Mike Woods has graciously agreed to serve as a resource to churches requesting assistance from Key Ministry. In Mike’s role with us, he’ll be sharing a monthly blog post focusing on how churches can incorporate a “missional” approach to special needs ministry and become more effective at serving persons with disabilities and their families beyond the walls of the local church. Here’s the first installment in Mike’s series…
Years ago, growing up in Texas, I remember noticing that there were horses out in a pasture licking a salt block that had been set out for them. I didn’t know much about salt blocks, just that a friend said that the horses needed one.
He said that salt blocks were used to supplement possible low sodium and chloride levels in a horse’s diet. The idea was that the horse would have a natural instinct to know when it needed salt and come to the block when the need would kick in.
Last year, during Exponential 2013, it occurred to me that that’s pretty much the way we do special-needs ministry…salt block style. We create a special-needs ministry within a local church and then say to the community around us:
“Here we are, come and get it!”
Many of you are familiar with the passage were Jesus talked about us being the salt of the earth:
Let me tell you why you are here. You are here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth…
Matthew 5:13 (MSG)
You’ve heard this before: salt has two primary uses. Preserving and flavoring.
It is the flavoring aspect that Jesus was highlighting in this passage. He was saying that our very presence in the community be like seasoning to the God-flavors of life. We are to be the spice of life in the disability community.
The challenge is that too often our saltiness gets isolated in ministry that only occurs at church. It gets packaged up in the building(s) we call church, or in an event or ministry that only occurs at the church. If you’re not careful you can become conditioned to think that the main goal is to get people to come and take a lick at your salt block.
Let me share a salt-block lesson that I learned during 2013.
In May 2013, First Baptist Orlando hosted an event called Joy Prom. Joy Prom is a prom for teens and adults who have a disability and may not ever have experienced their prom while in high school. It comes complete with a red carpet welcome, food, live music and dance, boutonnieres and corsages, makeup for the girls, shoe shines and ties for the men, and prom photos! At our Joy Prom we also added a caregiver appreciation room with quiet music, food, and massage therapists for parents and caregivers. The Joy Prom took up the entire ground floor of Faith Hall and also several large rooms on the 3rd floor.
There were 400+ differently-abled teenagers and adults that attended our Joy Prom. Including volunteers, there were 700+ people at this event! Joy Prom was a wild success and everybody had a wonderful time.
Two weeks after our Joy Prom, we purchased custom frames for individual Joy Prom photos and our congregation personally delivered them to our prom guests along with an invitation to our church.
Before our Joy Prom I would’ve told you that I at least expected 10% of the attendees to return to First Baptist Orlando. First Baptist Orlando is a very welcoming church, we provided a first-class event for those with special needs, and we already have an established special-needs ministry for children, teens, young adults, and older adults.
As it turns out, less than 5% of the Joy Prom attendees returned to First Baptist Orlando as our guests. 95% have never set foot back on our church campus.
A “salt block” lesson learned for me. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t invite others to your special-needs ministry on Sunday or to a special-needs ministry event such as Joy Prom at your church. You most certainly should!
The challenge is that Sunday morning success, or church-event success, can end up becoming the dominant strategy to share with others the love of Christ: a salt block approach. This is the way it is in a lot of church-based special needs ministries. We operate primarily, almost exclusively, as salt blocks. Paid staff and/or volunteers knock themselves out, week to week, trying to offer the best ministry possible to get both Christian and non-Christian to attend. And that’s a good thing. It’s a needed thing.
But…is it the only thing?
My wife, Linda, is great in the kitchen and rarely does her cooking need anything but a knife and fork. But we always have a salt shaker set on the table just in case someone wants it. It would be silly to think of her setting a salt block on the kitchen counter and telling our family, “If you need any salt, just go over there and take a lick.”
I don’t know about you, but at our house we don’t go to the salt, we bring the salt to the food!
So why not start applying the same philosophy to special needs ministry?!
Salt shakers have lots of different looks and come in various sizes and shapes, but they are all based on a simple concept. They exist to spread seasoning over a broad surface.
To be God’s salty people, we don’t have to abandon special-needs ministry at church, but we must start thinking beyond the boxes and blocks of our church buildings and events.
For this reason, throughout 2014, I’ll be focusing on a “salt shaker” approach to special needs ministry…figuring out ways to sprinkle some salt around our disability community! I hope you’ll come back to Key Ministry’s blog and read about how we’re doing this and to share your ideas!
Prior to joining First Baptist Orlando, Mike worked for nine years as the Autism and Inclusion Specialist for a large St. Louis school district. Mike has also worked as a Parent Training Specialist for the nationally known Easter Seals agency: LifeSkills. He’s a Board Certified Associate Behavior Analyst (BCABA) and senior-level certified Crisis Prevention Instructor. Mike has conducted workshops for a variety of churches, several national level autism conferences, and various annual state conferences on topics pertaining to autism.
Christ-follower, husband, dad, choco-holic, and peanut-butter lover! Mike is passionate about faith and special needs. Mike is happily married to his lovely wife Linda and is the father of three wonderful boys, all three of whom are on the autism spectrum (yes, all three!)