A letter to #MyYoungerSelf

Editor’s note: The Child Mind Institute has launched the #MyYoungerSelf campaign during Mental Health Month to counter the stigma for the 1 in 5 children struggling with these disorders. This May actors, athletes, social influencers, business people and others are sending a message of hope about their experiences growing up with a mental health or learning disorder. Here’s a letter from the leader of our ministry team to an eleventh grade boy who was going through a difficult time. 

Hey Doctor Grcevich,

Yes, DOCTOR Grcevich. You’re actually going to pull it off – getting accepted to med school before you graduate from Boardman. An amazing accomplishment.

There are many days at work when I wish I could go back to high school knowing what I know now. God gave me the opportunity to write you this letter from the future to encourage you during an especially hard time.

I’ll share a few things that may help you get through these days…

That image in your mind of a future as a fiercely autonomous family doc practicing in some snowy location out west?  The only part of that you’ll see is the snow. You’re going to end up as a child and adolescent psychiatrist! WHAT? Literally thousands of kids won’t have to endure the stuff you’re going through right now because of your help. That should help you get through many years of late night studying.

You’ll have a second career in ministry, but you won’t be a minister. God actually has something in mind that may impact more people. It ties into the child and adolescent psychiatrist thing.

And this…You’re NEVER going to believe the wife God has in store for you. Her beauty is exceeded only by her character. You’ll be the envy of many of your friends and colleagues for much of your adult life.

The thoughts and emotions you’re currently experiencing will end.

You’ll receive this letter in the late winter of 1977-78. Your life feels like it is crashing and burning. You may be the smartest kid in your class, but you might also be the biggest underachiever. You’re barely getting a “C” in AP calculus I, and you’re fighting with your guidance counselor about taking AP Calculus II as a senior because they think you’ll fail next year and they don’t have another class to put you in if you do. Other grades are lower than they should be. You’re often up at 4 AM doing the homework and test preparation you should have done the night before but couldn’t force yourself to do. You don’t have any study halls because you literally can’t get anything done when you have one and spend the entire 50 minute period staring at the clock. This lack of self-discipline extends to other areas of your life. You’re probably the best athlete in your school not playing on a varsity team because you couldn’t force yourself for two years in a row to do the necessary conditioning work in the summer to be ready for football two-a-days.

There’s an explanation for what you have. In the future it will be called ADHD, but the term hasn’t yet been invented. It’s a brain disorder characterized by issues with inattention, disorganization, motivation, self-discipline, procrastination and sometimes, impulsivity and/or hyperactivity. There’s a related condition called “hyperkinetic disorder of childhood,” but no one in 1978 would think it applies to you. It’s still common four decades later for very bright kids to go undiagnosed because they can underperform academically for a long time without their grades dropping so low where teachers and school officials notice. I bring it up because you’re so hard on yourself. Maybe you’re doing the best you can with the abilities you have?

But that’s not the difficult part of your life at this moment…

The thing that hurts you the most is that you’re desperately lonely. If  you were growing up in 2019, I’d hope a good clinician would ask enough questions to recognize the extent to which anxiety impacts your life. Seriously…you were given a prized season ticket as a member of your middle school basketball team to your high school’s sold out games and you never went because you weren’t sure anyone would sit with you? How have you gotten  through nearly three years of high school without once eating lunch in the cafeteria? You’re afraid of embarrassing yourself in line or think you have lots of friends but no friend group to sit with? Pretending for years that you have no interest in girls because that gave you cover for avoiding situations that made you feel uncomfortable? Remember the one party you’ve attended in high school? How you left when you heard someone mention the possibility of playing “spin the bottle?” Do you think other kids sit for hours trying to work up the courage to call someone on the phone? You’ve never been to a dance in high school. Saturday nights are spent holding back tears thinking about the things you’d like to do while listening to classic rock on WDVE or WMMS.

Today, there are psychologists and counselors who can help with the types of anxiety you experience. They use an approach called cognitive-behavioral therapy in which they help kids like you to recognize all the silly, non-sensical thoughts that cause you to avoid doing things you need to do to not be lonely. Your school’s psychologist is trying to help, but he couldn’t know how – the research hasn’t yet been conducted. I can tell you that doing what you’re doing now…thinking that if you achieve enough and develop enough status that girls will seek you out and peers will welcome you into their circles…won’t work.

It probably doesn’t help that your parents have extraordinarily high expectations for you. Not every mom points out sites for their kid’s inaugural activities on the family vacation to Washington DC.  You may be misinterpreting what they say and it’s possible your folks are just trying to build your confidence, but I understand how you’d conclude anyone short of the most desirable girl in your school would be perceived as a disappointment at home. That’s a lot of pressure on someone with so little social experience

Since I need to get back to my work, here’s what you’ll most need to know to get through this time in your life…

Take some chances! If you had any idea how many other kids feel the same way you do…unsure of themselves, lacking confidence, wanting someone to see them as they are and like them anyway, hoping someone will want to sit with them at lunch, go with them to the basketball game, or be their prom date…you’d be a lot less anxious and uncomfortable around the other kids at school and your last year and a half of high school will be filled with lots of great memories. I see it every day in my office. Kids who you’d think have it all together. Girls you think are unattainable. You’ll see. You’ll have a conversation on the night before your last day of high school with the last person in your class you’d expect to be lonely.

