Autism resources for ministry leaders and families

Key Ministry has developed an array of resources for pastors, church staff members, volunteers and families interested in supporting kids with autism spectrum disorders. We encourage you to share these resources freely with church leaders or families that would find them helpful.

Articles:

My Son’s Autism Changed Everything – Even the ChurchSandra Peoples from our Key Ministry team authored a wonderful article in Christianity Today  in which she discusses the challenges her family faced when their son (James) was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, how the church in which her husband served as senior pastor rallied around their family, and how the response of the church to families of kids with special needs is changing.

Blog posts:

Fitting in at church…by Anonymous: A wonderful, first-person description of attending church written by a college student with Asperger’s Disorder.

Ten truths for parents of kids with autism…Colleen Swindoll-Thompson: Colleen shares the lessons she’s learned after nearly twenty years of parenting her son (Jonathan) with autism spectrum disorder.

481-EmilyColsonMax.jpgEmily Colson…Becoming still: The best-selling author of Dancing with Max shares her personal witness of how God has used her son with autism (Max) to bless so many lives.

I had no plan…Jeff Davidson: A reflection from an accomplished pastor, disability ministry leader…and the father of a 15 year old son with autism.

What families of teens and young adults with developmental disabilities need from church: A look at the results of a two year project of families in Tennessee from the Vanderbilt University Kennedy Center with adolescents or young adults with developmental disabilities focused on “faith and flourishing.”

One Family’s Journey in the Bible Belt…guest post from Stephanie Prosser: A mother and autism advocate describes her family’s experience of searching for a church in Abilene, TX where she, her husband and her son would be able to regularly attend church as a family.

BPCA Success Story From My Church: A story from Bay Presbyterian Church in Ohio is a reminder of the difference inclusion ministry done well can make in the lives of the families served.

“Doing church” when kids struggle with social communication: A look at the challenges someone with difficulty picking up on body language, common rules of social behavior or the tone and inflection of speech if they started attending your church.

The relationship between ADHD and autism: This post examines some possible connections between ADHD and autism and examines how better understanding the overlap between the two conditions may lead to better intervention and support at church.

Church: The Friendliest Place in Town? Mike Woods: A special needs ministry leader who is the father of triplet sons, all with autism spectrum disorders examines the role of the church in creating a community of people willing to develop and nurture friendships with people with special needs.

Blog Series:

Micah in tree 1Asperger’s Disorder and Spiritual Development: Co-authored by Mike Woods, Director of the Special Friends Ministry of First Baptist Orlando and Dr. Steve Grcevich of Key Ministry.

Dave Lynden…Spiritual Autism: A senior pastor and respite care advocate takes a closer look at how his understanding of God has been impacted by his experiences as the parent of a son with autism.

Video:

Do I have to have surgery to open my heart to Jesus? In this interview from Inclusion Fusion 2012, Dr. Cara Daily discusses strategies for discussing abstract spiritual principles to children and teens with autism spectrum disorders. This presentation will be of interest to children’s ministry, student ministry and special needs ministry leaders.

Asperger’s Disorder and Spiritual Development: In this presentation from the 2012 Children’s Ministry Web Summit, Dr. Steve Grcevich discusses strategies for churches to use in including and ministering with kids and teens with Asperger’s Disorder and their families.

Sticks and Stones, Clicks and Phones: Solutions for Preventing Bullying at Church: Katie Wetherbee and Rebecca Hamilton tackled the issue of bullying at church in this presentation from Inclusion Fusion 2012. Pastors, children’s ministry leaders and volunteers need to know how to proactively prevent bullying, because sadly, this kind of behavior can—and does—occur in churches. In this presentation, They share practical strategies for changing the social culture of Sunday mornings.

Emily Colson…Dancing with Max: Emily Colson shares a story…amazing stories of what God has done through her son’s life. God wrote HIS story all over the lives of Emily and her son (Max), now in his 20s and diagnosed with autism. In this presentation, Emily encourages other families to share their stories of how God has been at work through their experience of disability while being honest about the “tough stuff.”

Katie Wetherbee interviews Chuck and Colleen Swindoll: In this two-part interview from Inclusion Fusion 2011, Chuck Swindoll and his daughter (Colleen Swindoll-Thompson) spoke at length about the impact of having a grandson (Jonathan) with autism on their family, how his presence in the family has been a blessing, and how Jonathan has helped Chuck become more effective in his ministry to people with disabilities.

