What Does it Mean For the Church to be “Light” to a Family Impacted by Disability? (Part One of Two)

Welcome to Part Two of our series: Applying “Orange” Principles in Disability Ministry. Today, we’re going to explore the implications for churches seeking to be “Light” to kids with disabilities through showing their families who God is.

This discussion covers pages 28-41 in Think Orange.

Last week, we discussed the importance of establishing connections between families of kids with disabilities and the church. Without connections that facilitate relationships between families and church leaders, the church has little to no ability to cast influence with parents that leads to spiritual growth in kids.

In Chapter Two of “Think Orange,” Reggie Joiner expands upon the image of the church as “light” to kids and families…revealing the character of Jesus Christ and energized by the task of getting kids interested in learning more about who God is. Several quotes that reflect Reggie’s views on the role of the church are listed below:

“The church is uniquely and strategically placed on this planet to display God’s glory to the world. The role of the church is simply to turn on a light…to show the world who Jesus is.”

“God’s intention is for the church to be strategically placed in culture to show himself to the world.”

“Churches no longer focus on what attracts the hearts of people.”

During Christ’s earthly mission, crowds were drawn to him because of his ability to meet immediate, heartfelt needs. Jesus’ healing ministry was so vast that he was constantly aware of its’ potential to become a distraction from his primary mission of proclaiming the Good News. People were drawn to Jesus because of their needs…their need for physical healing along with their need for relief from oppression by their government officials and religious leaders. Their needs drew them to Jesus and provided Him the opportunity to reveal Himself to them.

Family 2In my community, the heartfelt need with the greatest potential for drawing people to the “Light” is the ability of the church to come alongside parents with the tools and strategies to offer their kids a better life…a life built upon the foundation of a relationship with Christ, lived out in a community of caring people and filled with meaning and purpose. If we as a church learn how to do that well, we’ll transform our surrounding community and parents will be beating a path to our campuses.

Continuing in Chapter Two, Reggie continues to ponder what it means for the church to be “light”:

“We have forgotten who we are and what we are supposed to be showing the world.”

“How do we show the surrounding community who God is?”

“You are called to shine a light and demonstrate God’s love and grace to those who need it.”

Who would be most in need of a demonstration of God’s love and grace in a typical, middle class American community? I’d argue from the standpoint of sheer numbers, a case can be made for families of kids with mental illness, trauma and developmental disabilities.

Think back to the story in John’s gospel of  the disciples’ encounter with the man who had been blind from birth, and Jesus’ response. We’ve progressed to the point that most adults attending church on a given Sunday would recognize that the behavior of a child with obvious signs of autism or other “special needs” isn’t the fault of the child’s parents. On the other hand, the parents of a child with ADHD or anxiety having a meltdown at children’s ministry check-in may encounter attitudes and assumptions not dissimilar to those faced by the blind man’s family back in Jesus’ day.

Being “light” to families of kids with disabilities is not without challenges. One challenge involves overcoming negative experiences of church on the part of the parents from the past…they may view Jesus favorably, but have a different opinion of his followers.

Another challenge…a challenge offering great opportunity…is the reality that families of kids with disabilities won’t see the “light” if the “light” never leaves the building. We’re going to have to take the “light” out to them as opposed to waiting for them to come to the “light.”

I think there’s the potential for “multiple wins” here. The very attributes of the church that best reflect the character of God are those that will draw families of kids with disabilities to the “light.” In order to put the “light” on display to families of kids with disabilities, we get to parade the light in front of lots of other folks who may not otherwise get to see the “light.”

You can’t imagine how a network of churches in a community offering high quality, free respite care across a city or region starts exploding preconceived notions of evangelical Christianity in the minds of my colleagues in psychiatry or other members of the mental health or scientific communities. Folks in the public schools start hearing about the “light.” One of my church’s most faithful respite volunteers is a special education teacher in an adjacent community who comes with her son and just happens to be Jewish. She and her son started volunteering at the church after the parents of a kid from her resource room started sharing with her their experience at a respite event held at the church. She’s telling other teachers at the school about her experience, leading to more families from her school becoming aware of the church.

If families of more “typical children” are drawn to the church because the church offers strategies and relationships that increase the likelihood of their child experiencing a happier and more meaningful life, could there be an added “draw” for families of kids with disabilities?

There’s so much to unpack here that I’m going to continue this discussion in our next post. Here are some strategies we’ll consider that have been shown to draw families of kids with hidden disabilities to the church, while affording the church opportunities to show the surrounding community who God is and to share His love and grace with those who most need it:

  1. Strategies that meet immediate needs of families for respite and/or educational assistance.
  2. Strategies that lead to families of kids with disabilities feeling welcome and experiencing the sense of being unconditionally pursued.
  3. Strategies that help families of kids with disabilities to experience a sense of belonging in an authentic community.

Looks pretty consistent with the character of Jesus so far, doesn’t it?

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Front Door LogoRemember…we depend upon YOU to get the word out about The Front Door! The Front Door is Key Ministry’s online church for families of kids who can’t otherwise attend church. Please share this schedule or a link to the Front Door site with any person of family you know who is unable to attend church because they themselves or another family member experiences a disability that makes attending church difficult to impossible.

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, www.church4everychild.org was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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3 Responses to What Does it Mean For the Church to be “Light” to a Family Impacted by Disability? (Part One of Two)

  1. Diane Engster, JD says:

    I really wish you would do better about always identifying children with disabilities as the problem. Thanks.

    Like

  2. drgrcevich says:

    Diane…I reread this post and what exactly did I say that would make you think I’m identifying children with disabilities as “the problem?” When kids with disabilities and their families aren’t able to fully be embraced and included in Christian community, that IS a problem.

    Like

  3. Good word. Only a small percentage of churches actually have a disability ministry (about 5%). Contrast this to the fact that people with disabilities make up the largest minority group in the world, and we are made aware of the immense need/opportunity to share the Gospel with these folks

    Coupling that with the fact that since people with disabilities are ALSO made in the image of God, that should prompt us to help them discover their purpose and their gifts to the glory of God.

    Like

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