You need to be a little less judgmental of your peers. Not everyone can endure the stuff you’re going through. Maybe the reason so many kids in your class drink excessively is they’re using alcohol to overcome their own anxieties in social situations? Maybe they violate sexual boundaries because they’re afraid of ending up alone – like you?

You know how you often think late nights, early mornings and intense sadness are God’s way of preparing you for difficult challenges in the future? God won’t waste any of the hurts you’re currently experiencing. You’ll develop a reputation as an outstanding clinician because you’ll know the right questions to ask and be able to empathize when kids with issues similar to yours are struggling. You may find yourself having to choose between your profession and your faith, or needing to take some very unpopular stands. I trust your experiences in difficult times will give you confidence you can endure the consequences of doing the right thing when the time comes.

King Solomon was right. God really does order our paths. I never imagined the life I have now. Looking back, there are no accidents. Without certain setbacks and experiences, you’ll never meet the people who will be most important to you in life. Seek to honor and glorify God and trust that all things will work together for good.

One last piece of advice…don’t get too attached to the Browns unless you’re looking for an unending source of frustration and disappointment!

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Janet Parshall…Disability Ministry Champion

Editor’s note: Janet Parshall will be serving as keynote speaker for Inclusion Fusion Live, a national disability ministry conference sponsored by Key Ministry. Click here to learn how you might join us for the conference on April 5th and 6th, 2019 at Bay Presbyterian Church in Bay Village, Ohio.

Janet Parshall is one of America’s most prominent talk show hosts. Her radio program is heard for two hours every weekday on over 700 stations through the Moody Radio Network. She regularly discusses very contentious social and political topics with guests on her program, which seeks to examine major news stories and issues being debated in the marketplace of ideas from the perspective of the Word of God. So, you ask… How does Janet end up being selected to serve as the featured speaker for a large disability ministry conference we’re hosting this coming week?

When our ministry was seeking to get the word out last year about our book describing a model for outreach and inclusion with families affected by mental illness, Janet was the most prominent person within the Christian community to offer us her platform. On the very day that Mental Health and the Church was released, she afforded me the better part of an hour to help get the word out about the book. She’s done the same for other disability ministry advocates, including Diane Dokko Kim, Shannon Royce and Emily Colson. I was delighted to learn that Janet was a fan of the work being done by our Key Ministry team when I was interviewed for her program.

This past September, I had the opportunity to present as part of an expert panel convened by the Office of Faith-Based Partnerships of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to advise the Interdepartmental Serious Mental Illness Coordinating Committee (ISMICC) on the role of faith-based communities in improving access to treatment, services and support for individuals and families touched by mental illness. Who should I happen to find at the conference table on the opposite side of the room from me? Janet! We had the opportunity to get together for lunch. It was at that meeting that I felt led to extend her an invitation to serve as the keynote speaker for Inclusion Fusion Live.

Janet’s long history of advocacy for persons with disabilities isn’t the only reason why I wanted her to have the opportunity to attend our conference and connect with the leaders and speakers in attendance. I knew Janet could speak into disability issues from the perspective of someone who has been there and done that.

Janet’s daughter, Sarah Parshall Perry has served for several years on the writing team for Key for Families/Not Alone, our blog and Facebook page for providing encouragement and support for families of children with disabilities. A sample of Sarah’s writings for our ministry may be found here. Sarah is the author of the best-selling book Sand in my Sandwich, the title of which is derived from a statement by her son (Noah) prior to his autism diagnosis in which he was attempting to describe the texture of the strawberry jelly in his sandwich. More recently, Sarah has eloquently described her family’s experiences as Noah has been identified with several co-occurring mental health conditions along with autism.

In addition to Janet’s keynote presentation, Janet and Sarah will be interviewed together about their family’s experiences by Brian Dahlen and Jannelle Nevels, our emcees for the conference and co-hosts of a popular morning drive time show on our local Moody affiliate serving northern Ohio and Northwest Pennsylvania.

We would be delighted for as many of our readers as possible to join us in person for Inclusion Fusion Live. This is an opportunity to gather together with other families impacted by disability and church leaders seeking to support and care for them. Attendees will have an opportunity to meet Janet in person and to get a signed book. Blog readers and Moody Radio listeners can get an additional $10 off our deeply discounted family tickets by entering the code MOODY at checkout. Click here to learn more about the fabulous lineup of speakers for Inclusion Fusion Live and to register for the conference.

Key Ministry depends upon the prayers and generosity of Christians who support our mission of connecting churches and families of kids with disabilities for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. Our mission is to connect churches and families of kids with disabilities for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. Your financial support is essential to our ability to continue our work throughout 2019. Please consider making a gift to our ministry if God has provided you with the means to do so.