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Sandra Peoples (Key Ministry’s Social Community Director) is sharing 30 Days of Prayer for Our Kids on the Spectrum for Autism Awareness Month 2017 on her personal blog. Here’s a video with Sandra and her son (James) introducing her devotional series…

 

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The Benedict Option

 

I’ve been a follower of Rod Dreher’s blog for a long time. Rod’s a journalist who writes extensively about religion in the public square. He has written and served as an editor for the New York Post, the National Review, the Dallas Morning News, and other publications. I’ve found him to be an astute observer of cultural trends, especially the rapidly evolving threats to religious freedom and increasing hostility toward Christians who maintain traditional views regarding sexuality and gender. Dreher’s new book, The Benedict Option is the featured story in this month’s Christianity Today.

I had the pleasure of meeting Rod last month when he was in Northeast Ohio to lecture at Malone College.  I came away from his talk with the impression that disability ministry is likely to become a defining feature of churches and communities of Christians who choose to pursue his recommendations for growing in faith while faithfully witnessing to an increasingly hostile culture.

I’m not surprised that Rod has received lots of blowback about his book. He’s been very pointed in his criticism of churches and church leaders who have failed to communicate the essentials of the faith to a “lost generation” who fail to think and act differently than non-Christians in the surrounding culture, claiming that the church “no longer forms souls but caters to selves.”  He’s been skewered by progressive Christians including Rachel Held Evans, and criticized by evangelicals (unfairly, in my opinion) who claim he is advocating a withdrawal from culture.

Here’s an excerpt from Rod’s feature in this month’s Christianity Today that introduces the overarching themes addressed in his book…

I brought up the work of philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, who said that Western civilization had lost its moorings. MacIntyre said that the time is coming when men and women of virtue will understand that continued full participation in mainstream society was not possible for those who want to live a life of traditional virtue. These people would find new ways to live in community, he said, just as St. Benedict, the sixth-century father of Western monasticism, responded to the collapse of Roman civilization by founding a monastic order.

I called the strategic withdrawal prophesied by MacIntyre “the Benedict Option.” The idea is that serious Christian conservatives could no longer live business-as-usual lives in America, that we have to develop creative, communal solutions to help us hold on to our faith and our values in a world growing ever more hostile to them. We would have to choose to make a decisive leap into a truly countercultural way of living Christianity, or we would doom our children and our children’s children to assimilation.

Today, Christians who hold to the biblical teaching about sex and marriage have the same status in culture and, increasingly, in law, as racists. The culture war that began with the sexual revolution in the 1960s has now ended in defeat for Christian conservatives. The cultural left—which is to say, the American mainstream—has no intention of living in postwar peace. It is pressing forward with a harsh, relentless occupation, one that is aided by the cluelessness of Christians who don’t understand what’s happening.

I have written The Benedict Option to wake up the church, and to encourage it to act to strengthen itself, while there is still time. If we want to survive, we have to return to the roots of our faith, both in thought and in deed. We are going to have to learn habits of the heart forgotten by believers in the West. We are going to have to change our lives, and our approach to life, in radical ways. In short, we are going to have to be the church, without compromise, no matter what it costs.

There’s a great deal of misunderstanding about his writing. His message is a difficult one for us to hear. He’s not calling for Christians to isolate themselves from society. He is calling us to become far more intentional and serious about cultivating spiritual maturity in the context of Christian community. He is encouraging Christians to embrace our “exile in place” and to form a vibrant counterculture.

Rod does encourage and promote…

  • Pursuit of a spiritually disciplined life.
  • Intentionality in building Christian community.
  • Abandoning hopes of changing the culture through political power while focusing on the preservation of religious liberty.
  • Making the church the center of your life.
  • Special efforts for racial reconciliation.
  • The creation of a Christian academic counterculture.
  • The centrality of sexual integrity to Christian life.
  • The importance of protecting ourselves (and especially, our children) from the dangers of technology.

Why do I see disability ministry as central to the Benedict Option? Quoting Rod…

The state will not be able to care for all human needs in the future, especially if the current projections of growing economic inequality prove accurate. The sheer humanity of Christian compassion, and the image of human dignity it honors, will be an extraordinarily attractive alternative-not unlike the evangelical witness of the early church amid the declining paganism of an exhausted Roman Empire.

