Thursday, June 30, 2011

Behavior is communication {5 tips for responding}

An individual's behavior is part of his communication system, especially if a disability limits traditional forms of communication. Consider this excerpt from a children's chapter book I read aloud this week to my young daughter:

"I don't want to go back to school," she told Cory. "Miss Hall is mean and scary. I don't want to stand in the corner.

Cory shook his head.

"You got it all wrong, Andi," he said. "Miss Hall is nice...Sending you to the corner is the worst thing she'll ever do."

Cory's voice changed to a whisper. "Don't tell Miss Hall, but I like the corner. It's right next to the window. I can see a lot out there."

Andi's eyes opened wide at this news. "You like standing in the corner?

Cory nodded. "Sometimes I get tired of doing lessons. Then I act up, so I can go look out the window."

The teacher thought she was disciplining Cory by sending him to the corner; instead, she was giving him exactly what he wanted. By his misbehavior, he was saying, Please let me go stand in the corner and look out the window! Because the teacher didn't understand his behavioral communication, she didn't change the consequence to a less desirable one that may have actually deterred him. Meanwhile, for a different child - Andi - the idea of standing in a corner was enough to steer her clear of breaking the rules, which is a good reminder that we should consider each person as an individual not as a label or category.

But the teacher could have done even better than just making the consequence less desirable. She could have made the desired behavior easier for Cory as well. If he needed frequent breaks to refocus his attention, for example, she could have proactively prevented the misbehavior by targeting the behaviors/circumstances (also called antecedents) preceding and leading up to it.

What are the individuals in your ministry communicating by their behavior? These steps might help:
  1. Identify the behavior.
  2. List everything that happens just before the undesired behavior. After a few incidents, you'll probably find a common antecedent (such as the behavior occurs each time you're doing an activity that the person doesn't like or it happens shortly after you enter a certain room or it doesn't begin until about five minutes into storytime). This could help with the next step.
  3. Consider what the individual might be communicating with that behavior (such as I'm bored or The lights are bothering me or I can only pay attention for five minutes and then I get distracted).
  4. Figure out one thing you can change to respond to that behavioral communication (respective to the examples above, some might be use more multi-sensory teaching strategies, incorporating visual, auditory, and hands on aspects or use lamps instead of florescent lights/move to a room with different lighting or teach in multiple shorter segments of time rather than one long block).
  5. Make the change for at least three weeks and see how if the individual's behavior changes. If so, continue. If not, start back at the beginning, and don't be discouraged. Even experts in behaviorism have to do a little trial and error to figure this stuff out.
Here's an example: One child with multiple disabilities at our church was spitting at his helpers and occasionally at other children and inanimate objects. This is a major behavioral issue because of sanitary concerns, which made it a high priority for us to address. Eventually we realized that he did it on Sundays when his mother passed him off to a helper in the hall instead of bringing him to the room (we suspect that he felt like we were taking him away from mom in the hallway, whereas he felt like she was giving him to us at the classroom) and when he only had male helpers (which made sense because his dad isn't around and he seems to trust women more than men). Now that we've established drop-off procedures and paired him with female volunteers, the problem is mostly resolved.

We could have just written off his behavior as bad or difficult to manage or too unsanitary. Instead, by treating it as communication, we were able to work with his mom to figure out what he was trying to tell us and adapt accordingly. And, as a result, this family is able to be engaged at our church. Praise God!

How about you? Do you have any examples like that one? Could you share them below to benefit all of us?

Or do you have any tough behavioral situations you're working through in your ministry? If so, share those too, and we can support one another in troubleshooting. Please - out of respect and love - remember to maintain confidentiality by not using names or using fake names and by not disclosing other information that could identify the individuals in question.

    Wednesday, June 29, 2011

    Image-bearers encountering Christ

    But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, 
    how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace 
    of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!
    Romans 5:15 (NIV)

    Grace and salvation overflows to the many, which includes those whose lives are touched by disability. In many books on special needs ministry, I see the focus on the truth that we were all created in the image of God. And that certainly is true, but it's incomplete.

    That last remark might sound extreme, but let me explain. A friend of mine drew my attention to this news article last week, the story of  the bar mitzvah of a boy with multiple disabilities. From a disability advocacy perspective, it's encouraging, and it provides a model of a faith tradition welcoming those with special needs in another country.

    The primary reason for Jewish children with special needs to be included in religious ceremonies, as stated in the article, was that they are made in the image of God, like each of us. And that is certainly true. But it is also true that they are each sinners in need of the Savior.

    It may seem like I'm being picky here. After all, the passages Jews use to support the "image of God" reasoning includes some of the same verses we use, given that we share some scriptures. But as I've reviewed books about Christianity and disability, I have been surprised to see that many of those books stress only that these individuals are made in the image of God. Sin and salvation? Only mentioned in passing, if at all.

    It would be wrong if I added the words "except people with disabilities" to verses about being made in the image of God. Likewise, it's wrong if we tack the same dismissive clause to the end of verses like Romans 3:23-24:

    For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 
    and are justified by his grace as a gift, 
    through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus

    Have you ever heard someone say, "Oh, I love working with kids with special needs. They're just so cute, especially the ones with Down syndrome!" The problem with comments like those is that they can dismiss the truth that each of those kids is a kid first. The child has a disability; the disability does not have him. And I can vouch from experience that the five children with Down syndrome at our church are certainly precious ... but they are also mischievous and occasionally disobedient, just like any other children at our church.

    Sometimes the true statement about people with special needs being made in the image of God is said in the same tone as "aren't they so cute?" It's almost said as if they have an exalted status, as if the image of God that they project is somehow more complete or less marred by sin than their non-disabled peers. My concern is that an overemphasis on "the image of God" could be motivating us to settle for accessibility without progressing to inclusion.

    Yes, we need to ensure that individuals with special needs can enter churches and Sunday school classes. To be transparent about our past failures at my church, though, we used to do that well...but we didn't really aim to teach the kids with disabilities once they arrived. If someone walked by a class, they might have assumed we practiced real inclusion because kids with special needs were included in our typical classes. We included them in classes because it was easier than making a separate class and because, after all, they were created by God too; we just didn't try to figure out how to teach them in a meaningful way.

    Did we think it was too hard? Yes, in part. Did we care more about appearing to be inclusive rather than actually being inclusive? Maybe a little of that. Did we feel like our aim was to make sure parents could go to church? A little of that too. Did we fall short because we weren't convinced that they needed to know Christ and be discipled as much as any other child? Yes, I think that was a big part of it although no one would have admitted that.

    I began coordinating Access Ministry with my husband within a month of teaching a vacation Bible school class that included a little boy with Down syndrome. Over the course of the week, we kept him safe. I don't think we did a whole lot more than that, though, and his cognitive abilities were high enough for him to have learned a lot more than he did, even without significant modifications being made.

    My point here isn't that we should stop talking about people with disabilities as being made in the image of God, just like you or me. My point is that we shouldn't stop there. As it says in the verse I began with, grace and salvation overflow to the many through Christ. The sin that has stained the image of God in each of us can only be made clean by Christ.

    I would love for everyone to see people with disabilities as creations of our great God. And I would love for salvation and grace to overflow to every person - with or without special needs. I don't just want to recognize those I love as image bearers; I want them to be image bearers who encounter the God whose image they bear.

    Tuesday, June 28, 2011

    The YES

    Several weeks ago, a guy I respect in disability ministry wrote a series of posts about an informal online survey he did with parents of kids with special needs. Michael Woods - who is also the dad of three boys with autism spectrum disorders - is skilled at fostering community, so he was in a good position to conduct that survey, yielding far more responses than I would have gotten if I attempted the same thing! Of the 136 who responded, 25% attended a church with a special needs ministry program, 20% attended a church without a formal or defined program, and 55% didn't attend at all. He commended the churches in that 20% group for welcoming families, even without a program, He also suggested in the next post that even if a church is finding ways to welcome people with special needs, it's still better to have a program than not to have one.

