Special Needs and Family Ministry

I am delighted to feature today’s guest post from Meaghan Wall.  Many of you are familiar with Meaghan and her ministry because of the series of 10 posts showing pictures of my visit to Stonebriar Community Church’s Special Needs Ministry. ~ Amy


Does family worship and family ministry apply to special needs families?  That’s the question I’m guilty of not asking.  Somewhere in my clouded thought, I assumed that the average special needs family was too overwhelmed with added life requirements to ponder how they could bring Scripture and faith into their home.  After all, would their child with cognitive disabilities even be able to grasp the teaching?   How could such a family convey the Gospel to their child with a neurological impairment?  While listening to a speaker at a recent children’s ministry conference, God began to reveal to me His desire for special needs parents to pursue the hearts of their child with a disability.

Why had it not dawned on me before now that the children involved in our Special Needs Ministry were worth as much of their parents’ spiritual investment as their typical siblings?

I’ve done a disservice to our families of children with special needs.  Let me explain.  I am the Special Needs Ministry Leader for my church.  I’m supposed to be the forward-thinking staff leader when it comes to special needs ministry.  Rather than inspiring, encouraging, and equipping our parents with the words of Scripture, to this point I’ve viewed the Bible teaching to be the primary responsibility of our ministry team.  In retrospect, our church’s ministry team spends only a fraction of the hours with each child compared to their parents.  While the importance of our ministry can’t be understated, it is the parents that have the real opportunity for sustained influence in their child’s spiritual development.  Up to now, I have devoted minimal thought to helping our parents help their child grow spiritually.

I wonder how many special needs parents have seriously considered the importance of their child’s spiritual development.  Understandably, these parents are operating in survival mode most days.  Meeting the basic needs of the child with a disability can be all-consuming, making the idea of devoting attention and forethought to spiritual formation seem like a pipe dream.  In our church setting we see how families view anything we offer beyond physical accommodation.  When parents observe our ministry servants teaching a Bible lesson oftentimes they are surprised.  The fact their child is participating and engaged during Bible education is an unexpected bonus.

As a special needs ministry leader, I believe God is calling me to encourage and arm our parents to spiritually nourish their children with special needs.  Imagine if we had the same mother that so skillfully protects and provides for her child with special needs, also fighting for their soul?  We’ve all seen the admirable “mama bear” who fights to make things right when there is an injustice in her child’s life…when the insurance provider declines payment for required therapy, when the school won’t agree to appropriate accommodations, or when the neighbor children are poking fun in front of the typical siblings.  Picture these same passionate and competent parents pursuing the heart of their child for Christ.

So where do we go from here?  As a church leader, I believe I’m called be intentional with parents, equipping them to disciple their child with special needs.  Going forward, we’ll be doing a few new things in the Special Needs Ministry of Stonebriar Community Church to help parents.

Parents will be invited to listen in on and participate in our “circle time” on Sunday mornings.  We think many parents will be surprised and blessed to see their child engaged in the Bible lesson.  They may even hear their child respond to a simple question or pray, providing evidence of their child’s capacity for spiritual development.  As a church, this also gives us the opportunity to model Bible teaching for these families.  Parents can repeat the questions we ask and reiterate parts of a story they listened to themselves during the circle time.

Weekly pointers will be provided on a parent handout.  Parents can leave the church with a reference sheet providing the Bible verse we learned as well as a brief description and Scripture passage for the Bible story we covered in class.   While sitting in the car waiting to exit the crowded church parking lot, parents can ask their child suggested discussion questions  that will be provided on the handout.

We’ll research and suggest resources to help parents.  Perhaps the parents could purchase a music CD or download a particular song that we use in our special needs ministry.  The parents may learn as much from the songs as the children.  And the repetition of having the music played at church and home further reinforces the Bible concepts and stories presented in church environment.

I’m going to continue to pray about how I can help our parents take church home during the week.  One thing I do know, and this has changed my view for eternity, is that special needs parents are not excluded from the work typical parents are called to do.  Just because their package is wrapped differently than others, their role is the same.  What a blessing it will be to see these mama bears fighting for their child’s faith! – Meaghan Wall

Meaghan Wall  is the Special Needs Ministry Coordinator for Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, TX where she has served for the past five years.   Stonebriar Community Church currently welcomes 80 students with special needs, many impacted by autism. 

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Amy Fenton Lee is a writer and speaker focused on helping churches successfully include children with special needs. She is a regular contributor to children’s ministry publications and a variety of other Christian and secular magazines. Amy is a passionate children’s ministry volunteer and the daughter of a church senior pastor. Amy is a frequent speaker at children’s ministry conferences. Amy blogs about special needs inclusion at The Inclusive Church.