Ministry to persons with disabilities fits perfectly within the Benedict Option. We put our faith into action by doing. Doing ministry forces us to train ourselves to face the inevitable adversity associated with efforts to restore Jesus’ Kingdom on Earth and compels us to seek one another out for encouragement and support.

With every passing day, we’re likely to encounter more and more victims of a spiritually impoverished culture…

  • The children who need someone to care for them because of drug-addicted (or dead) parents.
  • Victims of sex trafficking and sexual abuse
  • Children with disabilities from families lacking the means to escape underperforming schools
  • Kids and adults who struggle with gender discordance who continue to experience hopelessness and suicidal ideation after hormonal treatment or surgery.

There’s something remarkably countercultural about the willingness of a couple to volunteer their time offering respite care to parents in crisis when everyone else around you expects someone else to help. It’s just the church being the church.

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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 every day to church leaders and family members, we depend upon the prayers and generous financial support of readers like you. Please pray for the work of our ministry and consider, if able, to support us financially!

Posted in Book Reviews, Controversies, Key Ministry, Spiritual Development, Strategies | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Is past experience of church a barrier for persons with mental illness and their families?

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I’ve been wrestling with the idea of revising a chapter in the book I’ve been writing on how churches can welcome and include individuals and families affected by mental illness.

In the book, we explore seven barriers to church attendance and participation for children, teens, adults and families impacted by mental illness.

  • Social isolation
  • Anxiety
  • Social communication
  • Self-control
  • Sensory processing
  • Stigma
  • Family members with mental illness

I suspect that past experiences of church may be a major barrier to current church involvement for many adults with a history of mental illness or parents of children or teens with significant mental health conditions. There’s not an enormous amount of research to support or refute that hypothesis. Matthew Stanford’s group at Baylor reported a sizable number for adults who approach their churches for help as a result of a mental health condition have such negative experiences that they report either a weakening of faith or an end to their church involvement. When we offered our Inclusion Fusion Disability Ministry Web Summit in 2014, a survey of conference participants reported that 61% of our attendees with a disability or a family member were unable to attend church at some point as a result of that disability.

I have three questions for readers of our blog with personal experience of a mental health condition, or a loved one with a mental health condition. Please post your responses below in the “Comments” section, especially if they might serve as an encouragement to others or might be helpful to churches seeking to offer more effective ministry to persons impacted by mental illness.

Have you (or someone you know) had an experience related to a mental health condition impacting either yourself, a family member or a friend that led you (or them) to stop attending church?

What happened that was so hurtful? 

What would a congregation have to say or do to get someone who drifted away because of their experience with a mental health condition (or with a loved one with a mental health condition) to consider giving church another try?

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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 every day to church leaders and family members, we depend upon the prayers and generous financial support of readers like you. Please pray for the work of our ministry and consider, if able, to support us financially!

 

Posted in Hidden Disabilities, Key Ministry, Mental Health, Stories, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

What the church can learn from a basketball game

Photo credit: Canton Repository

Photo credit: Canton Repository

A couple of years ago, I introduced our readers to “Downtown Nate” Manko. Nate is a young man who plays the drums in the praise band at Martindale Christian Fellowship in Canton, OH, where his father (Steve) serves as Senior Pastor. Because of brain trauma at the time of his birth, Nate experiences significant spasticity in his left arm and leg. When he was younger, he experienced very frequent seizures that were poorly controlled by medication. Dr. Ben Carson ultimately performed surgery on Nate, removing a portion of his brain in order to stop the seizures. Despite the residual impairment Nate experiences from his neurologic condition, he has followed in his family’s tradition of athletic excellence through playing a key role for the Royal Knights, one of Stark County’s Special Olympics basketball teams. The Royal Knights practice in the church’s gymnasium and are perennial contenders for the state championship.

When Nate was a student at Louisville High School, he was an active participant in the school’s marching band and the pep band that performs during varsity basketball games. Nate was befriended by the varsity basketball coach who followed his play with the Royal Knights closely. During Nate’s final year of high school (two years ago) the varsity coach  and the school administration thought Nate deserved a “senior night” where he would be honored in a similar fashion to other varsity athletes. The administration approached Nate’s parents and the Royal Knights with the idea of hosting one of their regular season games in which the varsity cheerleaders and pep band would perform and Nate and a teammate attending the high school would be recognized. The Louisville community rallied around the idea, and Nate’s “senior night” was a bigger draw than any home varsity basketball game that season.

