General Ministry
Josh Griffin

I recently read an article called #FAIL in youth ministry and how to deal with distractions while preaching (you can read it here). Students need to understand the rules and when they don’t follow them during service, a youth leader needs to come along side and correct that behavior.

The illustration that was used in the article turns out to be a special needs student who was the distraction.  Granted, the youth pastor or the leaders didn’t know about this student at the time, but the lessons learned from this situation didn’t reflect that they were a special needs student who couldn’t control their actions.

So here are some lessons that could have been learned:

1.  Our youth service is not more important than people.  I don’t know of very many churches that accept special needs children and their families.  If they do, they are very rare.  My son, who has special needs, makes all kinds of noises in church that would definitely count as a distraction, but people have grown to accept my son and love on him every time they see him.  ::You should see him worship God :D::

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2.  We can use that situation as an opportunity to teach students to love and respect everyone.  Teenagers love to be in their groups that are comfortable.  Let’s get them to get out of the coziness of their friends to reach out in love to these students.  This is not a one time love, but it has to be shown over time.

3.  After knowing that the student has special needs, why not create a buddy system for these students where a student would be with them the entirety of the youth service.  It would create a sense of peace in the parents to know that someone cares about their child, and buddy would be able to help curb the response of the peers wondering what is happening.

These are just a few suggestions.  I am still trying to figure out how to minister to special needs students and their families.  I know that it is a huge mission field for sure. If my oldest son didn’t have the needs, I might have reacted the same way.  It is my world that I live in all the time, and for a church to rally around these students would shine brightly for Jesus.

Bill Peterson is the youth pastor of Crossfire, a ministry of the Worship Center in Leesburg, VA.

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  • Trista says:

    We’ve had a couple of special needs youth come through our student ministry.

    The problem we have is that once these youth become young adults, there is no place for them in the church. We currently have a 27-year-old woman with the mental capacity of a child, who is dealing with adult problems (marriage, jobs, etc…), but attends our youth services because they are the most comfortable for her. She’s a very loving and caring individual, but her conversation topics often make our actual teenagers squirm.

    I’d be interested to learn how other youth pastors have handled this.

  • Such an important post, Bill–if we’re not proactive in serving kids and teens with special needs, then we will only react, which rarely goes well.

    Trista: Good for you guys for finding ways to love people in unique situations! A couple of quick thoughts:

    First, we have done the same thing on rare occasion (allow a disabled young adult be in our high school ministry), but only when it was a good fit. Again, we’ve done this rarely (once in the past three years), and only because it was the best place for someone, NOT because “there was no where else for them.” I believe that disabled adults in the church can and should be integrated into the life of the church.

    Second, not knowing the exact situation or the details, I wonder if this young woman shouldn’t be encouraged to be with other adults in your church. Of course, this requires a church to be loving towards those with special needs, which is a whole other issue. In our context, this would mean not only having her attend the main worship service, but going out of our way to minister to her in other ways, such as making sure she has a place to serve and getting her into a small group that would be happy to love her and have her be a part of the group.

  • Kyle says:

    Bill – we have several special need junior high students that come to our gathering. Would you suggest being honest with a group of the junior high students that are leaders about those students and what their special needs are?

    Our students do a great job loving them, but as we grow I have noticed a few of our new students laughing at at one of our boys specifically. I wonder if we partnered someone with him, if that would help.


  • Hey Kyle,

    I would talk with the parents of the special needs students first to see if that would be okay and to let them know what you would say to the junior high students.

    It is so awesome that you students love and reach out to them. I think with the buddy system it will be kept to a minimum. Unfortunately with junior high students, they always say what is in their mind.

    Hope you had a great Thanksgiving!


  • Stacy says:

    Thank you for posting this! Serving kids, students, and adults with special needs (as well as their parents and siblings) is SO needed in the church! I find so often that there is a gap between the kids ministry and the adults who come to the church from a group home-thank you for filling that gap and including the teens!

    There are so many ways to include teens with special needs in the church body, from utilizing a buddy ministry, to enlisting them to serve as greeters/ushers, to special needs classrooms that are filled with loving, caring adults and peers that present the Gospel in a clear way for individuals of all abilities.

    Yes, each child/teen/adult is a separate case and have differing needs, but there is one thing we are called to do as the Church-and that is to make disciples of all people, in whatever creative way that may be. 🙂 Thank you for doing that!

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