The Inclusive Church

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

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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Doc Hunsley on Twitter


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.


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.