Today I must apologize to Meaghan Wall. This post was written by her for the Family Ministry Blog Tour. It was scheduled for 1 week ago, and I failed to get it up. I was fortunate to have dinner with Meaghan and others after the Orange Conference. I was impressed with her level of expertise in regards to special needs ministry. As I began planning the Family Ministry Blog Tour I knew that I wanted Meaghan to share her thoughts from the perspective of special needs ministry. With that in mind her is Meaghan Wall’s answer to the question, What is Family Ministry?
I’ve been working as a Special Needs Coordinator for almost six years. In our church, the Special Needs Ministry is located under the Children’s Ministry umbrella so each year I would attend conferences with the other Children’s Ministry staff. For several of those years we attended conferences based on Family Ministry. I would sit through these conferences and attend various Preschool or Elementary breakout sessions wondering what in the world I would be able to take back and apply to the Special Needs Ministry. After all, everything was geared toward the typical family in the church. It definitely wasn’t geared towards the special needs family and their needs.
Over the past two years, the inclusion of Special Needs Ministry within Family Ministry has grown. It is evident that Family Ministry is changing and churches all around are catching the vision. This is no longer a need simply for the “typical family”; it’s a need of all families. The Orange Conference, one of the front runners in Family Ministry, took the lead and developed a Special Needs Ministry track at their conference that has really pushed the idea of Family Ministry within the Special Needs Ministry into motion. They’re giving voice to those who have been asking for ways to connect special needs families. Below are some ideas that might help you bridge the gap between the “typical” family in Family Ministry and the special needs family.
When working with special needs families, the concept of encouraging and equipping parents to start the conversation of faith within the family is still the same; it just has to be executed a little differently. You have to keep a few things in mind. While these are not true of every special needs family, they are good things to remember.
- Parents of special needs children are pulled in different directions between doctors, therapy, social groups, and support agencies. They’re not looking for more to do and really don’t want to feel guilted into doing more.
- Parents of special needs children are used to being on their own because they’ve been forced to fight for everything their child needs. They’re used to people telling them no or being unwilling to work alongside them. Partnering with the church for their child’s spiritual development may not be a natural inclination for them.
- Parents of special needs children have a lot on their own plates. You have to make their role attainable and show them how it really comes naturally in the way they’re already interacting with their child.
So how can you take this concept of family ministry and bring it into a Special Needs Ministry? It really is simple. It’s more about being intentional about what you do in the ministry and how you involve the parents. Here are a few ideas:
- Allow the parents to watch as the Bible lesson and songs are being taught to the kids. This allows them to see how others are teaching and to learn the songs along with their children. (We allow the parents to stand at the door, out of the kids’ view, and watch our Bible story and music time. Since everyone who enters our classroom must be background checked, we do not allow the parents to physically enter the room.)
- Send home a list of intentional questions and activities parents can do with their children throughout the week. Make it simple and practical. (Remind parents that you can talk to your children about faith issues even if you’re not sitting down doing a Bible study. Show them how moments in the car, therapy sessions, or personal care times can be used to talk about faith.)
- Encourage parents to be participating in something that is developing their own faith aside from that of their child. This might be encouraging them to join a Bible study, a support group, or maybe even a book study with others.
All of this sounds very simple but needs to be intentional on our part as ministry leaders. It’s really easy to simply provide childcare; however, it takes a lot more work and planning to invest in the spiritual development of the children and families we serve. I encourage you to take baby steps and work towards the latter. It’s definitely worth the investment.
Special Needs Coordinator
Stonebriar Community Church
(For more information and resources for Special Needs Ministry, visit www.theinclusivechurch.com)
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