Hebrews 10: A Special Needs Call to Worship

“And let us consider how to spur one another on to love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV).

This article by Kristin Pattison impacted me so much this week! I highly recommend reading it. Her blog post received numerous comments on Facebook. Many expressed disagreement with her point of view, but I cheered as I read her blog stating she gives up going many places with her Autistic child, but church was not one of them, communicating her commitment to church because she loves Jesus, because He is worthy, and because Autism will not win!

As an Autism mom and invested church member, my desire is to encourage the deepest level of church involvement possible from every person, even when facing extremely difficult situations. Autism has unpredictable highs and lows. I too have felt the despair of wondering what church involvement looks like with an Autistic child and am still figuring that out with other church members.

I love Jesus and His church. I have experienced the deepest intimacy possible in friendship in the church, and I have also seen more than a fair-share of hurt that believers can bring on one another. In my mind, there is no notion of a relationship with Jesus minus His Body, the Church. I do not simply mean the universal Church we are born again into, but also the local congregations that meet together weekly to worship, agree together in God’s word, and serve the body and those around them. We must not allow ourselves to be in a habit of missing the gathering of believers together but must encourage one another as we see the Day drawing near. In other words, we need to do better on both sides of this matter.

It is not my intention to offend anyone, but rather in light of Hebrews 10:24-25, I want us together to thoughtfully examine what churches AND special needs parents can do to remedy the noticeable gaps of reaching families in the life of the church.

I feel the strain and recognize the concerns from both sides. I am still learning, but I believe deep church involvement by special needs families is only possible if:

1.) Churches employ a whatever it takes mentality and methodology to reach special needs families

AND

2.) Special Needs families are willing to bear whatever it takes to intentionally invest in their church and allow Christians into the difficult and dark places of their lives.

Dear church, this is a great privilege I hope you will never take lightly – being invited into the lives of those struggling in unimaginable ways (and this is certainly not limited to special needs families). Through the small crack in the door, prayerfully enter and know God is using you in a place where only a few are welcomed. Acknowledge that many Special Needs families have been hurt deeply by the church – some have been asked to leave, can you imagine? Others feel glares and judging faces as people have turned to see what the noises are from the back pew, and were met with scowling instead of help. These families come worn, lonely, frustrated, and in their exposed weaknesses because they want to be there. It only takes one or two people to make it too difficult for them to come back again and again. Also, do not expect immediate deep involvement. It will take time, more time than is typical but it will build trust and increase your comfort level with meeting their needs. Be prepared to show patience and grace.

Dear Special Needs Families, you are often isolated. You feel it at church – and there it feels the worst. Acknowledge the spiritual aspect of this. Satan heaps this irony on you, and points out all the church’s shortcomings, while also magnifying your loneliness. The enemy puts fear into the hearts of church members that they will somehow break your child or they will be the cause of your family’s departure. I have feared this when serving others’ children …and I am an Autism mom! I am sure this has been the case many times – church members feeling wounded and confused because they want to help but do not know how. Entire churches have been blamed for the few ignorant (my husband encouraged me to change the word I had here) people who have caused you pain. Families, until you embrace that churches are full of people who need grace but cannot always extend the amount of grace you need, then you will always go home dissatisfied and alone. Please do not fortify yourself from the Lord’s church, divorcing the church from your relationship with Christ. We must push past this!

I hope you will follow over the next several weeks as we look at this topic. I would love to hear feedback (from church members and special needs families) because we are in this together!

5 thoughts on “Hebrews 10: A Special Needs Call to Worship

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  1. So, this is close to my heart because A. I have a child with autism and B. I am also an active member of our local church. I am currently asking this question of, “Where do we fit in” and “What is God calling me to do?”. As Christians we are called to GO and to serve. I think for each family with a child on the spectrum this is going to look different. Some children just aren’t able to exit their front door without anxiety that causes more harm than good. Each family has to take into consideration how they choose to lovingly stretch their child based on that child’s needs. Here’s my case: Our church year starts in August. I have always taught either in the preschool department or the children’s department. After much prayer and the fact that I knew that I would have to make a decision soon, I decided that I would not pursue to teach this year. I will be homeschooling, I will be implementing a new therapy into my son’s schedule, and my own health has thrown me a curve ball. There is a family that had taken in my son and chose to minister to him by teaching his Sunday school class two years in a row. I am eternally grateful. Now, he will enter an entirely different classroom with brand new teachers. This past Sunday one of the gracious teachers took him down to get him used to the room and teachers before August. This will happen every Sunday before August. I am already fighting off anxiety because we really never know what will happen with him no matter how much we try to prepare. I have been asking God where I am to serve now. Will it be a small in home Bible study? Will our church start a buddy system through a special needs ministry? Will I be able to attend a Sunday School class of my own? Either way you look at it, there is opportunity to serve. Even if that means I continue my online ministry of writing and sharing about the realities of our world to further the message of the need for acceptance and adjustment of thinking. If that is the case, I will be a full time caregiver- which is a ministry in itself. Caregiving is not something people normally choose. It is a role that is placed on them by God in circumstances outside of their control…aging parents, freak accident, a child with extra special needs. No, I don’t like the idea of giving up my teaching ministry on campus at our local church, but whatever it is God calls me to do…I want to be joyful. I spent too much time running from Him in the beginning of my time at home with my son. I was running toward the church and trying to fill time in any ministry outside of my home when I had to realize that, in this case, my caregiving role could stay vacant. I chose to occupy that space that doesn’t have the appeal of working alongside others doing big things, but it does have eternal implications in which I can fully be satisfied.

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  2. I appreciate you taking time to share all of this with me. I certainly feel compassion for you and feel encouraged that you are seeking to serve and invest in your church. I am thrilled to hear of those serving your family as well! I know also that new classes and transitions like you described are triggers for anxiety. In classes, it all depends on the teachers and what they are willing to do, as well as parents being willing to allow them to try and fail. That can be difficult to do as a parent with patience and grace. We went through that last year with our transition to a new class and teacher. I remember it very very well.

    I also feel confident that God will lead you where He will have you. There is never a reason to do a ministry because of its appeal, but rather based on the leading of the Holy Spirit through prayer. I hear ya!

    It sounds like you have invested well in your church and that you have several with a whatever it takes mentality. I am sure this has been encouraging. I hope that you are able to stay just as committed and invested as you move to the next phase of service. I will be excited to see how God leads you. Keep in touch! Your writing always encourages me. Thanks for commenting!

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  3. This speaks to my heart. I have went to church all of my life. When our youngest was born and then diagnosed with autism at 3 our church was wonderful with her. Then some life events caused us to miss for a few months. After that time passed our daughter refused to go. Massive meltdowns happened when we tried to force her. We haven’t been in 4 years. We do bible study at home, but its not the same. We live in a new town and that makes it harder for her to want to go somewhere totally new. I am determined to find a church home and take her back. I have felt a big part of my life is missing all of this time.
    I am so glad I found your blog. I love it and cant wait to read more posts.

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    1. Wow! What a pleasure to meet you. And thank you for your transparency up front (us autism moms have learned to do that, haven’t we?). Such an encouragement.

      It is so hard for Autism families (and others with special needs) to attend church. I hope i can help make a difference in that being on both sides of the equation…in church ministry and a mom of an Autistic child.

      I hope you can soon find that place of belonging and fellowship again in the Church. I would love to keep in touch!

      DeAnna

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