    I respectfully disagree about that last opinion. (However, he raises good points, so I think it's a good idea to follow those links to see what he has to say!)

    Before I get into why, though, let me share another post with you from another guy who I respect in disability ministry. What Dr. Grcevich wrote was a little different, though: a proposition that any church, even one who doesn't "do programs," can find a way to welcome families with special needs.

    I'm going to chime in now with a couple thoughts. First, I think it may be healthier in some churches not to have a defined program. I've seen the definition of a program change the mindset of the church; sometimes the presence of a program makes the body of Christ in that church start thinking it's ________ program staff/volunteers' job to welcome those folks instead of it's on all of us to show love. Please don't get me wrong; it's not the program that causes the problem. It's the perception of the people. But it happens. Also, I've seen programs become a way of excluding people with special needs instead of including them. Once again, it's not the presence of the program that causes this division, but it happens.

    Conversely, though, programs communicate something that a more organic model often doesn't. In the special needs world, lots of programs exist to coordinate health care and education and other aspects of life with a disability, so individuals with special needs (and, where applicable, their families and/or caregivers) may expect programs. Additionally, it defines a commitment and often communicates that commitment in a different way. For example, my husband and I found our current church through its website, and that site - like many church websites - has a place to click to find out about ministries offered there. If a special needs ministry is listed in that place or visibly integrated into pages for other ministries, that communicates something that a simple statement of welcome might not.

    As for the churches who were somehow including children with special needs without having formal programs, maybe they're doing the simple church thing that was discussed in Dr. G's post. Maybe not. Maybe they're doing special needs ministry well without a program in place. Maybe they're not.

    What I do know is that they are doing something right, whether or not they have a program. Those families showed up, and there was a place for their kid(s). In whatever way they did it, those churches said yes.

    That's what special needs ministry is. It's not programs and policies and intake forms and respite nights and curriculum and modifications and all those trappings that support it. (Not to say, though, that those things aren't important. They are, but they only matter after the yes has been established.) As I've written previously in one of my all-time favorite posts, special needs ministry isn't just another program. Special needs ministry is, at its core, a willingness to say yes when that family calls or shows up and when that adult with a disability comes through your doors.

    Most special needs ministry efforts are not elegant in the beginning. Actually, drop that last part: Most special needs ministry efforts are not elegant. (And maybe we should drop "most" as well?)

    It's the yes. Yes, this is worth it. Yes, we want to share the love of Jesus with all people, regardless of disabilities and special needs. Yes, we care. Yes, we'll figure it out, even if it's a little scary and confusing.

    The yes matters.

    Monday, June 27, 2011

    Monday round-up! {6/27/11}

    No one commented at the end of last week's Monday round-up when I asked if you liked this sort of post or not, so if you have an opinion either way, let me know! I still haven't decided if this will be a regular thing or if I'll go back to writing a regular post for Mondays.

    Do you look away from disability?: During both of my pregnancies, especially my second one during which I was in bed for a while, I camped out at BabyCenter. This is a thought-provoking article with even more interesting comments. There was also a related article in the NY Times this week.

    This and this and this and this and this and this and this are all recent articles I came across about churches who are embracing people with special needs.

    This dad of twin boys with autism does an excellent job describing autism in general and the joys and struggles of parents. (While he does describe his children as miracles, I don't know what his faith is.)

    Focus on the Family posted this article from the Summer 2011 edition of their Thriving Family magazine about a mother's experience thinking that parents or kids with special needs were superhuman and then becoming one of those parents.

    MassMutual graduated their first class of agents designated as Chartered Special Needs Consultants (ChSNC™). Read about it here.

    Here's a press release about a study from Baylor indicating that church congregations are blind to mental illness.

    And if you haven't seen this life-affirming commercial from Pampers, enjoy!

    Friday, June 24, 2011

    “But what if they can’t understand the teaching?”:
    How can they be saved? (Fridays from the Families)

    Yesterday I broke this question into two separate ones: (1) But what am I supposed to do on Sunday morning if they can’t understand the teaching? (which I posted about yesterday) and (2) But how can I think and preach soteriologically if they can’t understand the teaching. In other words, can they be saved in the typical sense of how we consider salvation through faith?

    This is the harder question. And, while I will post in more length at some point about this when I am able to take time to gather the words to do so, for now I’m going to pass the ball to Greg Lucas. He’s the guy who wrote the book I highly recommended a couple weeks ago, Wrestling with An Angel. As the dad of a child who has disabilities, he has wrestled with this question. And, finally, he answers it better than I can.

    The reason I recommend his response is two-fold:
    1. It’s scriptural. Most of the answers I’ve found in my searches on this topic are based on feelings rather than the Bible. When we make theological judgments from the gut instead of from the Word, we’re standing on the wrong foundation even if we deliver the right answer.
    2. It acknowledges that God is God and we are not. I sometimes forget that when I’m searching for an answer to any question. I like answers. I like facts. I’m not comfortable, most of the time, with questions and mystery and empty blanks. But, as a believer, there are times when I have to rest in God’s sovereignty as I say, “I don’t know, but he does, and that’s good enough for me.” As we teach and preach, we need to be mindful that we are not the source of all answers. It is not our job to provide answers but to point to Christ. He is our answer. As Spurgeon preached in 1865, “If I might only have it to utter one sentence, it would be this one, ‘Your help is found in Christ.’” (Charles H. Spurgeon, Memory: The Handmaid of Hope)
     So check out Greg’s answer below (reprinted with permission, originally posted here). And rest in God’s sovereignty.

    “For by grace you are saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

    The more I try to comprehend the sovereignty of God in salvation, the more I am astounded by His grace. That even the faith to believe is a gift given to those who deserve only His just wrath.

    So the sovereign Lord gives us faith in His Son and we believe that Jesus came, lived a perfect life and died a sacrificial death for the payment of our sins. All the wrath of the Father justly reserved for us was cast upon His Son. All the righteousness of Jesus is transferred to us by grace through the work of the cross.

    As one preacher so simply stated, “On the cross, God treated Jesus as if He had lived your life, so He could treat you as if you had lived His.” A profound paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 5:21

    All of this is obtained by grace through faith. I understand that.

    What I don’t understand is how this is applied, or better yet, how this works itself out in the life of an individual who cannot respond in faith, who cannot even speak, or who does not have the ability to comprehend the truth of the gospel.

    I’m not thinking of the native in a far unreached part of the world that at least has a general revelation to point him towards more specific revelation.

    I am thinking about my 17 year old son who has the mental capacity of a 2 year old.

    I know Jake is a sinner—boy do I know. And I know that he is in desperate need of a Savior. I also know that salvation comes through repentance and faith, neither of which have I ever seen or could imagine seeing in my son’s life.

    He does not understand the cross, or the sacrifice that was made. He knows nothing of his Adamic nature or fallen state. I’m not even sure that he treasures Christ above Jelly Belly’s or Santa Clause. So how can he be saved? How is the gift of faith applied to his lack of comprehension of the gospel?

    I believe it all comes back to the main application of salvation for each of us—God’s undeserving grace. Yes, Jake is sinful. And yes, he is in desperate need of a savior. If he is saved from the just wrath of God, he will be saved by faith, but how that faith is gifted to him and in what capacity it is made manifest is still only through the mystery of God’s amazing grace.

    I rest in that grace, not only for my own salvation, but for the salvation of my son.

    I’m sure there is a lot of systematic theology that could be applied at this point, but I am not a theologian, I am a father. However, I do hope that no one mistakes my emotional parental response for a lack of searching the scriptures diligently for a solid answer to this important question.

