Opinion

5 ways churches can be hospitable to families of children with special needs

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 who can minister and who we serve alongside with. However, pro-abortion groups would have us believe that those with special health needs are better off dead and we should have the opportunity to kill them before they are born.

“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 a lot of people have about families with 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 line of thinking. 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) The church can take many steps to be welcoming to families of children with special needs. Children diagnosed with a disability prenatally are often the victims of late-term abortion in procedures like the one described in this video by former abortion Dr. Anthony Levatino.

 

1. Reach the children.

Any challenge that a child has directly impacts the lives of the parents. So the direct way to reach the hearts of families of children with special needs is for the body of Christ to reach out to those children. 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.

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.

2. 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 church’s responsibility is to welcome in, share, 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.

3. 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, stress on other children, 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 children with special needs 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.

4. 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, your church isn’t reaching your community properly. The body of believers 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 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 rest entirely on one person or family.

5. 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 every life. 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. Individuals with special needs better the church, they don’t burden it. People with special needs 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.

The author gratefully acknowledges the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s Evangelicals for Life Conference, where he took notes from a panel discussion to develop this article.

Editor’s Note: All op-eds are the opinion of the writer, and not necessarily the official position of Live Action.

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