Since authoring this guest post, Shannon Dingle has become an established star in the field of special needs ministry. She is currently serving as Special Needs Ministry Coordinator at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC. Her background and training is in special education. She authors a thoughtful and well-written blog, The Works of God Displayed, that is one of only a few ministry resources I make time to read regardless of how busy things get in my practice. Shannon’s time for writing has been limited lately as she and her husband prepare to welcome the newest member of their family, Zoe Amanda in Taiwan on July 5, so we thought we’d share this guest blog Shannon wrote from last summer with our new readers.
I just watched The Blind Side with my husband this weekend, but I already knew about one scene. I had heard about it from a sermon or two and read about it in at least one book. In it, Big Mike looks around his new room and tells Leigh Anne Tuohy, the mom of the family who welcomes him into their home, “I’ve never had one before.” She says, “What, a room to yourself?” And he says, “No, a bed.” As she walks away, tears in her eyes, it’s obvious that she has been faced with a reality that is starkly different from her own.
If I want to go to Sunday school or a worship service, I do. If I want to serve in a ministry on Sunday morning or go to our church’s monthly leadership training, it’s not a problem. I have a two-year-old son and a four-year-old daughter, and if I want to do those things, I just take my kids to their class or childcare. If we need a babysitter, we call the girls across the street, even occasionally allowing the eleven-year-old to watch them for short stretches.
Like Leigh Anne in The Blind Side, I don’t regularly think about what life is like for kids without beds as I place my son in his bright blue racecar bed each night. And I don’t think twice about bringing my children to church or calling a trustworthy young sitter to come over so my husband and I can have a short date.
For many families, this isn’t an option. Due to their child’s special needs, they don’t know what to expect from church. Or maybe they’ve tried and been turned away. When my friend Amanda’s son – who loves cars and has autism – was having a tough time in a church’s children’s ministry, she spoke with the ministry leader. At the end of the call, the leader commented, “”I still can’t promise you it’s going to work.”
I’ve never had the children’s ministry pastor tell me that it might not work out for my kids to come to church. And, if your child doesn’t have special needs, you probably haven’t either.
I don’t know what it would take to make all church leaders have a “no, a bed” sort of realization about the need to welcome families with special needs, but work like what Key Ministry does is a start. Churches who turn away families with special needs don’t typically do so because they’re malicious or mean-spirited. In my experience, they’re either (a) ignorant, in that they don’t know there is a need, or (b) ill-equipped, meaning that they’ve realized the need but have no idea where to begin.
At the beginning of The Blind Side, the coach is advocating for Mike to be admitted to the private school. In doing so, he argues that it isn’t about athletics; it’s simply the right thing to do. He says that they ought to paint over the word Christian on their school name if they aren’t going to act like it.
Can we still call ourselves churches if we don’t care enough about others to consider their lives and their needs? Or would it be more accurate to paint over “church” and replace it with “country club” or “social group” instead?
Key Ministry’s mission is to help churches reach families affected by disability by providing FREE resources to pastors, volunteers, and individuals who wish to create an inclusive ministry environment. We invite you to partner with us as we advance the Kingdom through our collaboration with the local and global church. We have designed our Key Catalog to create fun opportunities for our ministry supporters to join in our mission. The Key Catalog includes a variety of gift options for every budget. A gift from the Key Catalog also makes for an amazing gift for a friend or loved one who is passionate about seeing the Body of Christ become more inclusive of people with disabilities. Click here to check it out!
Updated June 22, 2012
Very well said!
Thanks so much for your kind words! I’m thankful for your encouragement and glad that we share the same passion.
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Opening the eyes of the blind is a daunting task. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is moving in many so that the blind may see!
More is needed than simple awareness of special needs. In our church, there are not enough teachers and helpers, and as children’s ministry director, I am at a loss for what to do about a 12-year old boy with autism who should now be sitting in the sanctuary during service instead of remaining in my class where he is often disruptive. I would do more if I could, but we seem to be out of options.
Sorry to take so long to get back to you. Is there anything our Key Ministry crew can do to be of help to you in serving this boy?
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A friend of mine posted your article on fb and I feel compelled to respond – I am one of those parents who cant call and ask the local babysitter to watch my children because of their special needs. I am one of those parents who doesnt go to church -and not because of the volunteer who runs the class my autistic son would be in at sunday school (she is fabulous and tries to tell me when she is on so my son can go to her class), but because of all the comments he has to listen to and put up with because he is different – and all the snide remarks because we arent the typical married couple with three young children – I’m not a single mom by chance – I’m a single mom because my ex wouldnt stop abusing my children and myself – and I have to live with the stigma of leaving my abusive ex and bringing up three children on my own because of his issues. We live in poverty and when I asked (I emailed the minister of our church for help we were so desperate – I hadnt eaten in a week – i fed my children first) for help it took three months to get a response – and we only got a response because it was Christmas so we lucked out with some free meals and the minister gave me $200 to buy groceries with (which I am incredibly grateful for and will never forget).
I wish more churches would just accept the reality that some people just need more support and have no way of asking for it – my pride just wont let me after that lack of response. But if you offered it, I would certainly take it. Church is one place my children have always felt safe. I wish more churches would accept that some of us have had a really hard road – that we do not have any family to help, we do not have friends because people don’t want to be associated with children who have special needs and that we are on our own – that attending church and hearing God’s word and being able to sing and contribute is the one thing some of us live for each Sunday. It is the one hour we get to recharge our batteries and truly feel like we are part of a bigger community – and the one time I can pray with my soul and hope He can hear our prayers for deliverance from this hell we live in.
I pray that more churches will hear your message of tolerance and acceptance – and that there is a real need for support so children like mine can attend. It would make my life that much easier and truly teach my children that God’s word is for everyone… not just the NTs.
Thanks for sharing your story. We do what we do because God’s Word IS for everyone…and the church would be incomplete without you and your kids.
If you’d like to message us privately, feel free to use firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. We might know of additional churches in your area where you might find additional support. You might also want to follow these guys…
This is an awesome ministry in Orlando run by a dad (Mike Woods) who has triplets, all of whom are on the autism spectrum. He’s developed some great resources for parents as well as churches.