    I have poured over God’s promises like a doctor searching for a cure of the deadly disease in his own child, looking for hope and confidence in this grey area of my son’s life. There are many passages that give hints to the question I pose, but in the end I believe the passage in Ephesians 2 brings the most peace to my own soul—that Jake’s state is really no different from my own.

    We are both separated from God by sin, in desperate need of a savior, and even if it is faith that appropriates our salvation, this faith is not our own doing—it is the gift of God. So that in the end our boast and our only hope is in the mysterious, amazing grace of God.

    How will my son be saved?

    “For by grace you are saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

    I rest hopeful in God’s promises.

    Thursday, June 23, 2011

    “But what if they can’t understand the teaching?”:
    Teaching how-to

    A few months ago, I was speaking with a woman I admire and respect, the wife of a seminary professor. She is a teaching assistant in a special education class, and as she and I talked about her students, she shared, “I agree that special needs ministry matters. But as I, for example, work with one of my girls who I love and who has autism and who can’t communicate in any way right now, I don’t know what it would look like to teach her about Jesus.”

    At that point, our conversation was interrupted, and I wasn’t sure at the time how to answer her heartfelt comment. I’ve heard the question posed before, though, and it’s one that begs to be answered.

    It’s actually two questions in one: (1) But what am I supposed to do on Sunday morning if they can’t understand the teaching? and (2) But how can I think and preach soteriologically if they can’t understand the teaching? In other words, can they be saved?

    Today I’ll take the easier of the two, the first one. Tomorrow, though, I’ll wade into the deeper waters of question two. (Well, to be honest, I'll let a dad I highly respect wade into those waters for me.)

    If you’ve read my blog much, you know that I like answering questions with other questions. So, here goes: Do you ask, “how do I show Jesus to the babies in our nursery?” I’m guessing not. I guessing you love them and rock them and push them in strollers and change their diapers and give bottles and all those other practical actions that are necessary for welcoming them into your congregation.

    Why do those working in the nursery change diapers? Because the child needs that. Why are they held instead of just left in cribs to cry? Because that’s how you show love to a little one. How do you tell them about Jesus? By singing simple truths like “Jesus loves me.” By serving them. By reading Bible storybooks written at their levels. By reflecting Christ in your actions. By doing every developmentally appropriate thing you can to point them to Christ.

    And so it is with those with significant special needs. You share truth at their level. You serve. You read Bible stories. You reflect Christ in word and deed. You do every developmentally appropriate thing you can to point them to Christ.

    That’s what you do if you’re not sure they can understand. Because some day they might understand, just as the infants in the nursery grow up to be children who grasp the basic truths shared with them when they were still in the crib. And because 1 Samuel 16:7 reminds us that what we see is limited, but God's view of the heart is complete, so only he knows the extent to which his truth is penetrating there.

    But the Lord said to Samuel, 
    “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, 
    because I have rejected him. 
    For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, 
    but the Lord looks on the heart.”
    1 Samuel 16:7

    Wednesday, June 22, 2011

    What if the healing comes? And what if it doesn’t?

    We love good news. It’s wired into us. Gospel literally means good news. We’re wired to respond to the that ultimate good news, so it’s only natural that stories like these can be heart-warming:
    We celebrate over good news. It makes headlines.

    Meanwhile, you don’t see headlines for “middle school boy with autism who didn’t speak until age three still only says a dozen words.” Or “Selah seniors are discouraged.” Or “paralyzed bride aims to walk down the aisle but isn’t able to do it.” Those don’t make great lead stories. They are, however, real life for many families. And the other type of headline-making stories, the tragedies, are also real life, even though I wish they weren't: stories like this one in which a seven-year-old boy with autism was found dead in a creek after wandering away the day before.

    When we read or tweet or talk about stories with good news, we exult. We shout, “Praise God!” We celebrate Christ. We say, “God is good.” We rejoice.

    But is God no longer good in the other instances, the situations that don’t make headlines? Can we still rejoice, even when the outcome isn’t as exciting or when it's devastating?

    Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Philippians 4:4

    Even if your child never speaks, God is still faithful. Even if God doesn’t heal your cerebral palsy, He is still faithful. Even if God doesn’t fulfill the dream you have for your child, He is still faithful.

    How do I know that? Because God is clear in his word about who He is and what He does. He makes promises, and then he keeps them. I have heard it said that the entire Bible could be summarized as promises made (in the Old Testament) and promises kept (in the New Testament).

    I don't worship desirable outcomes; I worship a God who is far more than anything I could ever desire.

    For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
    For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
    Isaiah 55:8-9

    He has a purpose and plan, even when I don't understand it and can't see it. And his plans are good, resulting in his glory and our good.

    For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, 
    “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, 
    plans to give you hope and a future.
    Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

    And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, 
    who have been called according to his purpose.  
    Romans 8:28

    A sweet friend of mine experienced the sudden death of her father this week. In a message to me, she wrote, "God IS faithful, but as you can imagine, this is a very sad time for us." In Ecclesiastes 3:4, we read that there is a time to mourn. It is okay to grieve when our lives here on earth are filled with the heartache and tears and trials that will all pass away in heaven but that are all acutely felt here and now. I've heard that described as heavenly homesickness. It's the tension of knowing that God will provide healing in his time - if not on earth, then in heaven - but not yet experiencing the promised healing that will come. 

    God can heal, and sometimes he does that healing on earth. If he heals, he is faithful. If he does not heal until heaven, he is faithful. When life goes as we’d like, he is faithful.

    And when it doesn’t? He is still faithful.

    And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.
    He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, 
     and God himself will be with them as their God.  
    He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, 
    neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, 
    for the former things have passed away.”
    Revelation 21:3-4

    John Knight's post on the Desiring God site yesterday also touches on some of these points. It is well worth the read (as is anything else John writes).

    Also, please check out this post, in which Family Ministry Today interviews me about special needs ministry and our church's Treasuring Christ curriculum. And here are the interviews of two other members of our team (about the curriculum, not special needs ministry): Kim Davidson and Pastor Steve Wright, as well as an overview post here.

    Tuesday, June 21, 2011

    Ministering with an attitude of superiority?

    Do you think you’re better than the people with special needs at your church and in your community?

    No, seriously. Before you give a knee jerk “no, course not!” think about it first.

    I don’t think it’s uncommon to minister – in any ministry, not just this one – with an attitude of superiority. Pride is sneaky and pervasive. Humility can be fleeting and faked.

    Here are some questions to ask yourself. They're ones I ask myself regularly.
    • Do I talk about “ministering to” others more than I talk about “ministering with” them?
    • Am I more concerned about developing my own talents or helping others grow in their God-given giftedness?
    • Am I concerned about my name being known by others or God’s name being esteemed as great?
    • Am I easily offended?
    • How do I feel if I work really hard on something but someone else gets the credit?
    • Do I find myself talking about people with special needs as a homogenous group who needs me (helping them, serving them, and so on) or as individuals who, like me, are created by God and in need of a Savior?
    • When parents react negatively to something I do, am I quick to get angry or do I examine myself and my actions first?
    • Am I willing to admit when I don’t know the answer to something?
    • Am I eager to learn from and listen to someone else?
    All these things my hand has made,
    and so all these things came to be,
    declares the Lord.
    But this is the one to whom I will look:
    he who is humble and contrite in spirit
    and trembles at my word.
    {Isaiah 66:2}

    The night before Christ’s death, what did he do? Washed the grime and filth from the feet of his disciples, including Judas. He did not consider himself too good or too great or, simply put, too God to kneel at their feet and do the work of a servant. If he did not act as if he was impressed with himself, what right do I have to act that way?

    I don’t deserve the glory. He does.

