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From Pediatrician to Special Needs Ministry Leader (OC14 Spotlight: Doc Hunsley)

January 6, 2014

Orange is having some fun this week promoting the Special Needs Track for the upcoming Orange Conference. If you follow @OrangeLeaders on Twitter, you may notice the special needs emphasis tomorrow, January 7.  To coincide with Orange’s promotion, this week we’re also spotlighting voices that you’ll hear at OC14.  Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, as Doc Hunsley joins us again to share advice for starting a special needs ministry.  And you’ll meet the other special needs workshop leaders as the week continues.

We’d love for you to join the conversation through comments here (below), on Facebook, or Twitter.  Anyone who leaves a comment or asks a question here or through a linked social media account will be entered to win one FREE ticket to The Orange Conference 2014.  You may enter to win through Friday and we’ll announce the winner next Monday, January 13.

What question would you ask Doc?  

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AFL: As the only pediatrician (that I know of) serving in a church leadership role, how has your background helped you in ministry?

DOC: God has blessed me in preparing me to be Grace Church’s Special Needs and People Care Pastor. Looking back, I can see God’s hand in my story.

Since I was a child, I always wanted to be a pediatrician. I achieved that goal, working as a physician at one of the top children’s hospitals. I loved my job. Unfortunately, I was exposed to some nasty illnesses and, along the way, became very sick myself. I nearly died. Gratefully, my life was spared but ultimately I had to hang up my stethoscope forever. It was a difficult decision but the right decision for my health and my family.

Before going on long-term disability, I hadn’t considered working in ministry and certainly not special needs ministry. As a pediatrician, I took care of many children with special needs. I loved the kids. Candidly, I didn’t always connect with the parents. They seemed demanding. And I would get frustrated at times feeling they weren’t listening to me. But that was before I stepped in their shoes.

In 2005, God blessed my wife and me by making us parents of a child with special needs. Our son, Mark, had autism and Dravet Syndrome, a rare genetic seizure disorder. God provided valuable hands-on experience, helping me understand the unique journey of a special needs family. Little did I know that God was preparing me to build a church’s special needs ministry. Now, virtually everything we do in the SOAR ministry has been shaped in some way from our family’s experience.

After leaving medicine (and recovering from the worst aspects of my illness), I helped in the children’s ministry at the church where my family was active at the time. Eventually, I became the children’s pastor. It was during this time that Mark, age 5 ½, was cured from his physical disabilities and born into heaven. That period and those experiences (as a children’s ministry leader and as a parent wading through the loss of a child) profoundly impacted me.

Now, I can see how God has skillfully groomed me for my role at Grace Church. Because of my background, I have unique opportunities to build relationships and engage in meaningful dialogue. I love helping families understand complex medical issues or assisting parents as they determine the best way to communicate delicate information about their child. And through the death of my son, I can fully relate to the pain of losing a child. I’ve learned a lot about perspective and that’s often what I talk about when walking alongside a family journeying through loss. Time and again, I see where God has enabled me to be a part of conversations with eternal impact.

God has moved my heart from tolerating parents of children with special needs as a pediatrician to now being passionate for the family with special needs as a pastor. Daily, I’m thinking about how our church can impact an entire family, including siblings, parents and grandparents. I know that every member of that family needs to feel love and more importantly needs a place to worship. Special needs ministry is a whole-family ministry.

Consider this, 75 percent of Jesus’ miracles in the Bible where done on those with disabilities.  Really, Jesus ran the very first special needs ministry; He loved those with special needs! And as the earthly representative of Christ, the Church’s goal is the same today. Whether meeting the needs of one family or building a larger ministry to serve multiple families, my goal is to see every church equipped for special needs inclusion.