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Making disability ministry training available to every church

Our Key Ministry team is wading into a very busy time of the year for ministry training. Last weekend, Sandra had the privilege of presenting at the Engage Conference in Fayetteville Arkansas, presented by our friends at 99Balloons. Both Sandra and myself were in Atlanta this past weekend for the Together Special Needs Ministry Conference, hosted by Mount Paran Church. I’ll be in Houston from the 22nd to the 24th of this month for a private church training event, and our team would love to see you at Inclusion Fusion Live on April 5th and 6th at Bay Presbyterian Church in suburban Cleveland.

One of our teammates shared some interesting observations after reviewing our conference registrations. As of a little more than a week ago, attendees from twenty different states had already registered.  Much to our surprise, the majority of our attendees are traveling from out of state. Beth Golik (our conference coordinator) has commented about the lengths to which some of our guests are going to be able to join us.

While we’re thrilled that so many folks interested in disability ministry will be part of our conference, we know that for everyone attending there are probably ten more pastors, ministry leaders and family members who would like to come but lack the time and the travel budget to attend.

Our team has a vision that every pastor, church staff member and volunteer ought to be able to access disability ministry training of the highest quality without having to travel further than a half-day drive from their home. What we need is something akin to the PGA or ATP tours, or the NASCAR circuit…regularly scheduled events held in each region of the country in which ministry leaders and trainers from all of our different organizations come together to share their gifts, talents and knowledge for the benefit of all who serve in that geographic area.

What would need to happen for this type of vision to come together?

Disability ministry organizations with a national scope would need to come together to embrace the vision. The national organizations could come together to provide trainers for and pool their communication tools and social media platforms to help promote the regional conferences.

Local organizers would provide a physical location and volunteer resources for a conference, manage registration and regional promotion and secure modestly priced hotel accommodations for attendees staying overnight. They could reach out to the national organizations for speakers who could train on topics of interest to ministry leaders throughout their region and supplement their presence through providing teaching opportunities for up and coming ministry leaders.

More and more regional disability ministry networks are coming together as churches are seeking to collaborate with one another to better support families and make the best possible use of limited resources. I was very impressed during my trip to Atlanta by the stories of how large churches are cooperating with one another offer the families they serve a wider selection of services and supports. Hosting a conference might be a great way for like-minded churches to promote the expansion of disability ministry throughout their regions.

How do we make such a conference circuit a reality?

If you’re a disability ministry leader with an interest in hosting a conference in a region where this type of training is unavailable, feel free to reach out to us. One we get through with Inclusion Fusion Live, our team would be happy to speak more with you regarding our experience with putting on an event for several hundred persons. If your church or regional organization is led to move forward, we’d be delighted to help connect you with other like-minded ministries to help fill out your program and promote your event.

The photo above was taken yesterday at Mount Paran’s Together Conference. They started their church’s special needs ministry six years ago. I found ten or fifteen attendees wandering around outside confused as to where to go when I arrived because the conference had become so large since last year that it was necessary to move the event into the church’s Great Hall. There were several hundred people there! That’s the impact their church has had in a relatively short time.

Pastors and ministry leaders are clearly hungry for help in starting new ministries or growing existing ministries. What can we do to make it easier for them to get the help they need?


Consider joining us in Cleveland on April 5th and 6th for Inclusion Fusion Live. Christ- followers from around the country are coming together to be encouraged and equipped to better serve families affected by disability who attend their churches.  IFL is for ministry leaders, families, and persons serving in disability care fields. All-day intensives are offered on starting a special needs ministry and developing a mental health inclusion strategy. Options to bring an entire church team or sponsor families from your congregation are available. Click here for easy registration.


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Five reasons why you need to come to Inclusion Fusion Live


Our team is just a little excited to invite you to Inclusion Fusion Live 2019, our biggest weekend of the year for training churches and resourcing families for the work of fully including children and teens with disabilities and their families into the life of the local church. I’d like to share five compelling reasons why you need to block out the first weekend in April (the 5th and 6th) to join us in Cleveland to celebrate what God is doing in the field of disability ministry.

You’ll get the resources and relationships to start or grow a disability ministry at your church. Seriously – you’ll leave ready to do ministry.

Choose to attend day-long intensives on starting a special needs ministry, led by Doc Hunsley of Grace Church in suburban Kansas City and Beth Golik of our Key Ministry team. Marie Kuck from Nathaniel’s Hope Buddy Break (the largest church-based respite care network in the U.S. will give you the training you need to launch a respite ministry at your church. Brad Hoefs from Fresh Hope will be joining Catherine Boyle and myself to provide you with the resources to launch a mental health inclusion ministry.

In addition to our intensives, we’re offering two dozen workshops for pastors and ministry leaders offering practical ideas for including persons affected into all aspects of church life. Some of the highlights include sessions led by Lamar Hardwick on pastoring families with special needs, Tiffany Crow on helping ministry leaders and volunteers serve kids with problem behaviors and Jolene Philo and Katie Wetherbee, co-authors of Every Child Welcome have reunited to “cook up” a workshop designed to help volunteers become special needs ministry “master chefs.”

Because you’re a parent or family member of someone with a disability in need of some encouragement and support. We think it’s important that families be included in any gathering related to disability ministry and the church. We’ve created an entire workshop track for family members and caregivers with lots of content on marriage, sibling issues, self-care, partnering with church staff and sessions for fathers of children with disabilities.