img_2135The game was such a success that the school and the Royal Knights decided to make it an annual event. This year, my schedule finally allowed me to attend Nate’s “home” game at Louisville High School. Nate’s older brother flew in from Minneapolis to attend his first “senior night” game, and I had the pleasure of meeting Nate’s neurologist for the first time and joining him and many of Nate’s family members in seats behind the Royal Knights’ bench. I’m glad I arrived early…the gym was packed! Nate raised his game in response to the crowd and the presence of local media. He scored a career-high 23 points, including three three-pointers, and went 6 of 8 at the line, setting a standard for free throw shooting that we hope will be matched by a certain member of the Cleveland Cavaliers who wears Nate’s number! That’s the two of us on the right, with the final score in the background.

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Photo Credit: Canton Repository

Nate shared the spotlight that night with Rocco, a teammate with great flair and charisma who clearly captured the love and admiration of the home crowd. During the player introductions, with all the lights in the gym off except for a single spotlight, Rocco whipped the student section into a frenzy and rewarded them by tossing t-shirts into the crowd after his name was announced. After the Royal Knights came from behind in the second half and took control of the game in the fourth quarter, Rocco was given an opportunity to score in front of his hometown fans and classmates. When he nailed an arching jumper from behind the three point line in the final minute of the game, the crowd, student section and bench exploded as if they had just won the seventh game of the NBA finals!

The event has been such a big success that other school districts in the county represented on the Royal Knights are making plans to host “home games” celebrating their current students and graduates who play on the team. The idea is so simple that I’m surprised that other school districts haven’t embraced it.

What was most remarkable about the game was the radical demonstration of how Nate and Rocco are valued by the community in which they’ve grown up. The expressions of the fans and players in the pictures from the featured story in the local newspaper capture the authenticity of the love and support experienced by all in attendance that night. What would our churches look like if we valued the gifts and talents of all of our members and celebrated the work accomplished by the Holy Spirit through them in the way that Louisville High School demonstrated to two of their athletes?

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KM greenKey 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 every day to church leaders and family members, we depend upon the prayers and generous financial support of readers like you. Please pray for the work of our ministry and consider, if able, to support us financially!

Posted in Inclusion, Key Ministry, Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jeff McNair: Eight Questions to Guide the Next Steps for Your Disability Ministry

shutterstock_516724222-copyWhen someone thinks about “next steps” in ministry they have come to recognize that where they are is no longer where they want to be. Perhaps they have visualized a different place they would prefer to be. They desire to move in the direction of their new vision.

Leaders are often unsure of exactly where they are because they have not fully fleshed out their vision. They may not know what questions to ask as they think about taking next steps. In order to see where one is and where one might go, some form of evaluative criteria is needed. Answering the right questions often provides the vision for what is next.

The answers to questions about next steps in growing disability ministry will be different for every church. Some churches have not sought to include persons with disabilities. Some churches serve only a few persons with intellectual disabilities. Others have developed what might be referred to as “silo” ministries…stand-alone disability ministries that operate independently of other vital ministries of the church.

Here are eight questions leaders might use as a guide for determining the next steps in the development of their church’s disability ministry:

  • Is our church welcoming persons with disabilities and their families?
  • Who are we welcoming and what specifically are we doing to offer welcome?
  • Are persons who attend our church integrated into all aspects of church life?
  • What is the evidence they are fully integrated?
  • Is the gifting of all people, independent of their personal characteristics, being used?
  • How are we providing a platform for the expression of everyone’s gifting?
  • What expectations are we placing on regular church members to love their neighbors with disabilities?
  • What is the evidence that each of us within the body are doing the difficult work of loving our neighbor?

These eight questions will help you to determine the next steps in inclusion of persons affected by disability in the local church. A more extensive list of questions is presented in an article I published with Dr. Marc Tumeinski, (available here for download)  “What Would be Better?” The self-examination questions and criteria were designed to help ministry leaders to reflect upon the current state of the disability ministries they lead. With that understanding in mind, the article simply asks readers to consider the question, “what would be better?”

What does our shared vision of Christian community look like? Who is present in our biblical vision of community? How can the inclusion of vulnerable people better reflect the Gospel vision and therefore strengthen our church community? How can we more closely approach this vision here and now within our church? Given the actual makeup of our membership, might we unintentionally or unconsciously be putting some groups of people outside of this vision? What would be better?  (p. 18)

I would invite readers considering the next steps for their ministry to use the questions posed in the paper as a guide for advancing disability ministry in their local church. I would like to leave you with one final thought.

