Special Needs Ministry is a huge issue in today’s churches. It’s not a bad thing, but it is something that KidMin Leaders need to think about. Many of you have sent me messages asking, “How do I get my kids to sit still? How do I help those kids who need a little bit of extra help? How can I improve?”
These are *great* questions and ones that cause me to respect my fellow leaders of children because we must always be willing to improve ourselves so we can better serve those to whom we minister.
My friend Mandy Kelly (Worshipful Living) has some thoughts to share with those of you who minister to children who have a variety of different special needs. I hope you enjoy her tips and be sure to visit her blog and share some FFS Reader love!
The time had come for our small country church to close the doors. It was a sad day, especially for my husband and I. We were on leadership, and so it was hard to let go. Yet, what was really making the transition hard was not knowing where we were going to go. As shepherds of our home, we had to not just be concerned about us, but about our children. Our two girls would thrive anywhere, but our son was the one who had us concerned.
My son has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism. Asperger’s can be very high functioning- and my son is even on the higher end. Looking at him, he looks like your normal 11 year old. However, when we moved churches (he was 9) he struggled to make eye contact. He doesn’t do well in big crowds. He doesn’t do well with sensory. He doesn’t do well with the unknown or bizarre (like wearing a pot on your head as a hat for Johnny Appleseed). He doesn’t take his shoes off – ever – in public. These were the things we were facing.
We had heard horror stories from others about finding a church that would work with special needs. When we entered the door of our new church – we were met with understanding, a desire to accommodate, and genuine love.
Through this transition, and as an early childhood educator, I have been able to come up with five steps that are helpful when welcoming special needs children into your ministries:
That is right- welcome them. I can’t tell you how many churches we called or talked to that had no one that was available to talk to us. We felt unwelcomed and unwanted. They didn’t have answers- and really, that is okay. I wasn’t looking for answers. Most special needs moms will help you find the answers. What we are looking for is someone to welcome us. To want us – and more importantly our child – to be a part.
Listen to the Parent
It can be real easy as a ministry leader to assume you know what is best. However, when you are dealing with a child who has special needs, your best resource isn’t a book – it is the parent God gave the child. Remember that He gave the child to the parent- and that they are primary shepherd to their family. With this in mind, the parent has read about their child’s need and knows their child personally. Although education is important- the best education will come from the parent.
Help Your Workers Understand
The best thing that was done for us at our church was that we, as the parents of a special needs child, educated the volunteers and staff about him. They asked us what was best for our little guy. We were able to tell them about his sensitivity to music, not taking off his shoes, and other things. Even if you have another child with the same special need, you should have the parent come in and do some training or meet with the individual workers that will be dealing with their child. I trained and explained about my particular child to the workers at the church we attended. This gave my heart ease as well as educating them not about Asperger’s but about my son. They took interest in him and his heart – not just making him behave.
Allow the Parents to go to church
That seems silly -but it is true. A lot of churches we went to wanted us to be the ones to be with our son at all times. This defeats the purpose of the parent going to church. If I am going to train my child alone- I can do that at home. Parents are looking for a village to love their child – and the church is part of that. Let them go be a part of the service. Yes, you should have a way to contact them if you need them. Yes, they can serve on your team. But don’t expect them to be with them every week – unless that is what the parent wants to do.
This seems simple -but sometimes, these special needs kids can be the easiest, or the hardest, to love. As a parent, we need you to love them. We need you to love us. The journey is sometimes lonely and scary -and we want to know we can count on you to be in our corner.
Mandy is passionate about two things: The Word of God and the Souls of Men (and Ladies!). She is a married to her best friend, and gets the privilege to love on their three blessings (who lost their biological momma leaving her husband widowed). She loves that the Lord has let her life be an example of delighting in Him and watching Him mold her life to make her desires match His. She spent 9 years in an early childhood classroom, and 4 years in an “in house” seminary program at her home church. She loves to bring God glory through her roles as Christ-follower, Wife and Mother (in that order!) She enjoys women’s ministry, cooking, crafting, and traveling the world. Mandy is also passionate about Adoption and helping women with Infertility- as both are areas God has trusted her with. Her greatest desires are to have her marriage bring God ultimate glory, see her children walk in truth, to lead others to the feet of Jesus, and to lead women into deeper and intimate relationship with their Savior through study of the Word of God. You can find her at Worshipful Living.