Because you’ll discover new speakers and leaders you haven’t seen or heard before. We’ve always made a point of opening our conferences to any Christian with great ideas or resources to share related to disability ministry. Nearly half of our forty speakers have never presented before at a Key Ministry event, and for some, this is their first opportunity to speak at a national conference. We can promise you new content!

Because it’s lots of fun to hang out in person with like-minded Christians who you know from your time online. The ability to make connections and share resources online has been an incredible blessing to the disability ministry movement, but there’s nothing like being in the same room with other ministry leaders and family members who share the same passions and interests that you do. Want to meet the authors who write for our family blog and share their resources through our Not Alone Facebook page? Many of them are coming. We’re building time and opportunity into the schedule for networking for ministry leaders and families. Last year, we had ministry leaders and attendees from 21 states and Canada.

Because you’ve always wanted to check Progressive Field off the list of Major League ballparks you’ve visited in person. There are lots of fun and affordable activities for visitors  to Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. The Tribe will be at home against the Blue Jays all weekend long. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a fun place to visit. The Cleveland Museum of Art has one of the finest collections in the world and admission is always free!

And here’s a sixth reason for good measure…for ministry folks on a budget, Cleveland is a reasonable drive from a surprising number of major cities. Some sample distances to our conference site…

  • 141 miles from Columbus
  • 143 miles from Pittsburgh
  • 157 miles from Detroit
  • 247 miles from Cincinnati
  • 288 miles from Grand Rapids
  • 304 miles from Toronto
  • 314 miles from Indianapolis
  • 331 miles from Chicago
  • 346 miles from Louisville
  • 381 miles from Washington DC

For those who prefer to fly, we have non-stop flights from over 40 U.S. cities to Cleveland Hopkins airport and from ten cities to the Akron-Canton airport

You can register here for Inclusion Fusion Live. Here’s a complete list of speakers, along with the tentative schedule for ministry intensives, workshops and main stage sessions. and a link for discounted rates ($99/night + tax if booked by March 14th) at the Courtyard Marriott Westlake,  our official conference hotel.

See…you have no reason not to join us on April 5th and 6th at Inclusion Fusion Live!


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An uncommon man with an extraordinary call

Editor’s note: Disability ministry is one area in which women are often called to serve in leadership positions and many of the available resources intended to support families are written by women, for women. As an example, fewer than 1,500 of the 17,000 followers of our ministry’s family support page are men. If the needs of families affected by disability are all too often ignored in the church, the needs of men from families affected by disability are most likely to be ignored.

Jeff Davidson was a pastor and the father of a son with special needs who was called by God to be a missionary to the special needs community – especially men raising children with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Jeff and his wife (Becky) launched a monthly worship service for families of individuals with special needs in their hometown of Cookeville, Tennessee during the fall of 2005. Shortly thereafter, the local ministry was providing faith-based support groups, weekly Bible studies, and regular family outings and activities. The ministry grew to the extent that Jeff left his full time staff position at church in 2010 to join his wife in launching Rising Above Ministries, a national ministry to bring the love of God and hope in Christ to special-needs families with support, encouragement, inspiration, and community.

Jeff was passionate about providing opportunities for Christian community for fathers of kids with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We invited him to write guest blogs for Autism Awareness Day and Father’s Day. Sensing the need for someone to speak into the unique spiritual and marital challenges of fathers, we hired Jeff to blog about issues relevant to fathers. Around that time, he received the vision for a book that would serve as a field guide for men to help them navigate the challenges of serving as a husband and a father in a family affected by disability. 

The team at Kregel Publications also recognized the need for such a resource, and signed Jeff to a contract to write The Special Needs Dad. The check for his advance had arrived at his home on the day Becky got back from the hospital after Jeff’s very untimely death in May of 2017. Within a week, Jeff’s literary agent had reached out to me (and others) because everyone involved with the project wanted to find a way to honor Jeff’s legacy and publish the book in his absence. After an appropriate time, they reached out to Becky who provided them with the content Jeff had already written for the book. The book Jeff intended for fathers, Common Man, Extraordinary Call: Thriving as the Dad of a Child with Special Needs is being published next week and will stand as part of the legacy of his ministry. The book is available through Amazon and other fine retailers.

Jeff was a true champion of fathers of kids with special needs. His ability to speak into the lives of men struggling with the feelings of hopelessness common to dads in families impacted by disability is irreplaceable. Get the book for any dad in your life raising a child with an intellectual or developmental disability. His words of wisdom will be a blessing to men who missed out on knowing him in this life.

For those of you who never had the opportunity to meet Jeff or listen to him preach or teach, I’d like to introduce him to you through one of my favorite posts that he wrote for our ministry, Embracing the Brokenness with Unconditional Love:

You have a choice, Dads. You can be like me and wallow in anger, denial, blame, and your own obsession to fix the brokenness. Or you can embrace the brokenness with unconditional love. Embrace your child with special needs just the way God created your child, and love him or her unconditionally and passionately with all your heart.

