Most parents of a child with a mental health condition wouldn’t conclude a church had anything to offer their family if they were to see a wheelchair symbol on a church website or find a link offering “special needs ministry.” In my experience, the kids who come to a practice like ours desperately want to be seen as normal. One challenge in helping them to succeed in school often involves overcoming their reluctance to accept special education services or accommodations to which they are legally entitled because they don’t want to be perceived as “different” by peers and teachers. Children and teens may also be very sensitive about participating in church activities in which the preponderance of their peers are identified with any type of disability.
Their parents are no different. Families are often reluctant to disclose to church staff or volunteers that their child has a mental health condition, receives special education services, or takes prescription medication for emotional or behavioral issues. They’re apprehensive that their child’s weaknesses will be perceived as an outcome of poor parenting by others in the church. They just want to be treated like everyone else.
The definition of disability according to the Federal Register is as follows:
¨An individual with a disability is defined as a person who has a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment.
If a mental or physical impairment substantially limits a person’s ability (or their family’s ability) to actively pursue spiritual growth and fully participate in the ministry of a local church, is that person “disabled?”
While there’s no question that the kids and families we serve meet the legal requirements for disability, their unwillingness to be identified with the disability community is one factor that has contributed to a lack of understanding within the church on how to best reach and minister to them.
Key Ministry helps churches serve kids with disabilities. Our job will be largely completed when the understanding of how to include kids with common emotional and behavioral conditions is incorporated into “standard operating procedure” in the children’s and youth ministry world.
Revised January 23, 2016