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Dr. Stephen “Doc” Hunsley is the Special Needs and People Care Pastor for Grace Church in Overland Park, Kansas. Doc started Grace Church’s special needs ministry in 2011, helping it to become a hallmark ministry for the church. The SOAR (Special Opportunities, Abilities, and Relationships) Special Needs Ministry serves over 170 individuals with special needs through weekend church programming, family support groups, and regular respite events. SOAR also has adult programming on the weekend and plans for a special needs day camp and VBS this coming summer. Doc leads the Kansas City Special Needs Ministries Network, for area church leaders. Prior to serving as a special needs pastor, Doc was a children’s pastor. Doc is a retired pediatrician while his wife, Kay, continues practicing pediatrics. They are proud parents to three beautiful children: Luke, Mark and Sarah. The Hunsley’s middle child, Mark, is presently running the halls of heaven. During Mark’s five-year earthly stay, he gave his family the opportunity to learn from and love a child with autism. You can follow SOAR on Facebook or Connect with Doc on Twitter: @DocHunsley

Doc will be teaching OC14 Preconference workshop, Training Volunteers to be Prepared for Children and Students with Autism.


From → Conferences

  1. Your passion for your ministry is inspiring! My question to you is, what advice do you give to a special needs ministry leader who is under the direction of a children’s pastor who’s passion and understanding may not be at a similar level as the ministry leader? And that discrepancy causes stress on the work of the special needs ministry?

  2. As a Family Therapist and former Christian Education Minister I led a yearlong research study with parents of Special Needs Kids. We found that 1. Rarely if ever does anyone from church visit the homes of a family in needs. 2. Even if Jesus focused on healing persons with a disability that is rRe for churches today. In fact, none of our parents and children had ever been prayed for by their church or church leaders. 3, many families experienced an adversarial relationship with various experts such as Doctors, Educators, Ministers because, as the Doc said, “The parents are too demanding”.

    Our research indicates that parents are rarely, if ever, asked about their goals for ministry, education or medical care. In fact, most blogs, books and seminars report only the views of experts and few research studies of parents are done at all.

  3. kelliecase – Thanks for the comment. I am praying for you and your ministry. I understand your situation as I have been in a somewhat similar one. It is important to handle the situation with prayer and respect. You are both on the same team. Passion used in the right way can create vision. I would love to go deeper with you offline, please email me at God Bless

  4. Gary Sweeten – Thank you for your comment, the work you are doing sounds helpful. Like many other special needs ministry leaders, we are working to build the parent connection with the church. I consider it an honor to pray for every family in our ministry. Thank you for sharing the insight from your study. God Bless

  5. I posted on Facebook, but I am posting here as well. As a mom with two special needs adopted children I would love to learn more! My children need to be included and counted! God bless you in your work and I would love a chance to attend!!

  6. Amy Fields – God Bless you and your family! It takes special individuals to volunteer and adopt these amazing kids! I would love to talk more offline and help you, email me at Keep your passion and ALWAYS remain an advocate for your children! I am praying for you!

  7. I am arelatively new director of special needs in our church. I so appreciate the work you are doing in special needs and the background you bring to it. I have wonderful volunteers and am passionate about making them feel important and included. If you could include one aspect in volunteer training, what would that be? Thanks so much

  8. I am currently working as a director of special needs and am active serving on the UM Committee on DisAbility Ministries excited to find out about the special needs track at the Orange Conference this year. I am also a seminary student, special education teacher and look forward to God continuing to do great work through those with special needs and their families, Your organizations resources have been helpful in developing training for volunteers. Grace & Peace

  9. Chris Cathie Smith – Love hearing this! Great question, and in fact, I will be speaking on that topic at the 2014 Orange Conference Special Needs Track! I have learned that it is vital that you give volunteers some scenarios to learn how to appropriately handle a situation. Many volunteers are afraid they can’t tell a child with special needs “no” or touch them to help redirect them. When volunteers can see a scenario acted out, they are much more comfortable when a problem occurs in real time!.

  10. If you could point a person who wants to raise awareness of the need of a special needs ministry at their current church, what resource would you suggest?

  11. Jackie Leach – Amy Fenton Lee’s book, “Leading a Special Needs Ministry” is a great place to start. From my experience, just sharing life experiences as a family of special needs, helping others see and understand what it is really like, helps other see the importance of this type of ministry! Praying for you and your church!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Orange Conference 2014 Special Needs Track | The Inclusive Church
  2. 5 Tips for Starting a Special Needs Ministry (OC14 Spotlight: Doc Hunsley) | The Inclusive Church
  3. Colorado Special Needs Networking Event + Special Night of Worship (OC14 Spotlight: Katie Garvert) | The Inclusive Church

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