General Ministry
Josh Griffin

If every teen you ministered to were the same, life would be easy.  But, each person that walks in through the door is different.  They are different by things in and out of their control and when you can embrace what makes them unique it will lead to some dynamic and powerful ministry.

Chances are there is at least one family in your church with a child who has special needs.  It can be an intimidating situation to approach because it’s something you’ve never prepared for facing.  You are conflicted because you want people to know that you are loving and open; however, you also don’t want to disrupt the flow of how you do ministry.

I’ve been blessed to have ministers and a coworker with a special needs educational background who have shown and challenged me in creating capacity for special needs in ministry.  Three pieces of advice that they have shared with me is to:

Find People With Passion – You care for special needs teens just as you care for any teen that walks in through your door; however, there are people in your community who are passionate for them.  What you want to do is plug these adults into your ministry as small group leaders or mentors.  Have them bridge the gap and kill any stereotypes or suspicions that the teens or other adults might have.  Pick their brains and learn from them so that you can be more educated on the subject.

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Be Inclusive – Certain special needs provide certain limits; however, that should not prevent you from inviting them to be a part of your ministry.  If they are high functioning you really won’t notice much of a difference.  If they do require assistance ask their parent or another minister to give them direct support.  Either way don’t close them out because it’s complicated, embrace the relationship and allow God to lead.

Communicate With Parents – Every parent (whether of special needs or not) wants their child to fit in.  When you talk to the parent of a special needs child, chances are they will want to work with you because they want what is best for their kid.  Allow them to give you wisdom on their situation and insight on how to handle other teens.  Learn what might trigger their teen to be more comfortable or distracted.  Get to know their individual child so that you know how to best serve and guide them.

How you minister to that child and their family will depend on what the need is, who the parents are and what resources you have available.  But, if you truly want to be a ministry for Christ you need to make sure it’s filled with God’s unconditional and accepting love.  It might be a challenge to have special needs in your ministry; however, it’ll only make you better.

How are you approaching special needs in your ministry?  If you aren’t why?

Chris Wesley is the Director of Student Ministry at Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD. You can read more about his ministry and life on his excellent blog Marathon Youth Ministry. 

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  • Tony Warnick says:

    This article really touch my heart,at one time almost 50yrs ago I was the cripple child of the year due to 3rd degree burns I recieved on app.60% of my body at the age of 7.It reminded of the support I recieved from my parents and the communiity overall. There was a baseball league for cripple children ( now they use a different term ).but at least I got to learn a team effort and became a better player and got to play baseball.I bring this up because like the article is basically saying is that it takes a team our community effort to help develop a youth into a culture that is base to much on the outward apperance or capibillities and it get partically hard as a teenager.But this is where a gift has been given to your ministry of Christ’s teaching and scripture is even more important and a true sense of love and understanding and acceptance is truly felt and seen or rejected. But in my case I was granted a gift to hide or show my scares and I became very good at hiding my wounds and wouldn’t even weara short selve shirt until I was in my thirties.Now in most case I want people to see my scares so that they may understand how lucky they are. But in reality most scares are inside and some people carry them all their lives like open wounds that you can’t see,and these are the ones i feel for the most.Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me all who are weary and find life burdensome,and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me,for I am gentle and humble of heart.Your souls will find rest,for my yoke is easy and my burden light.” I say all this because sometimes I feel that a person who I like to say is special or needs special attention seems so much closer to God and I feel like the person with special needs.And most of these children of God also seem to have more love in them because they are not so concerned about the needs of this world.Anyway all of us are different as well as someone with special needs,so lets try to treat all people as special,because in Gods eye we are and love never fails.May God Bless YOU!

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