    May I never forget that.

    How do you guard against pride in ministry?

    Monday, June 20, 2011

    Monday round-up!

    I regularly have a ridiculous number of browser windows open, because I don't want to forget about various articles from around the web. Several other bloggers I admire do weekly round-up posts, each with a list of links of interest from the previous week. I'm not sure yet if this will be a regular thing, but I do know it's today's post!

    Great post about the grace shown to one momma and her daughter during VBS at a church that's doing a lot of right things in welcoming families with special needs!

    So thankful that Pamela Wilson, the voice behind Bella Online's Special Needs Children's Site, was able to encourage this woman when she found out her child had Down syndrome. Verklepmt indeed, Pamela!

    I think it would be great to create a series of panels like these to post around our church with statements about each child's worth in God and to the church. While this campaign's focus was kids with Down syndrome, I would include kids with other special needs as well.

    Not sure that there's anything to be said about this, but I was struck by the juxtaposition of a story about a girl with Down syndrome who wasn't allowed to fly as an unassisted minor on a British Airways flight despite being fairly independent and another story about Quatari airports' taking extra measures to be welcoming to people with special needs. (And, FYI for those in the US, here's the TSA's site about traveling with disabilities or other special needs.)

    Next up: I'll be writing more about this in the future, but I've found much food for thought in Dr. Steve Grcevich's post on Special Needs Ministry about the rate of depression among dads of children with autism and this post about reaching out to moms and dads in different ways. As we're seeking to welcome families who have children with special needs, how can we make sure it's not just mom + kids who we're welcoming while dad is ignored and disengaged?

    Barb's post about using teen volunteers in disability ministry resonated with me, because I am blessed to have a summer intern who is a rising senior in high school. (And she rocks. We love you, Kelsey!) And then I came across this blurb about the winners of a property owner's association's scholarships, noting that one winner had opportunities to serve in her church's special needs ministry and is now preparing for a degree in occupational therapy to work professionally with the same population. We miss out in encouraging the passions of the next generation if we don't include them in meaningful service in the body of Christ! (And have I mention that we love Kelsey and our other student volunteers?)

    Wayne Stock's post about recruiting volunteers was timely for me, as I look at the needs in our ministry. When I was involved in recruitment for Teach For America, we were trained to be starkly honest about the difficulties but just as transparent about the rewards. We didn't want to scare folks off, but we also didn't want to be peddling lies either, especially because we found that corps members recruited that way might join but would then quit quickly or stay unhappily. The same is true in ministry. (And you might also want to check out another post by Wayne on the same blog: Nine Special Needs Blogs for Kidmin, in which I'm humbled to be included.)

    Two posts by Cassi LeTourneau, who blogs at Treasure the Rain, were featured on The Inclusive Church (Amy Fenton Lee's blog) last week, and they are possibly the two best special needs ministry blog posts I've ever read: Ministering to Parents of Children with Special Needs and 5 Things I Learned After Becoming Involved in Disabilities Ministry

    And, finally, I enjoy Ron Edmondson's take on how you can guarantee that no one disagrees with your leadership.

    (And, if you're still reading after this random collage of thoughts and links, would you mind leaving a comment to let me know if you'd like to see a weekly post like this or if I should just stick with writing a typical post on Mondays? Thanks!)

    Saturday, June 18, 2011

    Let us not grow weary of doing good {Galatians 6:9-10}

    And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

    Galatians 6:9-10

    Friday, June 17, 2011

    Fridays from the Families: Contributing with a disability

    While I have written some personal posts here about minor degree of physical impairment I experience due to rheumatoid arthritis, this is the first guest post I've had that is written by an individual with a disability. (I'm sticking with "Fridays from the Families," though, because I like alliteration!) If you asked me to describe Lucy - even though I've only met her online - I would probably mention her writing ability and authenticity and love for Jesus and sense of humor...and then maybe add, as an afterthought, "oh, and she has a hearing impairment too." 

    On her blogger profile, she describes herself with these words: "I am hard of hearing and loud of mouth. I'm thankful God's grace is sufficient for both." (As for me? I'm just loud of mouth, but I am thankful for grace from God and others about that!) Lucy - who blogs at To Live Quietly - will be joining us here again later this summer to talk about specific things the church can do to welcome people with hearing loss or deafness, but today's is a repost from her old blog. She wrote a five-part series about disability, and today's post was the final one in that series. I've included links to the other ones - and a couple other posts of hers that I love - at the end of this post. 

    And, now, enjoy this post from Lucy...

    All week long I've been talking about what the church can and needs to do for those with disabilities. But as with most things in life, it's a two-way street, you know. Those of us who do live with disabilities cannot just stand around, waiting to be served. My friend Carin commented on one of my earlier posts and I thought she made a great point:

    "Disabled" people also need to get involved and do things they are gifted and able to do. ... [W]e who are viewed as "disabled" have a responsibility to become involved and serve as well. And it need not be only in the area of our "disability" as you said. For example, as a deaf person, I am still able to serve my church family in many ways - not only the deaf - but my CHURCH FAMILY (all of them!). There are some things that I am not able to do well because of my hearing loss, but there are many other things I CAN do to serve. I need to do some of them and not just sit back with the attitude that "oh I am deaf..."

    People with disabilities are often just as guilty of perpetuating division within the church by demanding this service or that accommodation, or by sequestering themselves with people who are like them. I know that sometimes I am tempted to think that because I have a disability that my suffering is more unbearable than someone else's, or that I am worthy of more attention because of it. But that is not true at all. Disabled or not, we are all sinners in need of a Savior and ought to serve one another in light of that truth. When I look at a brother or sister, I shouldn't see their able bodies and be jealous or angry; instead, I should see someone who needs Christ just as much as I do. The cross is an equalizer in that there is no room for superiority or inferiority in the Body - we are all disabled in soul before the Lord.

    Something else that I'm tempted to do is to claim that I have nothing to contribute to the Body or that I'm worthless to serve because I can't hear everything. But when I do that, I buy into the lie that hearing loss defines me instead of embracing the truth that the gospel does. It's true that I can't hear everything and that there will just be some areas where I cannot serve. For example, you'll never see me help lead worship and I'd be reluctant to work at the information desk. I see so many people with disabilities just not contribute because they focus so much on what they can't do, or maybe they're missing all the things they used to be able to do and now suddenly can't. And at the heart of it is a pride issue; we want to do what we want to do and are angry that our efforts are hampered. Isn't God faithful, though? He doesn't let us slip through the cracks and He certainly doesn't put us out of commission just because our ears or legs or eyes stop working. To say that we have nothing to offer because of our disability is like saying that disability has more power than God, that the Almighty could somehow be crippled by our weakness. Puh-leez.

    Having a disability does not excuse us from coming alongside of our brothers and sisters, to weep when they weep, to rejoice when they rejoice. My hearing loss does not let me off the hook to make meals when a family welcomes a new baby, help coordinate childcare, hand out worship guides, pitch in with cleanup, be kind to people, love them as Jesus does and offer a listening heart. It's true that I can't do everything, but I can trust that the Lord will equip me to do the things that He has called me to do - for my good and His glory. And so often, we expect that God has a special job just for us and that disability has somehow thwarted that plan, but that's presumptuous. God is, I think, less concerned with exactly what it is we are doing and far more concerned with how we are doing it. There are no loopholes in Micah 6:8 - abled or disabled, the decree is the same:

    He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
    but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

    Finally, those of us with disability need to remember that these are just temporary bodies. C.S. Lewis said, "You don't have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body." Bodies with crooked spines and lifeless legs and silent eyes and damaged ears - they're just for now. Disability advocacy and raising awareness is a good thing, but it's not the most important thing. When we make disability the standard by which we live, we've missed the point. When we judge other people or churches based on whether or not they meet our needs, we're sinning. At the end of the day, the question is not, "Did the church serve my disability?" but, "Is Jesus my only hope?" Am I finding joy and fulfillment and completeness in the finished work of Christ and embracing the truth that His blood has already spoken for me, or am I basing who I am and what I think and how I act on how my body functions or doesn't function?