I once saw a billboard advertisement that said, “Better has no endpoint.” Whatever stage we are at in our ministry work or our own walk with Christ, we recognize we are on a continuum. Minimally, each of us has the ability to assist others seeking to get to the place where we are. I may be gifted at integration while you are gifted at biblical instruction. We should seek to provide assistance to each other as we work to more fully emulate the vision for the church as the Body of Christ.

fullsizeoutput_237fDr. Jeff McNair serves as Professor of Education and as Director of the M.A. in Disability Studies program at California Baptist University. He also serves as Director of the Policy Center of the Joni and Friends Christian Institute on Disability and volunteers with The Light and Power Company, a group that includes adults with developmental disabilities at Trinity Evangelical Free Church in Redlands, CA. He blogs at Disabled Christianity.

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We’re starting a new group for leaders in mental health inclusion ministry

shutterstock_291556127-copy-2Our crew at Key Ministry is starting a Facebook group for leaders interested in advancing the cause of mental health inclusion ministry.

Modeled after the Special Needs and Disability Ministry Leaders forum, the new group provides a platform for Christians interested in ministry with children and adults with mental illness. We seek to help churches launch intentional mental health inclusion ministries and provide a forum for discussing “best practices” for mental health inclusion, including outreach, education and support.

Membership in the group is limited to individuals serving in a leadership/staff position in a local church or parachurch organization, or volunteers with a demonstrable interest in launching intentional mental health ministry through a local church. Persons interested in joining the group may be invited by an established member or group administrator, or may register (subject to the approval of an administrator) by completing the form available through this link.

We look forward to the group serving as a catalyst for the rapid growth of mental health inclusion ministry. You can help us through sharing this post with anyone you know with interest in joining this rapidly growing ministry movement!

The Mental Health Inclusion Ministry Leaders Group is sponsored by Key Ministry, in partnership with OutsideIn Ministries.

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YOU Want ME to Run the Special Needs Ministry? Cindi Ferrini

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His diagnosis was still as fresh as the day we heard it three years earlier. Now, at age 5 I continued in the throngs of potty training for the 3rd year. (Not 3rd week, 3rd year.) So when asked that question from someone at my church, I spared not a breath in saying, “This just isn’t a good time for me to take on this huge, wonderful, and what would be for me overwhelming ministry opportunity.”

I’m a “go-getter” and get a lot done; sort of that “Ever-ready bunny” type. So I suppose it wasn’t a stretch to ask me, but where that rubber band would have snapped is at home. There were so many responsibilities in caring for one with cerebral palsy, seizures, mental challenges, and at the time – no verbal skills. None. Most of my day was a guessing game like trying to get to the end of the board game; I didn’t care if I won, I just wanted to finish. So, for me, while I might have seemed a good fit for the job, it wouldn’t have been good to add something of that magnitude with all we were still adjusting to at home. It simply would have been too much.

BUT, if your church is considering getting a Special Needs Ministry off the ground, here are some things to consider for choosing the right person to get that ministry going:

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Having a supportive church staff who’ll support one who can head up this ministry is step one….then……

  • Don’t start by asking a parent caring for one with special needs. They really could use “the break” from caregiving. IF they volunteer, that’s a different story…sign them up!
  • Look for a person who is grace filled, merciful, and having administrative skills would be a plus, but mostly it’s the kind and caring person who has a passion for a caregiving ministry that will fill the bill.
  • Be sure this person can delegate so they’re not doing everything alone. It’s not humanly possible.
  • In delegating, this leader needs a “team” to make things work and work well.
  • Encourage this person, support their ideas, and help them emotionally – also physically and spiritually. They’ll need a well-rounded “way to go” team spirit group of people behind them.

While I would have loved heading up a ministry to special needs families, the timing just didn’t align with other things happening in my life at the time; and that’s OK, because when we have to say no, it allows others to step forward, it allows us to be ministered to, and it gives us the break we desperately need when someone else will take time with our children.

But there are times we can be of great help…stay tuned for Part TWO next month!

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newferriniJoe and Cindi Ferrini are authors of Unexpected Journey – When Special Needs Change our Course who enjoy speaking on topics that will encourage men and women to make a difference in their sphere of influence by being all they can be for the Lord, their families, and themselves. They speak nationally for FamilyLife’s Weekend To Remember Get-a-Ways and are on associate staff of CRU. Make sure to check out their blog. Today’s blog was written by Cindi Ferrini.

