We’re continuing our miniseries examining Six “Key” Strategies…operating principles and approaches that provide a framework for our staff and volunteers when unexpected opportunities arise. Today, we’ll look at our efforts to engage leaders outside our field of ministry in discussions of making our churches more welcoming to children and teens with disabilities and their families.
One of my favorite books in the Bible is Nehemiah. When Nehemiah was grieved by the state of Jerusalem and returned to lead the people, the first task at hand involved rebuilding the wall around the city. Essential to the success of the project was the involvement of all of the people in rebuilding the wall. Nehemiah’s example is very relevant to the task of preparing our churches to welcome families impacted by disabilities…the gifts and talents of many will be required for the movement to be successful.
A number of years ago, I was in a lunch meeting in which leaders of other ministries vented their frustration that more churches didn’t see the need to establish prominent disability ministries. One of my takeaways from the meeting was that the disability ministry movement collectively hadn’t built the types of relationships that lead to influence within the larger church as a whole. In addition, those of us advocating for greater inclusion of families impacted by disability need to do a better job of understanding the challenges faced by leaders in other areas of the church. To quote Stephen Covey, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Our leadership came to the conclusion that we needed to be be very intentional about expanding the circle…including more people inside and outside of the church into the disability ministry movement. Disability ministry is hard! Ministries that last have broad foundations of support.
Looking first within the church, inclusive ministry impacts every area of programming. Leaders serving within children’s, family and youth ministry are often most immediately affected when kids when families impacted by disabilities wish to become more involved at church. For the last two to three years, we’ve been very intentional about seeking to develop relationships and credibility within the children’s ministry community. Katie Wetherbee now writes both both K and Children’s Ministry magazines. Katie and Harmony have both been presenters at major children’s ministry and family ministry conferences. We’ve had a significant presence with the Children’s Ministry Web Summit the past two years. In doing so, we had to expand the scope of our service offerings. We had traditionally focused on “hidden disabilities”…I’d summarize them as the “Four A’s”… ADHD, anxiety, Asperger’s Disorder and attachment disorders. What we found in working with children’s ministry leaders was that they often needed help with kids experiencing more obvious disabilities to earn the right to talk with them about kids with hidden disabilities.
As Key Ministry grows and develops additional partners, we’ll be intentional in cultivating relationships with other leaders throughout the church. I would very much like us to develop relationships with more senior pastors and executive pastors for the purpose of expanding their ministries to families impacted by disabilities without compromising other important church initiatives. We NEED their perspectives in order to serve more effectively. Our efforts this year will likely be focused upon developing relationships through support of churches engaging in missional initiatives in adoption and foster care.
We also see benefit to expanding the circle through the development of relationships with parents and families involved in disability advocacy communities as well as professionals involved in serving kids and families impacted by disabilities that present barriers to church involvement. We’re very encouraged by the rapid growth of the Not Alone web project. Parents of children impacted by disabilities currently within the church are positioned to be incredibly effective advocates for inclusive ministries and likely know other families in their communities in need of a church home. Professionals lend credibility to disability ministry initiatives within their home churches and come in contact with hundreds of families on a regular basis who could benefit from the care and support of a loving church family.
Inclusion Fusion has been a resource we’ve sought to use to expand the circle. Our Program Committee has been very intentional about using the Disability Ministry Web Summit as a way of introducing the movement to leaders from all fields of ministry who need to be part of the process. One of my hopes for Inclusion Fusion in the future is to include presentations from some of the top physicians and researchers throughout the world to help church leaders better understand the nature of common disabilities that interfere with church involvement and spiritual growth and to raise the sensitivity and sophistication of pastors and other church staff providing direct service to families impacted by disabilities.
As in Nehemiah’s time, the “wall” will be built…
Featured photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
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