When you make that choice, you will realize that God has called and chosen you for a unique mission. God has placed you on a mission for your life and He desires to equip you for one of the most amazing experiences you could ever imagine.

I have seen dads never recover from their initial anger. I have seen dads wrestle all their lives with the blame question, and I have observed dads struggling with acceptance because of their denial of their children’s issues. Anger, blame, and denial will keep you from embracing your situation, accepting your child, and choosing to love and parent unconditionally.

When you lay down your personal issues, you will realize there is nothing your child can do or achieve that will ever make you love him any more than you already do. You will love him simply because he is your child.

I’ve been the dad of a child with profound special needs for over eighteen years now. I’ve come to treasure the sometimes small but exceedingly joyful moments that this journey has to offer. I’ve also learned to weather the walks on the dark side and recognize the triggers that set me off on that journey.

But to this day, I regret the early years when I allowed my anger, denial, and obsession with fixing my son to rob me of the sheer joy of just being my son’s dad. Eventually I came to understand the only statistic that really mattered; I have one son—and he had autism.

So I made a decision. A choice. I chose to love my son unconditionally just the way he was—autistic. I chose to embrace his differences, accept his challenges, and love him for who he was—my son. I chose to go into his world and engage with him without reservation and qualification.

Autism is just a label. Just like the word son. The former word describes him, but the latter word defines him.

My son is completely dependent on me for everything in his life. From the moment he wakes up until the moment he drifts off to sleep at night, my wife and I have to provide for his every need. He is incapable of surviving this world without us. He’s utterly helpless on his own. Without me in his life, he cannot survive; he won’t survive.

I love him because he is my son. Not because he has done anything to deserve or earn my love. In fact, there is nothing he can do or achieve that will make me love him more than I already love him. He is my son. I created him. He belongs to me.

That’s why I love him. I love him simply because he is mine. I challenge him, I teach him, and I pour myself into him daily. All throughout the day I encourage him, affirm him, and express my unconditional love for him. I think about him all day long. I know his thoughts, his mannerisms, and his needs so well.

Even though there is nothing that could make me love him more than I already do, I love him too much to leave him the way he is. Like all sons, there are times he makes a real mess out of things. That’s when I have to step in and clean up his mess. That’s what fathers do for their sons; they help them clean up their messes.

That’s called Grace.

I believe in him despite his challenges.

I embrace his differences because that’s how he was created.

I believe he is fearfully and wonderfully made, created for a plan and a purpose, and that he is destined to glorify God.

He is my son. So I am his warrior, protector, provider, encourager and equipper. God has created and equipped you to become the warrior, protector, provide, encourager, and equipper for your children and your family too.

The first step in becoming the special needs dad God calls you to be is understanding that God has called you and placed you on a unique mission for your life.


Common Man, Extraordinary Call offers growth and hope for men with little free time. And as they process their instructions, they’ll be able to mentor other fathers, creating a strong army of men who not only survive but thrive as capable dads to their children with special needs. Available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Christian Book.



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Amplifying Small Voices – Inclusion Fusion Live 2019

On behalf of the Board and staff of Key Ministry, I’m delighted to invite you to join us and Christ followers from across the U.S. and beyond to Inclusion Fusion Live 2019, our annual disability ministry conference. This year’s conference is scheduled for April 5th and 6th, 2019 at Bay Presbyterian Church in Bay Village, OH.

We anticipate that IFL 2019 will be among the largest, if not the largest disability ministry training in the U.S. during the coming year. We have a fabulous lineup of speakers and events in store, and our intent for this year’s conference is for attendees to leave with everything they need to start a new disability ministry, grow an existing ministry, or more effectively serve the children, adults and families who are already part of an established ministry.

I was in a meeting last week with Catherine Boyle (our mental health ministry director) planning for the year ahead when she talked about the importance of “amplifying small voices.” I found that expression to be a wonderful metaphor for a value that shapes our ministry, and a great way to draw attention to one of the aims of the conference.

Two of our ministry’s operating principles are that we are intentionally collaborative with other like-minded leaders and organizations and that we seek to create platforms to advance the cause of disability ministry and to share them with others. Every year we seek speakers with great ideas for ministering with families touched by disability who may not be regulars on the conference circuit or have access to large social media platforms for promoting their work. Those with the smallest voices often have the most important things to say. We’re very excited to introduce many new, powerful voices this coming April in Cleveland.

Headlining our lineup is our 2019 keynote speaker, Janet Parshall.

Her daily talk show, In the Market with Janet Parshall is broadcast on the Moody Radio network on over 700 radio stations nationwide. She challenges listeners to examine major news stories and issues being debated in the marketplace of ideas and speaks to them with the Word of God. In 2008 and 2011, she was awarded the National Religious Broadcasters On-Air Personality of the Year.

Throughout her career, Janet has been a devoted advocate of the principles and policies that strengthen the family. In February 2005, she was selected by President George W. Bush to represent the White House as public delegate to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. She speaks nationwide on public policy issues that impact family preservation and promotion, and has been a vocal advocate in the Christian community for the support needs of families affected by disability.