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Our ministry blueprint for 2017

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a series of conversations with parents, friends, ministry colleagues and fellow Christians that have deepened my appreciation for the extent to which my family and I have been blessed by the teaching, relationships and opportunities to serve we’ve experienced through our church. Like most readers of this blog, life in 2016 brought far more challenges than I would have liked. My faith provides me with a way to make sense of the daily hurts and frustrations of life and hope that all my troubles are temporary.

This past week, I had the best time I’ve had in months during a brainstorming day with some fellow Christians interested in caring for kids and families, kicking around ideas for how we might share our wisdom, experience and resources to advance the Gospel. It makes me happy to think about other families having a strong faith foundation when the winds and waves of contemporary life come crashing against the shore.

In that context, I’d like to share the priorities our team has felt called to pursue during the coming year. Our five principal areas of focus in 2017 are to:

  • Expand ministry training
  • Grow Key for Families
  • Offer resources, supports to churches to promote mental health inclusion
  • Increase collaboration with other like-minded ministries and organizations
  • Build a sustainable organization

Training/Education: We’re looking at ways of expanding the availability of ministry training in 2017. We’ll have monthly video trainings, accompanied by opportunities for interactive discussion. We’ll continue to host our disability ministry video roundtable at 12:00 Eastern on the third Wednesday of each month. We’re interested in getting out to more ministry conferences throughout the country. We continue to offer free consultation to churches and church leaders interested in ministry with kids with disabilities and their families, and hope to provide more support to churches in the year ahead.

We’ll be introducing several monthly contributors to this blog, which seeks to resource pastors, church leaders and volunteers for ministry with kids with disabilities and their families.

Barb Dittrich will be sharing practical ideas for churches seeking to provide support to families of children with all types of disabilities.

Colleen Swindoll-Thompson will be speaking into the ways churches can more effectively minister with kids and families affected by mental illness and/or trauma.

Cindi Ferrini will be sharing ideas for how churches might offer support to kids and families through the transition to adulthood.

Growing Key for Families. We launched our private, online communities for families this past spring. We want to help families impacted by disability find churches prepared to embrace and include them in the full range of activities that help kids and adults to come to know Jesus and grow in faith in Jesus. We hope to offer families an opportunity to experience caring and community online.We’ll have members-only book and Bible studies and educational events.

Know a family affected by disability in need of a church or Christian community? Share this link with them.

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Mental Health Inclusion: We’re going to offering resources and supports to churches specifically for outreach to and inclusion of families of children and teens with mental illness or trauma. We’ll be putting together a video series on mental health inclusion ministry that will launch in the Fall of 2017. We’ll be organizing an invitation-only Facebook group for mental health ministry leaders that will be launching in the next thirty days. And this author hopes to be out on the road with increasing frequency in anticipation of the scheduled launch of our book on mental health inclusion on February 1, 2018.

Promoting collaboration among like-minded ministries: We can maximize the impact of our efforts through partnering with other organizations called to help the church become more inclusive of persons with disabilities and their families. We’re just beginning to imagine what an online conference in the Fall to promote ministry collaboration might look like. Look for us to do more in 2017 to call attention to great ideas and resources from other like-minded ministries.

Building a sustainable ministry organization: As our small organization grows larger, we need to create the systems and support to sustain our work.

I’d like to extend a big thank you to all the new donors who contributed to our Annual Fund and online campaigns this past Christmas season. While we fell significantly short of covering our operating costs last year, the ministry needs we’re called to meet will require an even larger budget in 2017. Our entire team was very encouraged by the influx of new supporters who recognized the need for the ministry we offer and generously supported us through their prayers, encouragement and financial contributions in 2016. We’ll need to generate a little under $7,000/month in financial support to cover our expenses in 2017. Anything you can do to help is much appreciated!

I have one additional request. I’d appreciate it if you’d take the time to pray for me and the other members of our ministry team.

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted anything new to the blog for the last few weeks. I was working very hard over the holidays to complete the first draft of our book on mental health inclusion to the publishers by the due date in early January.

This year was by far and away the most challenging one I’ve experienced in our practice. I seek to honor God by providing a truly excellent service to the families who seek help through our practice. I’ve found myself needing to expend more mental effort and energy with each passing year to sustain the level of excellence with which I’m comfortable. I’ve never felt as mentally depleted as I’ve felt over the last few months. I’ve been too tired for a couple of years to go to a Bible Study or a small group or to make or maintain friendships.