    God is enough. And that's all I really wanted to say.

    Amen to that! I think Lucy is great, in large part because she is constantly pointing to God's greatness rather than trying to exalt herself. I've tried to figure out a less cheesy way to say this, but I love Lucy. I really do. 

    You can find the four posts that preceded this one on her old blog at the links below, and you can find Lucy at To Live Quietly. Thanks for letting me share this, Lucy!
    Defining disability - Part 1
    The kinship of disability - Part 2
    A proper response to disability - Part 3
    Learning from disability - Part 4
    And while they aren't part of the series, these posts are also worth reading: Why I'm Not Deaf and Train's Gone, Juan (both of which provide great explanations of Deaf/deaf culture).

    Thursday, June 16, 2011

    Studying Sardis: Waking up and taking the next step

    Yesterday I wrote about Laodicea; today I’d like to back up a few verses to check out the way the church in Sardis is described.
    I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. {Revelation 3:1b-2}
    While you ponder that, consider what Dr. Erik W. Carter shares on page 7 of Including People with Disabilities in Faith Communities,
    LaRocque and Eigenbrood (2005) surveyed 91 Christian, Jewish, and Muslim congregations about how accessible they were for people with disabilities. Most reported being only in the very early stages of increasing their accessibility. For example, although 71% of congregations said general awareness of barriers to the participation of children and adults existed in their faith community, 69% of congregations reported that they had not yet started or were only getting started at transforming their community “into a place where children and adults with disabilities are welcomed, fully included, and treated with respect” (p. 60). Furthermore, only 53% of congregations said that they were well on their way to increasing the participation of people with disabilities in their congregation and only 28% had explored partnerships with community agencies and organizations serving people with disabilities.
    Consider the implications of that. Nearly 30% of religious congregations don’t even have a general awareness of barriers to including people with special needs. More than half were doing nothing about it or just getting started. Less than a third had reached out to those in the community with more expertise.

    Granted, that research wasn’t just limited to Christian congregations, but it’s worth considering nonetheless (particularly because so little research is available about religious life and disabilities).
    Now look back at Christ’s words to the church in Sardis:
    I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. {Revelation 3:1b-2}
    What do you think He would have to say about our reputation? Let’s become a church – in the broad sense – that strengthens what remains and is about to die. For some churches, that might mean stepping up our efforts to fully welcome and include people with special needs. For others, it may be starting something new because no efforts have been made yet.

    Whatever that next step is, do it. Wake up. Strengthen what remains and is about to die.

    Be alive.

    Wednesday, June 15, 2011

    Learning from Laodicea: No condescending attitudes

    When I consider the church in Laodicea, the first word that comes to mind usually is “lukewarm.” However, the next verse after Christ calls that church out as neither hot than cold is also worth knowing:
    For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. {Revelation 3:17}
    Special needs ministry isn’t done with condescension. It isn’t meant to exalt the helpers and pity the helped. It’s not even meant to separate folks into those two groups, because it should be ministry with others not ministry to others.

    When I see the prideful attitude of “oh, look at what a good thing I’m doing” in someone involved in this ministry or any other ministry – and when I see that pride in myself – I need the reminder that I’m not serving “the least of these;” I am the least of these. I’m not rich, prosperous, and complete; I am wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

    I am thankful for the opportunity to serve alongside some sweet friends with disabilities. And I am thankful that God allows me to do so.

    Tuesday, June 14, 2011

    Messy advocacy vs. partnerships

    Since I began this blog just over three months ago, I've come across a couple news reports about churches turning away families who have children with special needs. This is a tough topic to address, but it's worth discussing. Before I dive in, though, I want to make a few things clear:
    • I have no first-hand knowledge of any of these instances. I don't even know any of the church leaders or families involved in any of these stories. That is why I am choosing not to link to any news articles.
    • All news has some bias. No two reporters would write the same article in the same way. Bias isn't always a bad thing, but it's wise to remember that the writer's experiences and opinions and culture influence his or her writing. The concept of bias in media is usually frowned upon; meanwhile, I think it's naive to expect any writer to be bias-free.
    • In almost every instance like the ones I'll be discussing, the church usually issues statements while the families sit down for interviews. This set-up lends itself easily to sympathy toward the family, because they are seen as people, and blame toward the church, because it is seen as the big, bad institution. 
    • Sometimes the church has failed. Sometimes the families have perceived insults where none exist. Sometimes it's been a mix of each. And sometimes the whole situation is unclear. Unless we have first-hand knowledge, we can't know what exactly occurred.
     If this post seems more raw than many of my others, that's because I'm still working through the best way to respond. I've held my tongue (or, as a blogger, should I say "held my fingers?") until now, but I feel like it would be timid to avoid the subject altogether, given that I blog about the church's responsibility to welcome individuals with special needs.

    As I'm wrestling with this, here are a few takeaways. I'd love to know what else you've taken away from news reports of this nature, so please leave a comment!
    • Churches need to be mindful that families with special needs have often been judged, hurt, looked down on, ignored, mocked, and pitied. Because of that, consider how much compassion you would show any other family in a similar situation, and then dial it up five notches.
    • Good parenting involves advocating for your kids. When a child has special needs, this is even more true. Parents of kids with special needs often have to advocate for health care and social opportunities and education and acceptance and a whole slew of other needs. Advocacy often become a way of life out of necessity. 
    • Effective ministry leaders partner with parents so that their children may hear the gospel and treasure Christ. The best outcomes I've seen involve friendly churches partnering with parents who advocate well for their children with special needs.
    • Advocacy can backfire if it becomes adversarial. In solid church + home partnerships, it's not advocacy against something. It's mutual advocacy for the child and the family and the church. If either side becomes adversarial, the outcome will be messy.
    • God is for the church, and God is for the family. He created both as institutions for his glory and our good. He is an advocate for both. That's why the best scenarios are ones in which the church advocates for the family and the family advocates for the church, with both motivated by the God who created each. That's a true partnership, rather than messy advocacy from either party.
    We live in a fallen world. You can find sin in churches and families and media outlets. And thank God that we can find solace from sin in Christ. In Christ, we have hope that we will have a perfect, sinless reality in heaven, one that far exceeds the world in which we live now. But the prayer "thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven" teaches us that we shouldn't just shrug and accept the fallen world as if we can do nothing but hope for the other side of eternity. As we pray "thy kingdom come," what would that look like for the church and the family when a family whose child has special needs arrives at any given church this Sunday?

    As I said earlier, I'm still wrestling with what we should learn from all this, and I would love to know your thoughts. Do you agree with what I've put out here? Disagree or think I'm missing something? What have your thoughts been when you've heard news stories about churches turning away people with special needs?

    Monday, June 13, 2011

    See the person. See the image of God. See the handiwork.
    See the righteousness.

    When God looks at me, he sees righteousness. I am a sinner but the biblical doctrine of imputed righteousness “teaches that the saving work of Christ includes not only his bearing the penalty for our sins, but also becoming a perfect righteousness for us that is imputed to us through our union with him” (Piper, Counted Righteous in Christ). This is based in large part on Romans 4 if you want to dig a little deeper; see also Genesis 15:6, Philippians 3:8-9, and Romans 5. The verse that speaks this most clearly to me, though, is 2 Corinthians 5:21:
    “For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
    That’s what I mean when I say that when God looks at us He sees righteousness if we have received it by faith. Is it our own righteousness? Heavens, no! It is Christ’s.

