Special Needs: A Place in Christian Community
Several years ago I was leading a group of fourth grade girls in a Sunday small group breakout session. We were talking about the cross and what it meant to each of us, when a girl I’ll call Sarah offered, “It means hope.”
I was surprised by her cogent response. Sarah, who has Down Syndrome, attended my group each week with the support of a trained volunteer. There, she could be with her sister and all the other kids doing things kids love to do and learning about Jesus—more than I appreciated.
“One of the most important things for my daughter’s spiritual development has been how others see her,” Sarah’s mother said. “Just simply having others really listen to her, take her seriously and not disregard or talk down to her has helped model how God feels about her and her worth.”
“Special needs” covers a very broad spectrum of challenges. Here are some ways for church staff, greeters, teachers, and other volunteers to be the most loving, spiritually supportive brothers and sisters they can be:
—Remember that all children have an active spiritual life, which might only be evident from time to time (Psalm 8:2, Matthew 21:16).
—Talk directly to special needs children. Make a point to get to know them and their parents.
—Teach about Jesus using real-world photographs, which are especially helpful to those with special needs by reinforcing concepts. The Knowing My God series connects beautiful photography with Jesus’ own words. These books are highly rated by parents with special needs children, and they also appeal to youth and adults.
—Offer audio books for children who cannot physically read. Many have the ability to understand at a higher level than their ability to read.
—Invite special needs youth and adults to participate in a volunteer ministry. Christianity Today featured a cover story on this topic: “How Christians with intellectual disabilities are serving churches (not just being served by them).”
—Post images of special needs children in your church materials as part of everyday life there, reflecting how they are an integral part of the church body.
—Also, be thinking about expecting couples who get hard news about the child they are carrying. Have available straightforward information about prenatal diagnosis in your church offices. “I know years ago I would have been helped by hand-selected Scripture pertaining to this subject, all in one place,” Sarah’s mom said.
Most importantly, pray for the special needs families in your life. Have a special time of remembering friends, neighbors, family, and acquaintances with special needs children. Pray that God gives them supernatural strength and knowledge of his presence in their lives.
“He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”