In Part Two of our new blog series Key Ministry 2.0 we’ll share a preferred vision for the future of disability ministry…a future in which every church is intentional in seeking to welcome and include families impacted by disabilities.
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
Romans 12:4-8 (ESV)
Paul’s words in Romans 12 describing God’s sovereign design for the church could apply to individual Christians exercising their spiritual gifts in unity in local churches, as well as individual churches with unique giftedness coming together in unity to fulfill God’s larger purposes.
I have yet to encounter a church with a model for effectively serving all families of children with disabilities. Some churches do a great job of welcoming families of kids with intellectual and physical disabilities. Others have fabulous resources for families of kids with autism spectrum disorders. Nathaniel’s Hope, 99 Balloons and our ministry have helped many churches to develop very effective respite ministries. But I can’t think of a single church that’s prepared to demonstrate excellence in welcoming ALL kids with disabilities and their families…nor would I expect to find one.
Why would God allow for such a diversity of churches…in denomination, size, style of worship, discipleship strategy and teaching if this diversity didn’t serve some purpose in helping more people come to know Him through His Son, Jesus? Why then would we think that a disability ministry “program” housed in any individual church could meet ALL of the needs of the families in their service areas in need of Christian community?
When we talk about families of kids with mental illness, trauma or developmental disabilities, this reality would appear to be especially relevant. With the families we’ve been uniquely called to serve, the challenges presented by the environments in which we “do church” may represent the greatest barrier to regular church involvement. One of the challenges in understanding the epidemic of mental illness in kids is that conditions such as anxiety disorders or ADHD may be disabling in some environments, but not others. The children’s worship service that might be engaging to a child with ADHD may be experienced as distressing by a child with a sensory processing disorder. The child with a severe presentation of autism may need a “buddy” to be able to attend church, while their cousin with Asperger’s Disorder and superior intelligence may be horrified by the prospect of attending a program serving kids with very obvious disabilities.
If every church has a role to play in re-establishing the Kingdom here on Earth, it only makes sense that every church would have a role in expending the Kingdom through ministry to families of kids with disabilities. Here’s an alternative vision that we think captures the reality of how God has resourced and equipped the church…
Every church is intentional and effective in efforts to connect with and include families of children impacted by mental illness, trauma or developmental disabilities.
Here’s how that vision might play out…
- Some churches will have identified disability ministry programs…others will evaluate their ministry environments for the purpose of making them more welcoming to kids with common disabilities and their families.
- Some churches will establish respite care outreach events…others will rely upon small groups and missional communities to offer “relational respite”.
- Some churches will launch initiatives to adopt kids with disabilities or to care for kids in foster care who have experienced neglect.
- Some churches may use their internet campuses to reach out to families impacted by disabilities within their service areas.
- Some churches may recruit members to become guardians or advocates for children or adults with disabilities.
Church leaders are confronted on a daily basis with limitless ministry possibilities and overwhelming needs. They’re not abdicating their Biblical responsibilities by allocating money and volunteers to pressing needs in their communities not directly related to disability ministry. Every church does something to serve the hungry, the thirsty and the needy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that every church has the resources to fulfill their responsibility by opening a food bank. The same could be said of including kids with disabilities and their families at church.
No church can do everything, but every church can do something.
Our crew at Key Ministry looks forward to the opportunity to come alongside churches as they seek to take the next step in welcoming and serving kids with mental illness, trauma or developmental disabilities and their families.
Our Key Ministry website is a resource through which church staff, volunteers, family members and caregivers can register for upcoming training events, request access to our library of downloadable ministry resources, contact our staff with training or consultation requests, access the content of our official ministry blog, or contribute their time, talent and treasure to the expansion of God’s Kingdom through the work of Key Ministry. In addition to our downloadable resources, those who register for our resource kit can view any presentation from our Inclusion Fusion Disability Ministry Web Summits “on-demand”. All of these resources are made available free of charge. Check out our website today!