    Furthermore, the Bible is clear that we were made in God’s image (beginning in Genesis 1), knitted together by him (Psalm 139) with predetermined purposes (see these verses) before birth.

    When we look at one another, we should not, therefore, be so wrapped up in what makes us different that we fail to see each other as Christ did and as God does. If someone has received salvation in Christ through faith, then he has been credited as righteous in Christ. Even those who reject Christ or don't know him yet are still intimately created by him and in his image.

    See the person, not just the diagnosis. See the image of God, not just the disability. See the handiwork knitted by God’s own hands, not just the special needs.

    We’re able to ignore people if we reduce them to a disability; we can’t do that if we see God in them.

    Saturday, June 11, 2011

    Whatever you do {Colossians 3:23-24}

    Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

    Colossians 3:23-24

    Friday, June 10, 2011

    It's my birthday, and I'm celebrating with Respite Night!

    Tonight I'm having the coolest birthday party ever. It'll be with a bunch of kids with special needs at a neighboring church's respite night! (I don't think they know it's my birthday, but that's okay. I know it will be a celebration regardless!)


    Every exemplary model of special needs ministry that I've found includes respite care events. Some are monthly, some quarterly, and they vary in style and activities. In layman's terms, a respite event is like a parent's night out. Trained volunteers, including medical professionals for liability reasons, create a safe and fun event for kids with special needs and their siblings, and parents get a break.

    The commonality is that each of these churches realizes that parents who have children with special needs need support. And not just hugs and smiles, but real practical support. The man bleeding and beaten on the side of the road to Jericho didn't need to be told, "I love you, man." Well, he needed that too, but those words would be obviously false without action to back them up. Parents need more than lip service. They need action: action that shows our love for them and not just their child. action that gives them a chance to rest. action that allows married parents to esteem their marriage and single parents and other caregivers to recharge as individuals.

    What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith 
    but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 
    If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,
    and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” 
    without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 
    So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 
    {James 2:14-17}

    After celebrating with respite tonight, we'll continue the celebration tomorrow with a laidback cookout at our house with our Access families and volunteers. Because we don't just want to offer support, we want to do life together.

    How good and pleasant it is
       when God’s people live together in unity!
    Psalm 133:1 (NIV)

    Since it's my birthday today, might I be so bold to ask for a present? It's not really for me.

    I'd love it if you would think of a practical way you could do life with a family with special needs. Maybe invite them over for a meal. Include them in your playdate plans. Give them a call to check in, especially if you haven't seen them in a while. If you see a parent whose child is having a meltdown in a public place, say something to encourage them instead of passing judgment on her parenting ability. If you know a parent who has a disability, send a note or bring by a practical, tangible help like a meal. (As a momma who sometimes has significant health challenges, let me suggest that "how can I help?" and "is there anything I can do?" are nice but hard to respond to. Some folks just say that to make themselves feel better and then seem put out if I ask for something, and sometimes I'm too overwhelmed to think of a specific need you could fill. Instead, it's easier to accept help if specific offers are made: "Could I bring you a meal? I would really love to." or "We don't have anything planned tomorrow. Want to drop the kids off for a few hours so you can run some errands?")  Include a momma in your girls' night out plans, even if she might have to say no because of the demands of her family. Make plans with a dad, even if circumstances might make it hard for him to commit. If a family has to reschedule, be patient. Don't leave them to do life on their own. Enter into their lives, and allow them to enter into yours. 

    That's what it's like to be a true body of believers, with acknowledged value in each part.

    Thursday, June 9, 2011

    Love these comments.

    One of my favorite blogs is Love That Max. I don't think she's a Christian, but Ellen is a momma who loves her son and who writes incisively about parenting a child with special needs.

    Two days ago she posted about what moms of kids with special needs want other moms to know. As usual, the post is insightful and the comments are just as meaty. And her post has a sister post over at Scary Mommy in which readers are invited to leave comments with questions they have for parents of kids with special needs. Once again, good post with great comments.

    Read 'em. And leave a comment here with your favorite.

    Here are a couple that caught my eye and heart:
    I'd want them to know that a "typical social invitation" would be the world to my child (with autism). It would be great if a "neurotypical child" invited my child to have lunch with him at school. Or invited her out to a movie. Or just said hello and started a conversation in the hallways. Those little things mean a lot.
    And this:
    When you see a child melting down in a public place, don't assume it is lack of good parenting that causes this. My son has high functioning autism, and anything can set him into one of these tantrums, lights, noise, not getting his way. When you look at me like I should know how to control my child better than that, it cuts me to the core. Remember, you are seeing this for 10 minutes. It is my life every day, sometimes all day. Smile instead.
    And this:
    I am not special because I have a "special needs" child. I'm just doing what I have to do - and you would do the same. Don't make me a heroine...or think I have all the answers...because I am not, and I don't.

    I WANT you to talk about your problems with your kids. Gavin's medical and development issues don't trump your potty training dilemmas. It actually hurts my feelings when you assume that your problems aren't as important as mine.
    And, finally, this:
    1. Monkey has a physical disability, but that does not mean he is delayed in all areas. Don't be condescending when talking to him or assume that the fact that he has physical delays means he has delays in other areas as well.
    2. Do not ask us within five minutes of meeting us what is "wrong" with him. In fact, refrain from using the W - word altogether. Instead, take the time to get to know Monkey as the whole person he is before inquiring about is disability. You wouldn't want strangers coming up to ask you intrusive questions about your area(s) of weakness or medical history; my son deserves the same respect.
    3. It's OK to offer to help. Even if I turn you down, I will appreciate it.
    4. You should not feel sorry for my son or for me. In fact, your pity irks me and damages him. All it does is send him the message that there is something "wrong" with him - and there isn't.
    5. It's OK to make friends with my son, and encourage your children to do the same. He may have some differences, but he's more or less like every other little boy. At the same time, please do not act as if you're doing a noble deed by befriending the "poor little disabled boy." My son has a lot to offer, and you are just as lucky to have him as a friend as he is to have you.
    6. My son is just as perfect as yours, and yours is as imperfect as mine.
     But that's enough from me. Go to Love That Max and Scary Mommy, and read the comments yourself.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011

    Respite events without "religious content?" Not at our church.

    Just after he discussed the recent allure for flashy church environments, John Piper wrote this in Counted Right in Christ (2002):
    But more and more this doctrinally-diluted view of music, drama, life-tips and marketing seems out of touch with real life in this world – not to mention the next. It tastes like watered-down gruel, not a nourishing meal. It simply isn’t serious enough. It’s too playful and chatty and casual. Its joy just doesn’t feel deep enough or heartbroken or well-rooted. The injustice and persecution and suffering and hellish realities in the world today are so many and so large and so close that I can’t help but think that, deep inside, people are longing for something weighty and massive and rooted and stable and eternal. So it seems to me that the trifling with silly little sketches and breezy welcome-into-the-den styles on Sunday morning are just out of touch with what matters in life.

    Of course, it works. Sort of. Because, in the name of felt needs, it resonates with people’s impulse to run from what is most serious and weighty and what makes them most human and what might open the depths of God to their souls. The design is noble. Silliness is a stepping-stone to substance. But it’s an odd path. And evidence is not ample that many are willing to move beyond fun and simplicity. So the price of minimizing truth-based joy and maximizing atmosphere-based comfort is high. More and more, it seems to me, the end might be in view. I doubt that a religious ethos with such feel of entertainment can really survive as Christian for too many more decades. Crises reveal the cracks. (p. 22-23). 

    Such can be the temptation in special needs ministry. Many leaders have recommended that respite care evenings – which is a fancy way of saying parents’ night out for families who have a child with special needs, including measures taken to ensure safety and proper care – should be devoid of religious content because, after all, we want to welcome these families. If they see Christ’s love in us, without mention of His name, the presumption is that they may join us for worship the next Sunday and hear about Christ then.