I’d ask that God would make available a way for me to grow in my own faith this year, providing me with the mental reserves to be available to Him and to my family. That God would make available a way to serve kids and families with excellence and provide sufficient margin so that finances don’t become a distraction. That he’d help me to prioritize my time and provide me with the mental capacity to care for my family and myself. That he’d protect and provide for the members of our ministry team and connect us with like-minded individuals and organizations who might make use of our resources for growing the Kingdom.

Thanks for your prayers and encouragement! Let’s do this.

 

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Going to church as a family on Christmas

418053_4496514405313_1535520335_nAs I reflect upon Christmas past, I’ve observed that many of our family’s traditions revolve around attending church for the holiday.

stacks_youngstownMy father’s family was desperately poor while he was growing up during the depression. They lived in Youngstown in a rented house with railroad tracks in the backyard separating them from the steel mill where my grandfather worked. My father’s parents were immigrants from Croatia and were faithful Catholics. They attended an ethnic church about a 2 ½ mile walk from their home where they heard the Gospel read and the sermon preached in their native tongue.

12400754_10205435797441058_1298667585739094956_nThere were years when my father and his brothers received nothing but an orange for their Christmas gift. His family always attended the Midnight mass at their church and would walk home together after mass with others from their neighborhood. They may not have had money for presents, but they always had lots of food when they got home…usually cold and hungry after the long walk. They enjoyed a feast of kielbasa and lots of ethnic delicacies after returning home.

When my sister and I were old enough, our family continued the tradition for a number of years. There came a point after high school when my dad and I continued to go after the rest of the family opted for sleep. The last time we went to Midnight mass together was during my time in medical school, in the midst of the worst cold weather outbreak our state has ever seen in December. It was impressive to see his church nearly full at a time when the attendees were predominantly elderly on a night when the weathermen were warning people of death if their cars broke down in the cold.

img_0601When my wife and I started our family, church on Christmas Eve became part of our tradition. We told our older daughter (Leah)  about her little sister’s (Mira) impending arrival after the Christmas Eve service in 1998. As my dad and I did back in the day, Leah and I will head out to an 11 PM service at a church near our home where she and her sister volunteered and attended Sunday school. They put on a lovely, small service culminating in communion at midnight and the singing of Silent Night.

It’s fitting that we signed the papers to create Key Ministry in our senior pastor’s office between Christmas Eve services fourteen years ago tonight. After all this time, we’re still about helping families of kids with disabilities (the vast majority representing “hidden disabilities”) to find a church where they’ll be welcomed and experience the opportunity to grow in faith while using their gifts to serve others. Our mission is successful when all families have the opportunity for memories of attending church together to form the foundation of their Christmas traditions.

KM greenTonight, I’d ask our followers to do two things. First, I’d ask if you would consider making a financial gift to support the work of our ministry. We’ve lost a number of major donors in recent years and find ourselves in need of a large influx of small donors to provide for our needs going forward. If you’re unable to give at this time, please pray for others to step up to meet the need. Second, if a member of your family has a disability, either visible or hidden and you’re attending church tonight or tomorrow, can you have someone take a picture of your family and send it to me (steve@keyministry.org) or post it on our Facebook page?

On behalf of our entire ministry team, I’d like to convey our best wishes to you and your family for a very Merry Christmas and a Blessed and Joyous New Year!

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The implications of “safe spaces” FROM kids with special needs

shutterstock_506499808Count me among a very small number of child and adolescent psychiatrists very troubled by the proliferation of “safe spaces.”

In the last few years, the idea has proliferated that students on college campuses are entitled to protection from speakers, literature or instruction communicating ideas that result in personal discomfort. As a parent of a high school senior, I cringe every time some school to which she plans to apply makes a public display of silencing viewpoints outside of those accepted by the predominant culture. I expect her to come into contact with ideas and values that differ from those she has been exposed to in our home. I also expect that she will be shown tolerance when her ideas and opinions depart from the predominant view in her academic community.

I recognize the desirability of efforts to protect trauma victims from experiences likely to reactivate intrusive memories, nightmares and flashbacks. My practice is filled with kids who are exquisitely sensitive to the verbal taunts and harsh judgments of peers. But our failure as a profession to make distinctions between deliberate efforts to inflict psychological harm through words or actions upon persons with an identified disability or significant vulnerability and exposure to thoughts, ideas, opinions or world views that evoke feelings of anger, guilt or discomfort has jumped the walls of academia. The metastasis of our failure is beginning to infect Western culture in ways we can scarcely imagine.

