While these suggestions will fit anyone in ministry leadership, this is specifically written to encourage Senior Pastors to consider ten ways they can support Special Needs Ministry.
1. Converse often with Special Needs Ministry leaders. Encouragement, advocacy, and resources top the essentials list. The congregation periodically needs to hear the scope of this ministry from the pulpit and be reminded of the need for helpers as the ministry grows.
2. Communicate with all who serve Special Needs church members. Greeters, teachers, even people who pass collection plates have a perspective that differ from the pulpit. Inquire what they have noticed regarding needs God is bringing to the church, and how you can help the congregation embrace those differences.
3. Be a visitor! Pastors almost NEVER get to be away from the responsibilities of a church. When they do, however, they usually come back with eye-opening experiences to share. If you are unable to visit other churches from time to time, “visit” your church…with the eyes of a guest and not a pastor!
Do you know where to enter from the parking lot?
As you enter each visible door, would you know where to go?
Is the children’s area labeled well, or colorfully distinguished?
Is the parking lot well lit and inviting for evening attenders?
How is your online presence? (Most special needs families will not even try a church if they cannot find the information they need online first!)
4. Attend Special Needs events! I know, I know….pastors are expected to be everywhere all the time, BUT think about how valuable it is to a Special Needs family to see you at a Friday evening Respite Night or Easter Egg Hunt helping their Special Needs child look for eggs.
5. Speak often from the pulpit about Special Needs Ministry – informedly, tastefully, and tactfully. Use sermon illustrations that do more than amplify typical individuals who “went out of their way to be kind”. Speaking from the pulpit helps the church identify opportunities to include individuals with Special Needs in the life of the church (just like they would anyone else).
6. Use Social Media as a platform to share Biblical articles that relate to Special Needs ministry. You have the unique opportunity to use social media to continue encouraging and feeding your flock (and their circles of influence) with the rich reminders of Scripture throughout the week!
7. Get to know the church’s Special Needs families beyond Sundays. At church they are often chasing a child down, leaving quickly to avoid awkward reports about their child’s behavior, or bolting for the car because their child “has that meltdown look in their eyes.” Church is often the most difficult place to get to know families with Special Needs! Make time for them outside church, and I promise your time will be rich.
8. Be a learner. To know and serve each church member well, be committed to learning how to better serve and lead them. Read books, blogs, and articles about people with special needs, the diverse needs of a Special Needs family, and Special Needs church ministry. Attend trainings and conferences. Ask Special Needs families for recommendations.
9. Be a “yes” pastor. Money, space, volunteers, and long term plans are common concerns for Special Needs Ministry. The truth, however, is that someone is saying “no”, and if it is the main leader, there is no way around it. Do not get me wrong, sometimes “no” is the best answer, particularly when safety is a concern. But when “no” becomes your automatic consistent answer, it will absolutely stifle your Special Needs Ministry leaders, squelch the passion of your volunteers, and it will single-handedly kill this ministry. Even the most “gung-ho” leaders, hitting that wall again and again (and again), will become deflated and your most dedicated advocates and servants may become discouraged beyond repair. Be a “Yes” Pastor – and if you cannot say yes immediately say, “I don’t want to say ‘no’, so let’s commit to pray and ask God together how we can do what you are asking to do.”
10. Pray often for Special Needs families who attend your church. I intentionally put this last, because as needful and helpful as this is…honestly, only praying is not enough! (But it is important!!) Always ask these families if they want your public and specific prayers. Even if not, praying generally for Special Needs families publicly helps church members remember to pray for them privately and to be conscious of the needs of others around them. Special needs families are often overwhelmed with appointments, doctor visits, surgeries, therapies, counseling, or undergoing their own health issues as a result of stress in the home. It may feel awkward at first, but start praying publicly!
As a Music Minister’s wife and mother of a child with special needs, I have a passion and calling to see the church fully engage Special Needs families. I hope this list will encourage Pastors who are already doing many of these things, and also open dialogue with Pastors who desire to specifically reach Special Needs families!