As a radio and television commentator, author and advocate for the family, Janet has appeared on numerous national television and radio programs, including Crossfire, Hardball, Nightline, Larry King Live, Donahue, The 700 Club, Hannity & Colmes and NewsNight with Aaron Brown, and has also appeared on various other programs on CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, CBN, PBS, the BBC and NPR. She has also been featured in People magazine.

In addition to the featured presentation, we have 36 workshops in eight sessions over two days organized in ministry-focused and family-focused tracks providing detailed instruction on a broad range of topics covering practical issues related to disability inclusion at church and sessions to provide encouragement and support to parents and caregivers of children and adults with disabilities.

During the first day of IFL 2019, we’ve scheduled three day-long ministry intensives for pastors, church staff members and key volunteers seeking resources and support for substantial ministry initiatives. The intensives will include:

Starting a Special Needs Ministry in Any Size Church – presented by Stephen “Doc Hunsley of the SOAR Special Needs Ministry of Grace Church in Kansas City and our own Beth Golik of Bay Presbyterian Church.

Has God called you or your church to start a Special Needs Ministry, but you don’t know where to begin? Whether you are a small church or a large one, this intensive will answer the questions of how, what, and why. You will learn the steps to take from learning the theology of Disability Ministry to how to get senior leadership on board. You will fill your toolbox with how to deal with different types of behaviors, how to recruit and train volunteers, understand the different classroom environments as well as curriculum options available, engaging and partnering with church staff and community organizations, how to help your ministry to become outward focused, and helping your church become an inclusive place for those with special needs. You will receive all the information you need and more! After this intensive, you will realize that YOU can do special needs ministry at your church!

Buddy Break Leadership Training – presented by Marie Kuck of Nathaniel’s Hope.

Buddy Break is a free respite program created by Nathaniel’s Hope where kids with special needs and their siblings have fun and establish meaningful friendships with other kids and adults while parents and caregivers get a much needed break from their responsibilities. Buddy Break represents the largest church-based respite network in the U.S., serving families in over 100 locations across 26 states and Puerto Rico. Participants in this intensive will receive the necessary training required for their church to participate in the Buddy Break respite network and will receive a credit toward the purchase of the Buddy Break Start-Up kit.

Developing a Mental Health Inclusion Ministry Strategy – presented by our own Stephen Grcevich MD and Catherine Boyle of Key Ministry and Brad Hoefs of Fresh Hope.

One in five children and adults in the U.S. experience a significant mental health condition at any given time. Few churches have any plan for welcoming and including families affected by mental illness. In this intensive, attendees will be given all of the necessary tools and resources for formulating a church-wide mental health inclusion strategy. We will identify barriers to church participation for children and adults with common mental health conditions and introduce an array of interventions for including them in the full range of ministry activities most critical for spiritual growth. Everyone who registers for this intensive will be provided a copy of Dr. Grcevich’s book, Mental Health and the Church and is encouraged to review the key ideas in advance of the conference.

Here’s how you can plan to join us!

Register online for Inclusion Fusion Live…

The All Access ticket includes entrance to all Main Stage presentations and your choice of any workshop presented during the conference. We recommend this option for pastors, church staff members or volunteers. This ticket doesn’t include Ministry Intensives (separate ticket required at a cost of $69) or boxed lunch options (available to purchase during the registration process). We’re offering “Early Bird” pricing: $49 for All Access tickets by December 31; $59 by January 31; $69 by February 28; $79 by March 31; $89 after March 31.

The Family Track ticket is available for a reduced cost of $19 ($29 after March 31st) and includes entrance to all Main Stage presentations and Family-Focused workshops on Friday evening (April 5) and all day on Saturday (April 6). We recommend this option for parents, family members and caregivers of persons with disabilities who aren’t necessarily interested in starting or growing an inclusion ministry in their church. As with the All Access ticket, boxed lunch options for Saturday are available at the time of registration.

For those of you who are unable to join us in person in Northeast Ohio for the conference, we will be offering a free livestream through our ministry’s Facebook page of the main sessions on Friday evening and Saturday morning, including all of our featured speakers and all talks and interviews presented on the conference’s main stage following the main sessions later on Friday evening and throughout the day on Saturday.

We’re hoping to fill the church throughout the two days of IFL 2019  with pastors, ministry leaders and families from all across the U.S. for a time of prayer, worship, learning and collaboration for the purpose of helping individuals and families affected by disability to be welcomed and fully included in the worship and ministry offered through the local church. Our team would love for you to join us!




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A fun look at Key Ministry’s work with churches in 2018



Key Ministry depends upon the prayers and generosity of Christians who support our mission of connecting churches and families of kids with disabilities for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. Giving in 2018 has substantially lagged behind our expenses, and we’re facing the prospect of major cuts to the training and consultation we can offer to churches and support and encouragement offered to families. As we approach the end of 2018, your financial support is essential to our ability to continue our work in the year ahead. Please consider making a gift to our ministry if God has provided you with the means to do so.

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Helping families discover their unexpected blessings

For most people, their first thought upon learning their child or loved one has a serious disability wouldn’t be to consider themselves blessed. What if that disability represents the instrument through which someone comes to recognize their need for God, becomes connected to a church where they come to know Jesus and profess their faith in him, or provides the impetus for growing into a deeper relationship with God?