    To which I say: right aim, wrong method. Welcoming families is crucial. Providing them with an outlet and time with respite care is great. I do understand that leaving out a religious element allows church respite events to be recommended by city, county, and state social services departments. And it may make such events less threatening to some families.

    But if we fail to present the remedy - Christ - to the their most crucial and eternal need then we’re operating a doctrinally-diluted “ministry” in which we esteem the comfort of families more than we esteem the gospel which might make them feel uncomfortable. (It isn’t always comfy to hear that we are sinners in need of a Savior and sheep in need of a Shepherd.) Furthermore, no respite program has 100% of participants show up on Sunday morning. A respite event might be the only time you get to share the good news of Jesus Christ with a family. Is it really wise to take a pass on that?

    Yes, we want it to be an enjoyable night. Yes, we want to show that Christ's love for us motivates us to love others. Yes, we will have silly and fun elements, and we'll have music and other entertainment. But it's not mutually exclusive; we don't have to choose between those things and Christ. We can have fun and share the gospel. We won't have a sermon at respite, but stories we share will include Christ, as will songs and coloring pages and other activities. We're not planning to pull out our Jesus stick and smack kids on the head with it. (That's a joke, by the way. We don't have a Jesus stick, and even if we did, we wouldn't get all violent with it.) We will pull out the Bible, though, and share truth.

    We will have our first respite care event in September of this year. And we will share the good news of Christ during it.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011

    Access: It's not a fancy or unique name, but it's ours

    Yesterday I posted about possible names for our ministry, and we had some good conversation in the comments. I love getting comments because it makes me feel like I'm not just typing at y'all but communicating with you, so please continue to chime in! We all benefit from that.

    And the name we decided upon? Access. Read our aims below to understand why that name fits our goals. And remember that while it is important to consider names for churches and ministries, our ultimate desire isn't for Access or Providence or any other name to be made great.

    Therefore God has highly exalted him 
    and bestowed on him the name that is above every name
    so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, 
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 
     and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, 
    to the glory of God the Father. {Philippians 2:9-11}

    We're posting our proposed Access aims today on The City, our church's Facebook-esque site. (It's actually something any church can have. Check it out here.) These aims aren't final, and we're soliciting info from our members to refine before it goes on our church website and in other materials. I would love your feedback as well! If you have a moment, please check this out (including our name and its reason!), and let me know what you think.

    The aim of Access Ministry is not to create a new or separate place in our church for people with disabilities. Our mission is to ensure that children, students, and adults with special needs have access to the church as a whole. This is accomplished by:
    • Esteeming the value of each person, preborn or born, as a vital part of the body, as defined in 1 Corinthians 12. With regard to people with disabilities, this includes welcoming them with respect and love, sharing the good news of Christ with them, serving alongside them as they use their gifts, and otherwise including them as contributors to what God is doing in our body. It also includes supporting their families after prenatal or postnatal diagnosis.
    • Identifying barriers to safe involvement and full inclusion in our congregation. Once those have been identified, we seek to creatively remove those barriers and/or provide alternative options. This also involves providing support and training to staff and volunteers so that they may safely include those with disabilities in their respective ministry areas.
    • Partnering with parents and other family members, and valuing their contributions, marriages, and families. Mutually, we can equip one another.
    • Reaching out to unchurched families, that they may hear the Gospel, know Christ, and be welcome in our ministries.
    As such, Access is not a separate ministry at Providence Baptist Church, but rather one that complements existing ministries so that they can intentionally include people with disabilities. Access Ministry is truly about allowing those with special needs to access ministry.

    Feel free to comment on anything from the content to wording and grammar. What do you like? What doesn't work for you? If you were leading this ministry, what would you add or change?


    Monday, June 6, 2011

    'Cause y'all are smart. And 'cause I'm not too proud to beg. (Please comment. Pretty please?)

    This is actually a repost from my personal blog, written and posted originally in September before this blog came into being. We have just recently resolved our name dilemma, but I know other churches who are still trying to decide what their ministry name should be, so your thoughts are still helpful!

    (And thankfully my thesis is now complete. And those plans for the future that I mentioned in this post? Well, our first respite event will be in the fall, and we have made progress in other areas too. It's encouraging to look back and see how far we've come!)

    Okay, now on to that post from September...

    'Cause y'all are creative. And 'cause most of you reading this love Jesus. And 'cause y'all aren't trying to juggle a kazillion things. (Oh, wait. You probably are. So scratch that and make it something like "'cause y'all aren't writing a thesis on the relationship between school poverty levels and the test performance of students with learning disabilities." I bet that one's accurate. And if it's not, email me 'cause I'd love to swap research findings.)

    (And, yes, my name is Shannon, and I get twitchy if I shorten because without adding an apostrophe. I'm really living on the wild side if I *gasp* use cuz.)

    The hubs and I are now coordinating special needs ministry for kids birth through high school at our church. (Which is so very, very exciting in many more ways than I can describe in this post. Praise God!)

    And we're thinking about what to call it. We're not tossing around ideas because our church loves to use confusing fresh names for everything, even though they do. (Vacation Bible School? Nah, we have Super Summer Adventure. Chidcare? Not here. It's SonStation. Adult Sunday school? Nope, LIFE class.

    I could go on, but I won't.)

    We may just stick with "special needs ministry," which is what we're calling it right now. Our church isn't opposed to explanatory names, like calling leadership training "leadership training." Not cutting edge, but descriptive nonetheless. I tend to prefer the bland names over ones that just add more jargon to a place that's already jargon-rich (Christianese, anyone?).

    But some families are sensitive about labels. And some kids don't even have labels, if the child hasn't formally been diagnosed with a disability. And certain labels carry a lot of stigma. (See a good post about that here on one of my favorite blogs. I think the comments are as telling as the post.)

    Yes, sometimes we need to change the stigma and not the label.

    And, yes, sometimes we veer too far in the other direction. I used to be a part of a denomination that scrapped "disabled" and "differently abled" (which, by the way, makes me gag, but not as much as...) to use "definitely abled" at their term of choice in the 90s. Um, no. Try telling someone whose child is in a wheelchair that he's "definitely abled." Or sit across from a parents struggling with a new reality at an IEP meeting and say, "Yes, your child's IQ is significantly below the normal range. She's definitely abled." If you don't get slapped for that, you're lucky.

    But, even though I prefer my newspaper to online news and detest text-speak, I'm open to considering a name that's hip and cool and fresh. Or to sticking with a descriptive one. Yep, I'm decisive like that.

    One church with a solid model for special needs ministry calls it Green Light Ministry. Their explanation is this: "Children with special needs and their family members face more than their share of red lights as they travel through life. Unfortunately, for many of these families, the church has been just another one of those red lights along the road." They also call their parents' night out respite care Refuel. I like those names. And we might steal borrow them.

    Here are some more I've seen around: Access Ministries/Access Ministry, ones that include the word "Inclusive," Special Stars (at a church where children's ministry is called "All Stars"), and Special Connections (which is out because our church already uses "Connections" for middle and high school Sunday school). And there's a church that calls their special needs buddy volunteers "shadows," and I haven't decided whether or not I like that. I know I don't care for calling those volunteers "special friends" like one local church does and like many I've found online do; that just doesn't sound right. (Particularly because "special friend" is the code phrase around here among parents of high school students for "he's not her boyfriend yet, but he's more than a friend, so he's her special friend.")

    And then there are some wild and crazy churches that just call it special needs ministry, like this one. Or Disability Ministry, like this one. Or Disabilities Ministry, like this one. (Interestingly enough, that last church changed to their name from "special needs ministry" because parents felt like special needs carried a major stigma. Meanwhile, in my part of the country, it seems that disability has more stigma.)

