In my day job, I work with kids and families with a very complex array of emotional, behavioral, developmental, neurologic and medical conditions. I spent a long time training to do my job. I was accepted into an accelerated medical school program five days before turning eighteen, followed by a three year residency at Cleveland Clinic and a two year fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University. I’m in my 30th year of doing my job. Yet, I don’t pretend to parents that I’m the expert in dealing with their child. They are. I’m their consultant. I come alongside them to help them understand the problem that led them to our practice, along with a range of safe and appropriate options for addressing the problem(s).
So…how does this relate to the church and the children’s/family ministry leader?
The church is also called to serve and to make disciples of families with the full range of disabilities – visible and invisible…without the benefit of the training I went through. Our team at Key Ministry is more than happy to help you develop an identified ministry to serve kids with disabilities in your community, but no church is ever going to be able to design a ministry program tailored to meet the needs of all kids and families with disabilities in your community. As is the case in our practice, when serving kids with disabilities, the church needs to rely on experts with the most understanding and experience of a child’s learning, communication styles and relationships…their parents!
Here are four advantages to a family ministry approach when families have kids with disabilities…
- Most of the time, parents of kids with a disability will be more effective at sharing important truths with their child affected by a disability than the most talented children’s pastor. A children’s pastor, volunteer or small group leader probably doesn’t have the training to communicate important faith concepts most effectively with every child, especially kids with very unique styles of processing information.
- Parents of kids with disabilities may have more 1:1 time with their children than parents of kids without disabilities. A key argument made by supporters of family ministry models is that kids spend far more time with their families than they do at church. When kids have disabilities, they’re often spending lots of time in the car or in waiting rooms for professional appointments and they’re less likely to be on travel teams and committed to as many activities as kids without disabilities. Parents have more opportunities for conversations related to important principles related to faith and character.
- In many cases, parents of kids with disabilities may not have the same depth of understanding of important faith concepts as other parents if their child’s disability has been an impediment to church attendance and engagement. An approach to ministry offering resources for parents to use in guiding faith development at home is most helpful when parents struggle to identify resources on their own. We also need to keep in mind that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” and kids with disabilities (especially mental illness) often have parents with the same disabilities. The parents may have had conditions while growing up that interfered with church involvement and spiritual growth. You’re discipling the parents so they can disciple their kids.
- A family ministry approach allows you to “redefine your win” in serving families of kids with disabilities and offers your ministry volunteers a greater appreciation of the impact they make through serving. The “win” for the church in disability ministry occurs every time any family member of a child with a disability connects meaningfully with their larger family in Christ through the ministry of a local church.
A couple of years ago, I was with our team when they were doing an out of town training event. A volunteer expressed great frustration at her inability to get through the day’s lesson with a child who has a severe developmental disability. Our team reminded her that even if the child she served learned nothing during the time they were at church, her parents had the opportunity to hear their senior pastor teach on an important topic knowing that their child was well-cared for, her parents were able to share what they learned with her two brothers who never got to attend church when younger because of their sister’s disability, and the church’s middle and high school ministries now had the privilege of serving the brothers because the family had a church home and her parents were growing spiritually. Lots of wins there!
A family ministry approach recognizes the centrality of parents God has uniquely positioned and qualified in His plan to share His love with kids who experience differences in emotions, behavior, learning style and communication.
For additional resources on family ministry strategies when families have kids with disabilities, here are links to a blog series featured here last year, Thinking Orange: Family Ministry Strategies When Families Have Special Needs, including outstanding guest posts from Libby Peterson and Mike Woods.
Key Ministry is pleased to make available our FREE consultation service to pastors, church leaders and ministry volunteers. Got questions about launching a ministry that you can’t answer…here we are! Have a kid you’re struggling to serve? Contact us! Want to kick around a problem with someone who’s “been there and done that?” Click here to submit a request!
You make some really excellent points, Steve. Thanks!
Steve, four really insightful points about how a family ministry approach can benefit families that have a child with special needs.