Our ministry exists for the purpose of connecting families of kids with disabilities to churches for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. Our primary strategy has been to connect families with churches with the recognition that the local church is God’s primary mechanism for producing Christ followers. In the process of developing our plans for 2019, I’ve come to appreciate the variety of ways through which God is using staff and volunteers associated with our ministry to point families affected by disability to Jesus and how their efforts support and complement the efforts of the local church.

Sandra Peoples is a member of our Key Ministry team who has clearly received spiritual gifts, talents, knowledge and personal experiences intended for the benefit of the church as it seeks to minister with families of children with special needs. She’s written a remarkable book that will be a great source of comfort and encouragement through revealing “the joys and possibilities of life in a special needs family.”

In Unexpected Blessings, Sandra provides wisdom grounded in Scripture to address the doubts, questions and fears common among parents of children with serious disabilities. She’s a gifted writer in that she’s able to address the most basic questions parents are likely about the purposes and character of God in their family’s experience of disability while offering new insights and understanding for spiritually parents and grandparents. Some topics she addresses in the book that will be of great benefit to parents and caregivers of children with special needs include…

Why did God allow my child’s disability to occur, or choose not to take away my child’s disability in response to my prayers?

Working through feelings of grief and loss associated with the changes in expectations resulting from disability.

Ideas for strengthening and reinforcing one’s faith while caring for a child with a disability.

How parents and caregivers can rediscover their purpose in the aftermath of the lifestyle changes resulting from their child’s disability.

Sandra’s Southern Baptist tradition precludes her from serving as a pastor. But as I read through Unexpected Blessings, I found myself thinking that the teaching presented in her book is exactly what I would hope the families of children with disabilities to experience as a result of being connected to a local church. I wish we had the resources to get a copy into the hands of every pastor so they might better understand the spiritual needs and struggles of families in their community with children with special needs.

The sad reality is that many families of children with autism, other developmental disabilities or common mental health conditions will never experience the benefits of belonging to a local church, and many families who are able to attend church will never experience sound preaching on the topics addressed in her book. For that reason, Unexpected Blessings is an essential resource for any parent, grandparent or caregiver of a child with special needs, regardless of where they find themselves in their faith journey.

I’m grateful and honored that someone associated with our ministry wrote a book that conveys such a depth of wisdom and understanding about the nature and character of God reflected through the experience of disability. Every parent of a child with special needs will derive hope and encouragement from Sandra’s words.

Unexpected Blessings is available on November 20th through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, LifeWay and other fine retailers. Individuals who preorder the book will receive additional benefits, including a free audio version.


Key Ministry depends upon the prayers and generosity of Christians who support our mission of connecting churches and families of kids with disabilities for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. Giving in 2018 has substantially lagged behind our expenses, and we’re facing the prospect of major cuts to the training and consultation we can offer to churches and support and encouragement offered to families. As we approach the end of 2018, your financial support is essential to our ability to continue our work in the year ahead. Please consider making a gift to our ministry if God has provided you with the means to do so.




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The “church kid” who fears she won’t be accepted

A conversation I had with a college student has been bothering me for the last couple of weeks. My interaction was indicative of the challenges churches will need to overcome if they are to truly become effective at welcoming and ministering with teens and young adults with mental health concerns. I have the patient’s permission to share their story – some non-essential details have been changed to protect confidentiality.

This is a kid who has struggled for years with ADHD and anxiety and most recently experienced an episode of depression. She reported some improvement in her depression after initiating treatment at the end of last school year and was checking in at my request while home for a long weekend from her Christian college in the Midwest.

I was asking her a series of questions to assess whether her depression was an issue for her this school year. She told me that she’d found a circle of friends and that she was getting out at least once a week. They’d go out to dinner or check out musician friends performing near her school. I asked her if she’d joined any organizations or connected with a small group or Bible study, either on campus or at the church she attends while at school. She told me a number of her friends were involved with the LGBTQ organization on campus. That wasn’t a fit for her because she’s straight. As for becoming more involved at church, here’s what she said…

“I’m afraid that the church people won’t accept someone with my mental health issues. My LGBTQ friends are accustomed to feeling like outsiders. They seem more willing to accept me when I’m struggling.”

This is a kid from a family who did pretty much everything Christian families are supposed to do to pass their faith down to the next generation. Her parents took her to church every week while she was growing up. She went on a mission trip. Her older sister was very involved with the campus ministry when she attended college in a different part of the country. She wasn’t very involved with her church’s high school ministry for a variety of reasons – her extracurricular activities and schoolwork took up a great deal of time, cliques were an issue in her youth group and she wasn’t sure how to deal with unwanted attention from a boy at church. I’m sure it bothers her parents that she’s not more involved with the ministries that operate on her campus.

I’ve written before about the importance of changing perceptions regarding the church’s receptiveness to persons with mental illness. One of the most striking findings from Lifeway’s study of Mental Illness and the Church was that a majority of adults who don’t regularly attend worship services believed that persons with mental illness wouldn’t be welcome at church. But 21% of weekly churchgoers disagreed with the statement that most churches would welcome them if they had mental health issues.

