Welcome to Week Eight in our Winter series: Applying “Orange” Principles in Ministry to Families of Kids With Hidden Disabilities. Today, we’ll examine strategies for increasing parental involvement in the spiritual formation of kids with disabilities. This week’s discussion covers pages 158-183 in Think Orange.
I’d like to share some random thoughts this morning on the ideas shared in this chapter, entitled “Reactivate the Family.”
Earlier this month, Libby Peterson did a guest post on the topic of churches partnering with parents. In her post, Libby made the following statement:
We are coming to believe that every time we tell parents we are here to “equip” them in the faith training of their children we reinforce their belief that they are not adequate AND we feed the cultural lie that parents should contract out each aspect of their child’s growth and development. Parents need discipleship – to fall in love again with Christ – and encouragement to share what they know and are consistently learning with their kids. The church is here to HELP. Too often churches talk about partnering with parents when the church is in fact taking the LEAD and expecting parents to get on board with their initiatives.
For our friends in children’s ministry, I’d echo the question Reggie Joiner posed at the beginning of the chapter: Do you really believe in the potential of parents? Including parents of kids who don’t think and react and behave like other kids? I do. At times, it hasn’t felt that way in trying to get such a style of family ministry up and running in the community where I work.
If the leadership of the church doesn’t really believe in the potential of parents, there’s next to no chance that they’ll recognize the potential in parents of kids with “issues.” Over the last six months, readers of this blog have been introduced to parents like Barb Dittrich, Rebecca and Jamie Adam and most recently, Mike Woods. The parents I’ve met in the course of leading Key Ministry have only reinforced my belief in their enormous potential of families as agents of spiritual growth.
Reggie categorized parents as aware, involved, engaged or invested. Parents of kids with disabilities are far more likely to fall into the “aware” category…they would check out church if they thought the church was relevant, or if the church could help them with the moral or spiritual development of their kids.
A mindset of “Outward-Focused Inclusion” is necessary if parents of kids with disabilities are going to be involved in significant numbers in the local church. Children’s ministry leaders need to see themselves as pastors to all of the kids in their community, not just the kids involved in weekend or midweek programming. Respite outreach is an effective evangelism tool because free respite serves as an expression of the church’s willingness to help meet a tangible need of parents of kids with disabilities and helps parents to recognize that a relationship with a local church can help.
Churches can help by providing a support system, consistent influence, and a steady flow of relevant information. One of the most tangible benefits the guys at Orange will provide to the local church will involve the development of apps and wireless technology to deliver a steady flow of relevant content for parents of kids with and without disabilities to offer daily prompts to “do a little bit more.” Churches can also help by getting more serious about offering the supports necessary…especially support with child care…so parents of kids with disabilities can fully take advantage of being a part of Christian community…small groups, Bible Study, service opportunities. We as the church have a tremendous opportunity to address the social isolation experienced by families of kids with disabilities in a way that helps families to experience the extravagant love of Christ. We just need to act on it.
Shared worship experiences may be useful as outreach for kids with specific hidden disabilities…ADHD and Separation Anxiety Disorder come to mind. I had an opportunity to sit in on a “Kid-Stuf” production six years ago at Buckhead Church in Atlanta. My first reaction was to think this would be the perfect church experience for a school-age child with ADHD. The flexibility offered by such services…the ability for kids to move around during the worship experience accompanied by the presence of parents seems to be a perfect fit for kids who would have more difficulty in more traditional worship or children’s ministry settings. I’m interested in hearing from ministry leaders offering the family experiences (FX) to see if their observations support the hypothesis that families of kids who have difficulty with self-regulation are drawn to FX-type worship events.
Next Sunday: Catalysts for spiritual growth…different for kids with disabilities?
We’re pleased that our teammate, Harmony Hensley, will be offering two presentations at this year’s Orange Conference in Atlanta. She’ll be accompanied by Katie Wetherbee. E-mail Katie (email@example.com) or call (440) 247-0083 to meet up at the conference.
Click here for conference registration.