I appreciated this post from former college president Judith Shapiro, in which she described “a tendency toward what we might see as self-infantilization on the part of students.” She continues…

How can I respond in a way that plays to my students’ strengths as opposed to their weaknesses? How can this serve as an occasion to increase their wisdom and self-confidence? How will I help them to grow up?

To invoke the timelessly wise words of the Rolling Stones: If students can’t always get what they want, if we try sometimes, we might just find they get what they need.

One consequence is a generation of young people lacking sufficient resilience to work through times of adversity in life. If a college student can’t cope with the idea that there are people in their immediate environment who support a different political candidate than they do, how are they going to cope when they lose a job, experience a serious illness or the death of a parent?

As it turns out, the desire to protect some from the pain caused by their consciences is being used as a weapon against advocacy for the most vulnerable. We head to France to check out the newest application of the Law of Merited Impossibility in the ongoing culture war between moral relativism and the remnants of traditional culture.

The Global Down Syndrome Foundation produced a video in response to an e-mail they received from an expectant mother…

I’m expecting a baby. I’ve discovered he has Down syndrome. I’m scared. What kind of life will my child have?

A French court upheld a ruling by the country’s broadcast commission to ban the airing of the video featuring happy, smiling children and young adults as a commercial. Why would the government want to ban such a positive and uplifting video?

The court said the video’s depiction of happy Down syndrome children is “likely to disturb the conscience of women who had lawfully made different personal life choices.”

If the type of advocacy demonstrated in this video is no longer socially acceptable in a large, Western democracy, what’s next? You guessed it.

They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

Romans 2:15-16 (ESV)

The “elephant in the living room” in our ongoing culture wars is that Jesus, Christianity and the teachings of Scripture make some people very, very uncomfortable. If any teaching or content with the potential to cause emotional distress is “off-limits,” where does that leave the Word of God and those who seek to live by it? Scripture describes itself as a weapon against the conscience…

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Hebrews 4:12-13 (ESV)

Those of us who identify with Christ and with the church need to embrace the reality that we’re foot soldiers in a war that’s been waged on Earth since the beginning of time against an enemy that doesn’t fight fair. We need to take advantage of any lull in the action to seize as much territory for our King as we can. Advocacy on behalf of our most vulnerable kids and families will get the attention of those who aren’t aligned with our King. And we can anticipate that they’ll hit back. Hard.

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I’ll close by directing you to this article by Ash Milton, who explores the argument that secularism functions as a religion

We live in an age where this paradigm now informs the values of our generation. Its fundamental claims of equality and personal freedom are more or less unquestioned. It informs our actions as well. To support the next big Cause is good, and proof of your tolerance and open-mindedness. To practice a religion with traditional values is acceptable so long as you don’t contradict the overarching narrative. To actually challenge that narrative is something only bigots, reactionaries, and basement dwelling virgins do. (As an aside, a good rule of thumb about what beliefs are respectable is to see which shaming language is okay to use.)

Like the Russians a century ago, this generation in the West has experienced the victory of a new memeplex. What makes this memeplex fundamentally different is that it doesn’t claim the authority which religion does, or even like other political ideologies do. It insists that tolerance and personal freedom, free from judgement, are the Most Important Thing. Can’t we all just get along? But this is a delusion. In order for societies to function, commonality of values and visions must exist. Even a society which values tolerance above all else draws the line somewhere. Inevitably, certain ideas win out. Certain attitudes gain cultural dominance. Others become unfashionable, disrespectful, or outright heretical. Only bad people say or do those things. True, the new memeplex isn’t necessarily a religion, united in a single institution. But when all is said and done, when new orthodoxies are in place and new groups of heretics are shamed, purged, and punished, the only major difference is that the Church knew what it was.

Are you ready?

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KM greenOur team at Key Ministry appreciates the prayers and support of all our followers, but at this time of the year, we find ourselves very much in need of your financial support. It will cost approximately $80,000 to maintain the free training, consultations and support we offer to help connect churches with families impacted by disability. We’re currently $30,000 short of covering our expenses for 2016. Please consider making a personally significant gift to supporting the work of our ministry.

Best Wishes for a very Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year on behalf of the entire Key Ministry team!

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