What is a Special Needs Ministry?
Luke 4:18–19: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has appointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Children with special needs can present unique challenges to ministry that is traditionally geared toward able-bodied youth. Often, churches and ministries are under resourced and unprepared to serve children with special needs. Whether intentional or not, the result is often that children’s ministry becomes one of exclusion rather than one of inclusion for children with special needs and their families.
A church that is functioning as Christ to their community will recognize the gifts and strengths that children with special needs bring to their ministry. A tangible expression of the Gospel will not exclude children based on their mental or physical challenges. The Gospel does not exclude based on ability. The Gospel does not exclude resources based on additional needs for resources or assistance. The Gospel recognizes that we are all created in God’s image.
2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
The International Network of Children’s Ministry offers several thoughts on what happens when a family with a child with special needs becomes excluded from learning about the Gospel. They suggest that the child is “denied the love and support of the Christian community and their witness to that child of God’s love in Jesus” and that in turn, that child’s family is also denied the support of their faith community. They also believe that the greater church or ministry community is also unable to receive the blessings and gifts of those children and their families. Because of that, the church or ministry “diminishes its experience and demonstration of the presence of God’s kingdom here on earth today.”
A children’s ministry team can be a family’s first line of advocacy in a church or ministry. INCM discusses how to create an inclusive church culture in a recent article. In it, they mention that the “likelihood of success in a church often hinges on the help of the children’s ministry team. Finding a church that will accept the child with special needs into church programming is the first obstacle. Weaving the family into the fabric of the congregation is the next objective.
There are definitely hurdles when it comes to special needs ministry. There may be cultural hurdles to tackle — perhaps your community is one where disabilities are seen as a curse or a shame on the individual’s family. Perhaps your community does not have the resources to address special needs adequately. Or, perhaps your community thinks it is a waste of resources that could be allocated elsewhere. These are all real world issues that need to be addressed, and we will do our best to discuss these in our next blog post.
For now, we encourage you to spend time in prayer and study, as you consider how to embrace children with special needs into your community and ministry. We encourage you ask God to show you how your ministry could be transformed from one of exclusion into one of inclusion.
Additional Recommended Resources:
WellConnected is an initiative of OneHope, and is a gathering place for children and youth ministers to access resources, research, and content to raise up the next generation. It’s a collaborative platform to equip leaders and influencers to effectively reach the kids in their communities. We invite churches and ministers to join one another in coming up with innovative solutions for today’s realities. We are continually learning and growing from each other — sharing knowledge, insight, and best practices.