If there is any position in the world that I am not envious of, it is a pastor or church leader. I can only imagine the constant pressure to make sure that your church is encouraged to serve all those in your community while at the same time maintaining your vision and leadership of your local church solely toward the Lord.
With that said in all sincerity, I would like to bring to your attention a group of people that you may not be fully aware of in your local body that are ready to serve, be served and have a great connection into the community: the families who have children with disabilities or special needs.
The spectrum of special needs is as vast as the horizon and each circumstance is unique in how it is diagnosed, treated and maintained. Yet there is a common factor for all these families … we need encouragement in a few key areas and in turn, I believe, that this group of families can and will be used mightily by God in the community and a dedicated part of your church.
As our family has been walking this journey, I have a few thoughts I’d like you to consider. The first is that we need to know that our family is loved and accepted. Please understand that we fight every day of every week for social and educational acceptance and worthiness for our children. Whether we are liaising with teachers and/or school districts or educating other parents and children that our kids just want to play like normal kids, or even in our own family walls we are constantly working with siblings to ensure their value in the family. We also have extended family who we need to educate on how to interact with and motivate our kids so that we can decrease levels of frustration. We long to come to church and feel loved no matter what. In all truthfulness we often don’t come to church because we don’t want to give another explanation for behavior that is caused by confusion or an unmet need that we can’t satisfy at that moment. Sometimes, we can even feel the looks that come our way in the hallway, but that’s all that comes … often a hand to help or an encouraging word is left wanting.
Secondly, when our child with a disability is born, we are often met with well-meaning people who tell us that they are “sorry” that we have a child with his or her diagnosis. Amongst other emotions, this pseudo-condolence informs us that our child perceived as ‘lesser than’. All we really want is for our kids to be treated as the ‘real’ people they are. We really desire a place where we can go to worship God, who created our children, and have our kids be treated as valuable people. This can be applied in a number of various ways. A good starting point would be to ensure that the Sunday school environment is not exclusive. Value and worth is shown by the level of involvement and interaction. Again, this all depends on the diagnosis, but comparatively, the trend in school environments is heavily based on an inclusive model which exposes our children, with differing levels of intellectual capability, to regular education environments with appropriate modifications to make it possible. The best way to figure out how this would work is to talk with the parent and honestly listen and learn how the child responds in certain environments.
A third consideration is probably the most important and is a culmination of the previous thoughts. The end result of our parenting style and our choice to bring our children to church is that we really want our kids to come to understand that they need Jesus as the Savior of their sin. We need your help with that. We believe that the Truth of the Bible is life saving and life changing and even though a diagnosis may limit speech or mobility, we want our kids to trust Jesus for themselves. 2 Peter 3:9 reminds us that God is patient and wants all to come to repentance; including people with a disability. With an understanding that God is the One who works in each life, would you help us with this task? We really do need your help.
We also want you to know that we want to serve. As Christian parents who want to serve the Lord in our local church we desire to experience the Lord using our gifts and talents to encourage others and own that sense of belonging. Honestly, this may not be in a ‘special needs’ ministry, but we do long to be involved. The best way to motivate and engage us is to have a chat with us and help us see where we can be a tangible part of our local church.
We understand and appreciate that leadership in a church is not easy and can be filled with pressure. These insights are not intended to bring on guilt but to truthfully allow you a glimpse into the mind of parents who have children with special needs in you local church.
P.S. If you would like us to help further in your local church please email me as firstname.lastname@example.org