministry. But they truly don’t want to hear about what you do all the time. Make your time with them just that, time with them!
- You cannot take a casserole to the church family and feed your family peanut butter! If I made a meal for a family or helped organize meals for a special needs family. I had to learn that my family came first. I caught myself one day taking a fabulous meal to another and my kids ate corn dogs.
- Refuel and spend quality and daily time in God’s word. This is the most important thing. You cannot give your life away as a leader in ministry if you are not taking time to fill yourself with alone time with the Lord. My home church requires all its leadership to attend one service each Sunday. For the first time in ministry, I sit with my husband in service! Before I was serving in such a large church we only had one service. However I made sure that although I could not attend the worship service on Sundays, I attended another church’s Ladies Bible study; I could be away from home church responsibilities and also be fed and recharged.