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From Orange: Special Needs Ministry Champion – Madeline Rowell #OC12



Madeline Rowell is a Children’s Associate at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, GA. She coordinates Green Light, a Special Needs Ministry that serves more than a dozen families on Sundays and through respite events. You can follow Green Light at facebook.com/green.light.ministry or follow Madeline on Twitter: @madelinerowell.

AFL:  Many special needs ministry coordinators come into a church staff position unfamiliar with the politics and protocol of church leadership.  What advice would you give a new person starting in a staff leadership position for the first time?

MR:  A new leader may see some changes that need to be addressed in the special needs ministry. However, I encourage a person new to a leadership position or new to the church to avoid making big immediate changes to the ministry unless it’s a matter of safety and security. When I came on staff at JFBC, I saw changes that I wanted to make immediately, but my leadership reminded me that I needed to learn the church and ministry first. Too much too soon could mean creating tension with other ministries and pastors, losing volunteers, or upsetting kids and their parents.  Your new church or new ministry is likely not to operate like your last church or last experience.    That was a big lesson for me to learn.

In the first year serving in a new church or new ministry, spend time investing in volunteers and building relationships with families. Learn everything you can about your church’s philosophy on ministry and build rapport with your leadership and pastors. Be teachable. Most importantly, pray for your church, your leadership, and ministry. Mark 11:24 says, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

After that first year of ministry, you’ll better understand how your church operates and you’ll have good grasp on the needs of the participating families. You’ll be in a better place to develop a strategic plan to implement the changes that you want made. In the past few months, God has begun to open doors for growth in our ministry and it’s very exciting! Don’t be discouraged, but trust that the Lord is for your church and He’s for your ministry.

AFL:  Did you have a “take-away” from the Orange Conference that you could share?

MR:  My experience at Orange was more than I could have asked for.  As a new member of the Special Needs Ministry world, I have all the passion but very little knowledge for this area of ministry. The workshops were a huge resource of information, tools, and ideas. Linda Martin’s workshop for how to recruit, train and maintain volunteers yielded so much wisdom.  Linda impressed the need to continually train instead of doing one or two sessions throughout the year. I loved Linda’s idea for meeting after the class each week for 5-10 minutes to debrief the morning. That’s a great time to share thoughts, address any concerns, and encourage one another.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and I can’t expect our Green Light Ministry to grow to my expectations that quickly either. My ministry has areas of growth and challenges, but with baby steps and a lot of prayer, it will become what it needs to be. The importance of taking small steps was expressed in one of the workshops and I needed someone to tell me that!  Before Orange, I didn’t know anyone working in Special Needs within the church. After attending the conference, I know so many people championing this ministry. I have a network of folks that have a desire to share their passion and their wisdom. Overall, this conference was a provision from the Lord and a gift of hope.

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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.