Thinking “Orange”: Warm Hearts…The family’s role in spiritual development is magnified when kids have disabilities…as well as the church’s role (Part Two)

Welcome to Week Three in our Winter series: Applying “Orange” Principles in Ministry to Families of Kids With Hidden Disabilities. We’re going to finish yesterday’s discussion on the role of the family in the spiritual development of  kids with disabilities.

This week’s discussion covers pages 42-77 in Think Orange.

Yesterday, we began to examine the five “family values” described by Reggie Joiner in Chapter Three of Think Orange that form the foundation of the role of the home in the “Orange” philosophy. We’ve looked at Imagine the End and Fight for the Heart. Today, we’ll look at the challenges families of kids with disabilities face in implementing the final three values and some strategies churches can employ to help them.

Value #3: Make it personal. Parents can’t pass on to their kids faith that they themselves don’t possess. Kids need to see their parents living out their faith on a daily basis, in both words and actions.

I’ve found many church leaders to be very short-sighted in their conceptualization of disability ministry, resulting in the need for more family-centered approaches. How are the kids in the family supposed to come to know and love Jesus if we’re not prepared to welcome the parents to church…and all the other activities we’ve found to be helpful in facilitating spiritual growth?

I had a conversation in my office last week with a parent who started a small group in their home for couples with kids with autism spectrum disorders. The group members pay for specialized child care so they can enjoy their fellowship and study time with minimal interruption. This person wanted to offer the small group to other families attending their church (where small groups are integral to the church’s strategy), but was refused because their group didn’t meet frequently enough (because of the need for child care). The bottom line…If you’re a church leader, we’re happy to help you do what you need to do to get the parents into whatever environment you think helps them to grow spiritually. If they grow in small groups, make sure someone can care for their child while they’re in small group. If parents grow in your worship services, let’s figure out something for the kids while the parents are in worship. The win occurs every time a child with a disability or their family has a meaningful contact with a local church.

Value #4: Create a Rhythm. Families of kids with disabilities are more likely to experience disruptions in the normal rhythms of life. Here’s an example…Mornings are often the time greatest stress in families of kids with ADHD. Kids with ADHD often need constant redirection while getting ready for school and much time and frustration is spent organizing what’s needed for the day before prescription medication has fully kicked in. Dinner is often brief…Ever seen a kid with ADHD try to sit at the table for conversation after they’re done eating? Bedtime often involves considerable yelling and duress because kids aren’t sleepy, haven’t finished homework or are enthralled with their game system of choice.

Churches can help by providing parents of kids with disabilities with the resources to initiate spiritual discussions and support the practice of spiritual disciplines within the rhythms that work best for the family. The folks we see in our office spend a fair amount of time driving to therapy appointments, social skills groups and tutors. Many kids with hidden disabilities will process discussions more effectively one on one in a car with their parent than they will across the dinner table or at bedtime. While many of our leaders in children’s ministry are gifted communicators, most of the time, parents of kids with a disability will often be more effective at communicating important truths with their child affected by a disability than the most talented children’s pastor.

Technology may become a valuable resource to churches seeking to resource parents. What if parents got a reminder pushed to them through their i-Phones while sitting at a traffic light after school of the main theme discussed at children’s worship two days before? Or questions suitable for either 1:1 or family discussions? Matt McKee is a children’s pastor connected with Think Orange who leads a company (R04R) that helps churches develop apps that can be easily adapted to help serve families of kids with disabilities.

Value #5: Widen the Circle. The families we serve in our practice frequently experience great social isolation. The parents don’t regularly get out with other couples. Kids with disabilities (and their siblings) are less likely to be involved in the extracurricular activities that lead to social networks among families. Kids with disabilities are less likely to have friends who invite them to church activities. These families are often most in need of what the church is uniquely positioned to provide…an extended network of adult role models who can demonstrate what it means to be a follower of Christ and reinforce the lessons parents model at home as to who God is and why He can be trusted.

Churches simply need to be intentional in their implementation of strategies that encourage the development of relationships between kids with and without disabilities with adults who model what it means to be a follower of Christ. One strategy involves providing opportunities for kids and youth to serve in meaningful ways with adults from the church, which also gives parents the opportunity to identify and cultivate their children’s spiritual gifts. Another strategy involves “relational respite”…churches are intentional about connecting families making use of respite events with small groups within the church who then provide ongoing respite care along with opportunities for relationships with families in the church who may or may not have children with disabilities.

Next Weekend: Family Values: Partnering with parents of kids with disabilities

Feel free to contact Katie Wetherbee (katie@keyministry.org) or Harmony Hensley (harmony@keyministry.org) if you’re interested in meeting up at this year’s Orange Conference.


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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