The same is true when praying for individuals with special needs. Prayer is often times not enough. We must act. Your actions will reveal your faith. Do you believe God welcomes everyone, even those with special needs? Does your church constituency reflect this? If you do not have individuals with special needs in your church, why? They are out there. They too are in need of a relationship with the creator and savior of the world. They too are in need (desperately at times) of community / fellowship with believers. They too are in need of peace and wholeness. Often times churches lack a ministry to individuals with special needs for two reasons: a lack of knowledge and a lack of resources. Do you believe God will supply all your needs? If so, he can provide the knowledge and resources lacking for you to have a vibrant, far reaching ministry to individuals with special needs, individuals ‘differently-abled’.
Don’t just ask, though, act.
1.Be informed. Individuals with special needs have a range of challenges whether cognitive, physical, emotional, or behavioral. How much do you know of these challenges? Understanding their needs will help you understand how best to minister to them. If necessary, educate yourself. A lot of literature exists.
2.Tap into the resources around you. Libraries, the Internet, nearby professionals, governmental agencies, advocates, parents, and even individuals with special needs can provide information to you. Everyone is more than willing.
3.Solicit help. Are there professionals in your church who could help with the ministry? Perhaps there are therapists, nurses, practitioners, or special education teachers. Ask the professionals in your church and/or community if they would like to help start the ministry, help with the ministry, or educate the church on some of the needs of individuals ‘differently-abled’. Ask God to send you laborers and keep your eyes and ears open.
4.Judge not. The needs of individuals ‘differently-abled’ are real and must be embraced whether or not you understand. Desiring for them to ‘accommodate’ to your understanding of what’s right only communicates rejection or that they are ‘not enough’. Is this the heart of God? There are children with autism who will not enter sanctuaries (or other similar places) because of the loud noises and number of people. The ‘sensory violations’ they experience lead them to shut down. Other children act out. Their behavior is misinterpreted as defiant when all they are trying to do is stop the pain or cope with it. Is this the heart of God? Forcing unpleasant experiences? Wanting people to shut down in his house? Not understanding or embracing?
5.Accommodate for all types of challenges. Does your church have a ramp? If not, not only are you ‘unwelcoming’ of people in wheelchairs, but you’re also breaking the law, per the Americans with Disabilities Act. Does your bathroom have a large enough stall for two people as when a caregiver must help a disabled person? Do you provide words on a screen or sign language throughout the service for those who are deaf or hard of hearing? Do you have a plan in place should anyone (or a person with epilepsy, for example) have a seizure? Is there a quiet classroom available for individuals who experience sensory challenges? Do the children in your church know how to interact without staring? Do the adults?
What are the repercussions of a church acting and not just praying and thus ministering to all types of challenges, especially people with special needs? Too many to share, but here are a few.
- The person with special needs learns that church is a safe place where God and others love, welcome, accept, and include him/her.
- Parents are able to attend church and experience the same (as their child).
- The family is fed spiritually.
- The family with special needs doesn’t walk alone.
- The body of believers learns how to be ‘in community’ with individuals with diverse challenges.
- You are a witness to the community of how much God values those facing extraordinary challenges.
Prayer is not enough when wanting to minister to people with special needs. You must act. And… there are so many ways to do so. God is sufficient for everyone’s needs. We must, however, do our part. Be informed. Tap into resources. Solicit help. Judge not. Accommodate.
Here are a few resources:
- Joni and Friends http://www.joniandfriends.org/ A ministry dedicated to extending the love and message of Jesus Christ to people who are affected by disability around the world.
- Grace Chapel Shine Special Needs Ministry http://www.grace.org/specialneeds/ A local church with a ministry to individuals with special needs
- LifeWay Christian Bookstore http://www.lifeway.com/n/Ministries/Special-Needs A Christian bookstore offering resources such as curriculum, ideas, and guidance related to special needs ministry.
- Christianity Today http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2013/january/special-needs-ministries-and-church-research-ministries.html
Other equally important resources providing valuable information about special needs / disability / conditions (not an exhaustive list):
- National Down Syndrome Congress https://www.ndsccenter.org/ About Down Syndrome
- Americans with Disabilities Act https://www.ada.gov/ Civil rights and laws concerning disability
- Autism Speaks https://www.ada.gov/ About autism
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/index.html About conditions
- National Institute of Mental Health https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/index.shtml About ADHD