In our new blog series, Key Ministry 2.0 we’ll examine the progress churches have made in the past ten years in reaching out to and connecting with families of children with disabilities, trends in the church and the culture likely to impact the disability ministry community in the coming years, spotlight unmet needs contributing to the barriers millions of families face in “doing church” on a regular basis and share what we’ve discerned about where God may be leading our ministry crew in the months and years ahead.
As a Key Ministry volunteer and Board President/Chairman for the past eleven years, I’ve been conscious of a “burden” for some time that’s never gone away, despite the rapid expansion of opportunities for meaningful ministry our team has experienced in recent years.
When we were founded in 2002, our original mission statement read as follows…
To build the Body of Christ by empowering churches to minister to families of children with hidden disabilities.
We recognized that there were large numbers of families with kids with significant disabilities-disabilities that would not be apparent in a still photograph of the child-that presented major barriers for the children and their families to attending a local church, growing in faith as part of a local church and serving in a local church. These are kids who experience significant difficulties maintaining self-control or managing emotions as a result of a mental health disorder…kids with ADHD, kids with mood disorders, kids with anxiety disorders, kids with autism with average or superior intelligence. They are kids who have been exposed to toxic substances in utero or toxic experiences resulting in difficulties navigating close relationships…kids who struggle with social communication or sensory processing.
These are the kids and families we’ve felt uniquely called to serve. But if we’re to be honest with ourselves, we haven’t been as successful as we’d hoped in catalyzing meaningful change in the church so that leaders recognize the opportunity to reach families with an unmet need for Jesus or develop replicable models of serving families of kids with these conditions that fit within the organizational culture of the local church.
Where we have been busy…and somewhat successful…is in helping churches serve families of kids with “special needs”. Our point of entry with many of the churches we serve is “that kid”…a family in the church with a child with severe emotional or behavioral issues AND significant intellectual disability. When we’ve been a resource to church staff or volunteers in addressing the needs of kids with more severe disabilities… kids thought of with “special needs”…we’ve sometimes been able to expand the “playing field” into serving kids with a broader range of disabilities.
What’s “changed” since we’ve been led to enter into this field of ministry is that the disability ministry movement has grown by leaps and bounds in its’ capacity to help kids with “special needs” to attend church. Check out the list of “Ministries We Like” in the blog sidebar to your right and you’ll find many organizations doing great work in this arena. Editor’s note: When I use the term “special needs” I’m referring to kids with intellectual disabilities, kids with syndromes associated with chromosomal abnormalities and kids with medical conditions associated with significant cognitive impairment. We have successful strategies for including them at church (buddy ministries, self-contained classrooms) and reaching out to their families (respite events or relational respite, “proms” or other special event ministries). But we’re just scratching the surface! Kids with “special needs” represent only a small portion of the population of kids with significant disabilities interfering with their ability (and the ability of their parents and siblings) to be active participants in Christian community within the context of a local church. The reality is that most kids and families impacted by disability would NEVER think of themselves as candidates to be served by a “special needs” ministry…they rarely self-identify and will flee from ministry interventions that draw attention to their differences…because they desperately want to fit in with everybody else.
As part of our discernment process, I wanted our Key Ministry team to consider the following proposition…
What need has God uniquely called and positioned us to do that other ministry organizations haven’t been able to address?
Here’s what we came up with…
Key Ministry provides knowledge, innovation and experience to the worldwide church as it ministers to and with families of children impacted by mental illness, trauma and developmental disabilities.
This doesn’t mean that we’re abandoning our work in helping churches minister with kids presenting the most challenging disabilities or patterns of behavior. We may look to partner with other like-minded ministries in addressing those needs, while focusing as much of our time, talent and treasure as possible on addressing needs that no other organization is currently addressing.
I invite you to join with us over the next few weeks as we seek to understand how we might best promote the expansion of God’s Kingdom as part of the tapestry of the movement to fully welcome and include families impacted by disability into the worldwide church.
Confused about all the changes in diagnostic terminology for kids with mental heath disorders? Key Ministry has a resource page summarizing our recent blog series examining the impact of the DSM-5 on kids with mental health disorders. Click this link for summary articles describing the changes in diagnostic criteria for conditions common among children and teens, along with links to other helpful resources!
I would say that you hit the nail on the head. I’m a mom, and my son has autism. We are blessed to attend a church that embraces us as a family and has in place a ministry for special needs kids, whatever the disability. But, it’s hard. Our hearts break and heal on a daily basis. There are days when his accomplishments make our hearts burst with joy. And there are the lows. I thank God for our church and the knowledge that church is a place where we can all go and it’s okay. That’s what every family should experience.
Great to hear of your experience! Where do you guys attend church?