One very big misconception is that people with special needs are somehow a scourge to society. People with special needs are not just people to minister to, but people to minister, and to serve alongside with. One example of this and a detail that may be unknown to many is that people with Down ’s syndrome are some of the most joyous segments of the population. “There are lots of outward disabilities but there are lots of inward disabilities as well,” says nationally‐recognized child welfare consultant, Sharon Ford, PhD. “Some people who may have no outward signs of disabilities could very well likely have inward symptoms of disabilities.” Recognizing that fact makes all the difference in the world, says Ford.
There are many misconceptions that many have about families who have disabilities. Often, personal fears or uncertainty of how to interact with special needs individuals keep us from missing out on valuable relationships. It’s also important to understand that we don’t live in a world of karma we live in a world of grace, people with disabilities are not in some way inferior to others who show no outward sign of a disability. Even the disciples of Jesus fell into this trap. Scripture tells us the narrative of how Jesus and his disciples passed by a man who was born blind and the disciples of Jesus asked Jesus saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him (John 9:1-3).
- Reach the children.
Any challenges that a child has directly impacts the lives of the parents. So the direct way to reach the hearts of families with special needs children is for the body of Christ to reach out to children with disabilities. Having people come alongside you and align with your Christian values and to have someone else there to talk to or listen makes all the difference.
Advocacy, standing up for a parent or a child when they are experiencing new things makes all the difference in reaching out to families with special needs.
Every individual is born in the image of God. Pastors have a responsibility to teach and promote the respect and dignity of human life. Those who might have the most limitations among us could quite possibly be the best image bearers of Christ.
- Cultivate belonging.
People with special needs are absolutely normal in the sense that the first negative word that God spoke over all of creation “it’s not good for man to be alone” applies to them as well. People with special needs have the need to be doing impactful things in their communities. Cultivating belonging is essential. We all need that.
The gospel is counter cultural in that it is supposed to be all about making people whole and better. The churches responsibility is to welcome in, and share and learn and interact in such a way that families across that board clearly hear the message “you are included not excluded, that you belong and don’t need to feel isolated.” Be there to contribute free of charge.
- Give the parents a break.
Caring for family members with special needs can be exhausting. If parents are devoting so much time to a special needs children it could very much strain the entire family dynamic – hurt marriages, cause other children to act out – and so forth The opportunities for the gospel to advance in creating a chance for parents to have time to relax and rejuvenate are enormous. This type of ministry can lead to much thanksgiving and even rejoicing. Parents need to be able to step away and know that their child is loved and well cared for by professionally trained individuals. Parents of special needs children need to feel that their child is not a side project, but a true investment and priority. It’s important for churches to have families around who understand what it feels to be alone and isolated and in response are willing to devote time and energy to the circle of mess that exists around all families.
- Do whatever it takes.
According to 2012 data from the U.S Census Bureau, nearly 1 in 5 individuals have a disability, so if your church doesn’t look like that, you church isn’t reaching your community properly. The body of believes must have the attitude and willingness to do whatever it takes to make sure that no one feels unwanted. Churches need to be willing to do whatever it takes to make sure special needs families don’t leave. Have a teachable spirit. Share skill levels, there is so much talent within the body of Christ. Responsibilities should be shared across skill sets and not resting entirely on one person or family.
- Purposely extend love, hope, and purpose.
Publicly evangelize the dignity and contribution of people with special needs to communicate to the church the value of everyone. One of King David’s first executive orders after becoming the king of Israel was to call the disabled son of Jonathan (Mephibosheth) to be a guest resident of his palace and eat dinner with him. Churches and leaders everywhere should implement this attitude. Special needs individuals better the church not burden it. Special need people should feel love and should never feel there is no place for their family at your place of worship. Purposely extend love, hope, and purpose to special needs families.
If you are a family or person with special needs and feel hopeless or unloved or without a purpose, know that God has a pastor and church community in mind specifically for you. Our churches need you. We need to learn from you. We need the instructive value of your presence to remind us over and over again that we need you, are much better with you, and at a loss without your presence in our communities and churches.