One kid’s experience isn’t necessarily indicative of a larger trend. But it’s still incredibly sad when a kid raised in the church who is working through some mental health issues avoids getting connected with Christian community in a new town because of fears she won’t be accepted.

We have a lot of work to do.

KM_ForFamilies_Logo_Color_RGBKey Ministry helps connect churches and families of kids with disabilities for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. In order to provide the free training, consultation, resources and support we offer daily to church leaders and families, we depend upon the prayers and generous financial support of readers like you. Please pray for the work of our ministry and consider a financial gift to help us cover our shortfall in 2018 and expand the work of our ministry in 2019 and beyond!



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Reasons for praise, reasons for prayer

One of the churches that financially supports our ministry reached out to us this past week with an interesting request. They asked us to share with them areas of gratitude and praise with the intent of compiling a list of blessings that will be distributed to the congregation for members to use when they gather around their Thanksgiving tables in a couple of weeks.

I was assigned the task of putting together a list of our reasons for praise as a ministry. It was encouraging – and energizing to reflect upon all of the ways that God has been at work in extending his love to families affected by disabilities.

  • The group we lead on Facebook for Special Needs and Disability Ministry leaders is serving over 1,400 members as of the beginning of November.
  • Our blog is the eighth ranked Children’s Ministry blog in the world – and second-most shared through social media.
  • We’ve received 139 requests for ministry training or consultation since January 1 – more than double the number of requests we received just three years ago. That figure doesn’t include the 45 requests we’ve received for training or consultation for mental health inclusion since April. The volume of requests has more than doubled in comparison to the similar period last year.

  • We hosted approximately 250 disability ministry leaders and family members from coast to coast for Inclusion Fusion Live disability ministry conference this past April. In addition to those in attendance, video of the conference shared through Facebook Live has received over 44,000 views to date. Our team had the opportunity to train at a very similar conference in suburban Kansas City this past October 25th and 26th.
  • On the subject of training, we’ve continued to host our monthly Disability Ministry Video Roundtables, available to any interested ministry leader. We developed a series of instructional videos on mental health inclusion ministry. Usage of  our video training (not including Inclusion Fusion Live) is up 315% over our total for all of last year.
  • Mental Health and the Church, our book that presents a model for mental health inclusion ministry, has been extremely well-received and has opened doors for training and collaboration with other ministries.
  • We had an opportunity to participate in the 2018 Evangelicals for Life Conference, sponsored by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and develop resources related to mental health inclusion for the ERLC’s website.
  • We serve churches large and small. One of the neatest praise reports we have to share came about when I had the opportunity to preach at a modest-sized Methodist church in Central Ohio. A church staff member announced that four members had come forward after the first service to volunteer for their disability ministry/mental health inclusion team!

  • We’re grateful for the opportunity to do training by video on mental health inclusion for from Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky.
  • We launched an additional platform this past Spring on the Patheos website to provide encouragement and support to families of children with special needs. That platform alone was accessed over 9,500 times in September, the last full month for which we have data. That’s in addition to the 3.36 million views we’ve had of our blogs and website to date. We have over 11,000 people subscribed to our e-mail lists (including over 4,800 subscribers to our blog via e-mail), over 13,000 followers on our main Facebook page, and over 17,000 on our Facebook page for families.

Above all, we’re grateful to be part of a movement of God that’s so visibly transforming the ways in which churches minister with families affected by disability. At the same time, we recognize the need for prayer as we seek to be faithful to our mission in the coming months.

Our team would very much appreciate your prayers for the following requests…

Inclusion Fusion Live 2019: We’re in the planning process for next year’s conference and beginning to receive submissions from potential presenters. We’ve also received a commitment from a keynote speaker who we believe will help us attract more ministry leaders and families. More on that later. Prayers are appreciated for a conference that will draw more leaders from more churches interested in starting or expanding their disability ministries, promote new collaborations between existing ministries and offer up and coming leaders in the field the opportunity to be noticed and network.

Mental Health Ministry Roundtable: We’re going to be launching a roundtable for churches interested in mental health inclusion in 2019. Catherine Boyle will be leading the first roundtable on Wednesday, November 14th. Free registration is available here. Pray that the roundtable will be a catalyst for more churches to become more intentional in their efforts to include families affected by mental illness.

Unexpected Blessings: Sandra from our team has a new book scheduled for release on November 20th to help special-needs families move past the pain and confusion of their circumstances and slowly, firmly face the future with hope. We’d hope that her book would find its way into the hands of thousands of people who would be encouraged by her wisdom, stories and experiences.

Sufficient financial support: Spending has significantly exceeded our donations to this point in the year. We’re looking at the prospect of significant cuts in next year’s budget that will greatly impact the scope of our ministry. Two of our five core staff members (myself included) volunteer their services, and our total expenses for this year will be approximately $75,000. We don’t have much to cut. We’d appreciate prayers that we’ll have the resources to be able to conduct and expand our ministry in the year ahead. If you or your church would be willing to provide monthly support or a one time gift to support our work, your donation will be much appreciated and will be put to good use.



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