Mike Woods is serving as a resource to churches requesting assistance from Key Ministry. Mike is sharing a monthly blog post on “missional” approaches to special needs ministry and sharing strategies for how churches may become more effective at serving persons with disabilities and their families beyond their walls. Here’s the second installment in Mike’s series…
The church that Jesus designed is made for impact—highly transformative impact at that. And if we take Jesus at his word when he says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21) then we must realize that our being “sent” must be part of the basis for how we do ministry…to include special needs ministry.
“As the Father has sent me…”
Jesus talked a lot about being sent by his Father. Over and over again, he talked about the reason for his existence, and the reason for what he was doing.
“As the Father has sent me…”
Jesus accomplished His mission by going to those who were out of relationship with Him. His ministry was grounded in the nature of God, who is a sending God.
The whole Bible is about the mission of God. God chose a people to carry out His mission to bless the world. God sent his Son to carry out His mission. Now, Jesus gives the mission to those who call themselves “Christ followers.”
“…so I send you.”
Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21).
Jesus gives us His mission. This is why church as a gathering place is not enough. Church is a gathering of people who have a relationship with Jesus. It is also a group of people who are being sent by Jesus into the world, to live as He lived, to serve as He served.
We’ve been called to enter into the lives of people in our communities. We have been sent to leave our place of security, to risk ourselves, to travel to the places where people are, to go onto their turf rather than to expect them to come onto our turf.
We’ve been called to become missionaries in our own communities, to understand our culture, to creatively engage the issues of the day. We’ve been sent into the world by our Lord just as He was sent.
The Four Phases Of A Missional Special Needs Ministry
I’d like to suggest that there are 4 phases of being “sent” that Jesus modeled. These phases can serve as a way for thinking about how to “do” missional special needs ministry:
The first phase of a missional special needs ministry must be a willingness for us to move out—to simply make a decision to go to the people that we want to serve, wherever that might be. For most of us, what is required to engage in missional special needs ministry is to rely on the Holy Spirit to give us the desire to reach out to others, to take a risk and get involved in what God is already doing in our disability communities.
In my previous post, Special Needs Ministry: Salt Block or Salt Shaker? I talked about the Joy Prom that we hosted at our church. I was surprised that only a relatively small percent of Joy Prom guests returned as guests to our church. Why didn’t they? The more I dug into the question the more I realized that our special needs ministry needed an outreach component.
I recognized that we needed to be out in the Orlando disability community ministering to those who don’t see church as welcoming. Or worse yet, those who’ve been told, “We don’t have anything for you here.”
I recognized that our ministry needed to Move Out. If I was going to lead the way for others in our Special Friends ministry and in our church, I needed to be the first to move out. You cannot lead others to places where you yourself haven’t been.
The second phase of a missional special needs ministry is to determine what group of people you want to impact. The intent of this phase is to identify the people group you want to serve in order to start making meaningful connections. Move In means you have to be purposeful in going where they go, hanging out where they hang out, and doing what they do. Move In is the component that involves:
- Proximity: God’s way of reaching the world was to incarnate Himself in Jesus. God moved into the “neighborhood.” Therefore, our way of reaching the disability community should likewise be incarnational and have a Move In component. Proximity means that you need to take the initiative to be physically near those you want to serve.
- Frequency: proximity locates Christian’s among the disability community, but frequency increases the opportunities and familiarity needed to develop credibility in the disability community. Frequency is the key that moves from you identifying with the locals to actually becoming one. This is exactly what Jesus did through the incarnation.
We had eight special needs group homes attend our Joy Prom. In the Orlando community, this is the disability group that has the greatest difficulty getting to church. Transportation issues, group home policies, staffing, and medication requirements are a few of the obstacles to attending church on Sundays.
This group is the group of people that I decided to “Move In” with. The way that I accomplished this was to contact two of the group home agencies that participated in Joy Prom. I contacted the Russell Home and the Primrose Center. I started volunteering at both agencies in their group homes each week.
The third phase of a missional special needs ministry is building deeper connections and creating genuine and authentic friendships. This is the phase where you get to know the people you serve, the ones you serve with, and they get to know you. It’s all about relationships.
This is especially needed in the disability community because of the level of relational poverty that exists. Poverty is the state of being extremely poor. Relational poverty is the state of being extremely relationally poor…having very few, if any, friends.
We are a relational people because we have been created in the image of a relational God. And one of the most painful things that a person can experience is loneliness and relational isolation. Negative reactions, assumptions, and stereotypes make it extremely difficult for people with disabilities to find and maintain positive interpersonal relationships with others who are not family or paid providers.
Friendship is a gift that the body of Christ must offer because we image the One who sat on the margins of society with those whom the world considered unlovable. The truth of the Gospel can only be understood when it is manifested in the lives of people who have experienced and been transformed by the love of Christ…and it is shared with others through genuine friendships.
I’ve been volunteering now each week for six months. As a result of the relationships with staff and administrators that have been developed, I’ve been given the green light for our church to start providing weekly activities for residents of both agencies! Bingo, House Party, and Chillin’ & Grillin’ are the initial activities that will serve as the bridge for members of First Baptist Orlando to offer the gift of friendship.
The final phase of a missional special needs ministry is to move our new friends toward Christ. Look in the mirror. The person you see is exactly the kind of person God wants to use to bring His love and grace and the message of his Son to the disability community.
Move Toward is more than just proclamation of biblical truth, though this is an important part of this final component. It is also about loving people, serving them, being models of Christ’s grace, and telling them your story of God’s presence and love from within the relationship you’ve developed with them.
Spiritual conversations don’t have to be forced and uncomfortable. They should be a natural part of our lives and overflow into our newfound friendships in simple organic ways.
I look forward to sharing some of what God’s doing thru our ministry as we continue to try and live “sent.”
What are some of the successes and challenges you’re facing as you strive to make a difference in your local disability community?
In addition to his consulting work for Key Ministry, Mike Woods currently works as the Director for the Special Friends Ministry at First Baptist Orlando.
Prior to joining First Baptist Orlando, Mike worked for nine years as the Autism and Inclusion Specialist for a large St. Louis school district. Mike has also worked as a Parent Training Specialist for the nationally known Easter Seals agency: LifeSkills. He’s a Board Certified Associate Behavior Analyst (BCABA) and senior-level certified Crisis Prevention Instructor. Mike has conducted workshops for a variety of churches, several national level autism conferences, and various annual state conferences on topics pertaining to autism.
Christ-follower, husband, dad, choco-holic, and peanut-butter lover! Mike is passionate about faith and special needs. Mike is happily married to his lovely wife Linda and is the father of three wonderful boys, all three of whom are on the autism spectrum (yes, all three!).
Ever wonder if the often-quoted statistics about divorce rates in families impacted by disability are true? Check out Key Ministry’s resource: Special Needs and Divorce…What Does the Data Say? In this article, Dr. Steve Grcevich reviews the available research literature on the topic of disability and divorce…and draws some surprising conclusions! Check it out…and share with your friends!