    So now I'm asking you, dear readers, for your thoughts. But first...

    To help you out, let me tell you what we're doing now. We have a handful of kids who need a Sunday morning volunteer partnered with them to help them in a regular class. We have other kids who we just make sure have a fully staffed room with at least four teachers. We don't currently have a self-contained special needs class, though we might open one in the future as we evaluate needs. (There is class like that for adults with special needs at our church, and we call it the Joy class. But we haven't liked any variation on that name, because most - "Little Joy Class" - sound like we're reducing the joy. Which is probably a bad thing.) We do have plans for the future, which will all operate in submission to the godly leadership at our church and which may or may not include things like the occasional parents' night out respite care and parent workshops. We're just serving Christ with our gifts and passions and following where He leads.

    Whadya think:
    Should we leave it "special needs ministry" or change it?
    Do you have any hip ideas? 
    Or ones that aren't hip?
    (Is it even hip to use the word hip, or am I clinging to that like I cling to my newsprint?)
    Are there any names I've listed or that you've heard that you hate/dislike/don't prefer?

    Please comment. Pretty please. But not with a cherry on top, because I don't like cherries.

    But, if you do, I suppose I'll add the cherry back into the equation.

    As long as I don't have to eat it.

    (And no promises here, folks. We might stick with the name "special needs ministry." Or not. It'll definitely be one or the other, though. I can guarantee that.)

    Saturday, June 4, 2011

    Do justice. Love kindness. Walk Humbly. {Micah 6:8}

    He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the LORD require of you
    but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

    Micah 6:8

    Friday, June 3, 2011

    Fridays from the Families: I am so thankful for John Knight

    This isn't a guest post, but you'll hear from a dad who has a child with multiple disabilities. That dad is named John Knight, and I have great respect for him.

    On Wednesday, this was posted at Desiring God. Read John Piper's words below, watch the video, and visit John at his blog,
    This video is serious, on-the-ground sermon "application." I preached, May 22, 2011, on disability—a man born blind—from John 9:1-4. This interview is with the father of a boy (almost 16) born blind. 
    John Knight is the director of development here at Desiring God. He blogs at, and, with his wife, loves Jesus, and trusts the sovereign wisdom and goodness of God.
    But it has not always been so. 
    My aim in this interview is to hear what it was like for John and Dianne to hear that their son "has a problem," what it was like to crash spiritually, and what it was like to see God rebuild their lives.
    We hope many of you, who have endured great loss and sorrow, will be strengthened by John and Dianne's story.
    Their faith has been a huge encouragement to me.
    And to me as well.

    Here's the video. It is so good. It tells of the grief of diagnosis in a real and raw way. It tells about the need for churches to "enter into [the] pain" of families who are struggling. It makes John 9:3 more real; at least, it did for me.

    And here's another video about their family that I found on the blog of the Elisha Foundation:

    When John shared kind words about me on his blog a couple months ago, I was so incredibly humbled. Now you probably understand why.

    He is a hero of mine.

    Thursday, June 2, 2011

    Special needs ministry handbooks

    When I was beginning special needs ministry work, I wanted an all-in-one guide. I wanted one book that was going to answer all my questions in one place, preferably with ready-to-use forms and policies.

    I didn't find one. And you won't either.

    Such a resource doesn't exist, my friend. Your church is unique. The needs there - for families with and without disabilities - are unique. Your existing policies are unique. Your building is unique. No guide is going to capture all the nuances you would need.

    The good news, though, is that while no other church is exactly like yours, there are many that are similar. On Monday of next week, I will post links to other churches and some of their forms. Today, though, let's take a look at the print guides out there. I'm not really partial to any of them, so I'll just share the features I liked about each, which might help you decide if you're choosing amongst them!

    Title: Special Needs Smart Pages
    Subtitle: Advice, Answers, & Articles About Ministering to Children with Special Needs
    Author: Joni & Friends
    Publisher: Gospel Light, 2009
    # pages: 331
    Extras: 2 discs with printable resources and videos

    What I like: Comprehensive (if you're looking for something practical, it's probably in there). The usefulness of the included discs.

    What I don't like: More program- and character-driven (moralistic) than Gospel-centered. Info overload makes it hard to find the truly great stuff in the midst of a lot of good or just okay content and may do a disservice to new special needs ministry volunteers (even I get overwhelmed unless I'm approaching the book with a specific need). And, this is picky, but I'm not a fan of the title.

    Best for: Those who already have a vision for special needs ministry but who need practical tools to support it

    Subtitle: Nurturing the Spiritual Growth of People with Autism Spectrum Disorders
    Author: Barbara J. Newman
    Publisher: Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2006
    # pages: 136

    What I like: Readability (unlike the others I've listed which are more like toolkits than books). Vivid analogies. Universal usability (in other words, it's autism-specific but much of it could apply to most other special needs). Simple ready-to-use forms in appendix. Straightforward title. Strong use of personal stories.

    What I don't like: Advocates for an IEP-like form for church that she calls the Individual Spiritual Formation Plan (IFSP); I think this may create extra paperwork and communicate the wrong message to parents (who may expect the same types of settings and services at church as at school even when that's not appropriate). Once again, more program- and character-driven (moralistic) than Gospel-centered.

    Best for: Churches wanting to welcome families with children who have autism spectrum disorders, especially if no one at the church knows much about autism; also good for other special needs (not just limited to autism spectrum disorders)

    Subtitle: A Practical Guide to Including Children with Disabilities in Your Church Ministries
    Authors: Malesa Breeding, Dana Hood, & Jerry Whitworth
    Publisher: Cook Communication Ministries, 2006
    # pages: 143

    What I like: Begins with the groundwork that salvation belongs to everyone, whereas many other guides begin with the premise that we are all created in God's image (which is true, but not as central to why we do what we do. The image of God is why we shouldn't exclude anyone with special needs; the hope of salvation is why we should include them in meaningful ways). Three authors allow for more voices and pooled knowledge. Great forms integrated into the text. Love the title.

    What I don't like: Forms aren't designed to be easily copied from the manual and used in ministry settings due to formatting issues (but this doesn't bother me because I like to make any forms our own anyway, with our logo and our wording). Also could provide a little info overload, but not as much as Special Needs Smart Pages.

    Best for: Those engaged in children's ministry

    Subtitle: A Church's Guide to Reaching Children with Disabilities and Their Families
    Author: Amy Rapada
    Publisher: CGR Publishing (a self-publishing print-on-demand group)
    # pages: 179

    What I like: Provides 31 weeks of biblically-based object lessons for a special needs ministry class (totally 80 pages).

    What I don't like: Obviously self-published (formatting issues, typos, ppt slides as images, smileys, and so on). Presents the church as God's house rather than God's people. Overemphasizes the usefulness of special education professionals (making them sound like a must-have in every church rather than a nice-to-have). Proposed mission statement seems somewhat secular, makes no mention of Jesus, and takes responsibility for more about the child's development than the church should. 

    Best for: Someone who is already well-versed in special needs ministry and/or has another resource on hand who is in need of good concept lesson/center ideas and who is willing to overlook the lack of professionalism

    There's also a guide called The G.L.U.E. Manual that I'm not personally familiar with. Considering that at $40, it's more than double the price of the other manuals (except the one from Joni & Friends, which offers a wealth of resources on the discs to justify the extra cost). I need to know more before I'm willing to purchase it, especially now when church budgets are tight. It is written by Barbara Newman, who wrote the autism book mentioned above, so odds are good that it's a solid resource.

    And, finally, Key Ministry offers free resources and support to churches. Go to their website to find out more! My church is using some of their respite-related materials this fall.

    What other special needs ministry books do you love, other than those I shared this week?