I’m honored to have the opportunity to contribute to the 2012 Family Ministry “FAMMIN” blog tour, organized by Matt Norman, Children’s Pastor of The Rock Church in Winter Haven, FL and managing editor of the well-known children’s ministry website Kidmin1124. Today’s blog post is an answer to the question Matt put to over 60 bloggers this summer…What is family ministry?
Family ministry is a strategy to promote spiritual growth that makes the most sense in serving kids with disabilities and their families.
I’m a physician specializing in child and adolescent psychiatry, and I’ve served for the past ten years as Board President of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, resources and consultation to churches serving kids with disabilities and their families. In my day job, I work with kids and families with a very complex array of emotional, behavioral, developmental, neurologic and medical conditions. I spent a long time training to do my job. I was accepted into an accelerated medical school program five days before turning eighteen, followed by a three year residency at Cleveland Clinic and a two year fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University. I’m in my twenty-seventh year of doing my job. Yet, I don’t pretend to parents that I’m the expert in dealing with their child. They are. I’m their consultant. I come beside them to offer them an understanding of the problem that led them to our practice, along with a range of safe and appropriate options for addressing the problem(s).
So…how does this relate to the responsibilities of the church and the children’s/family ministry leader?
The church is also called to serve and to make disciples of families with the full range of visible and hidden disabilities…without the training I had to go through. Our team at Key Ministry is more than happy to help you develop an identified ministry to serve kids with disabilities in your community, but they’re never going to be able to design one ministry program tailored to meet the needs of kids with the full range of disabilities present in your community. As is the case in our practice, when serving kids with disabilities, the church needs to rely on experts with the most understanding and experience of a child’s learning, communication styles and relationships…their parents!
Here are four advantages to a family ministry approach when families have kids with disabilities…
- Most of the time, parents of kids with a disability will be more effective at sharing important truths with their child affected by a disability than the most talented children’s pastor. A children’s pastor, volunteer or small group leader probably doesn’t have the training to communicate important faith concepts most effectively to all kids when some have very diverse styles of processing information.
- Parents of kids with disabilities may have more 1:1 time with their children than parents of kids without disabilities. A key argument made by supporters of family ministry models is that kids spend far more time with their families than they do at church. When kids have disabilities, they’re often spending lots of time in the car or in waiting rooms for professional appointments and they’re less likely to be on travel teams and committed to as many activities as kids without disabilities. They have more opportunities for conversations related to important faith and character concepts and principles.
- In many cases, parents of kids with disabilities may not have the same depth of understanding of important faith concepts as other parents if their child’s disability has been an impediment to attendance and engagement. An approach to ministry offering resources for parents to use in guiding faith development at home is most helpful when parents would struggle to identify resources on their own. We also need to keep in mind that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” and kids with disabilities (especially mental health disabilities) often have parents with the same disabilities. The parents themselves are more likely to have had conditions while growing up that interfered with church involvement and spiritual growth. You’re discipling the parents so they can disciple their kids.
- A family ministry approach allows you to “redefine your win” in serving families of kids with disabilities and offers your ministry volunteers a greater appreciation of the impact they make through serving. The “win” for the church in disability ministry occurs every time any family member of a child with a disability connects meaningfully with their larger family in Christ through the ministry of a local church.
A couple of years ago, I was with our team when they were doing an out of town training event. A volunteer expressed great frustration at her inability to get through the day’s lesson with a child who has a severe developmental disability. Our team reminded her that even if the child she served learned nothing during the time they were at church, her parents had the opportunity to hear their senior pastor teach on an important topic knowing that their child was well-cared for, her parents were able to share what they learned with her two brothers who never got to attend church when younger because of their sister’s disability, and the church’s middle and high school ministries now had the privilege of serving the brothers because the family had a church home and her parents were growing spiritually. Lots of wins there!
A family ministry approach recognizes the centrality of parents God has uniquely positioned and qualified in His plan to share His love with kids who experience differences in emotions, behavior, learning style and communication.
For additional resources on family ministry strategies when families have kids with disabilities, here are links to a blog series featured here last year, Thinking Orange: Family Ministry Strategies When Families Have Special Needs, including outstanding guest posts from Libby Peterson and Mike Woods. Here’s a link to the entire listing of posts from Matt’s Family Ministry Blog Tour.
Key Ministry’s mission is to help churches reach families affected by disability by providing FREE resources to pastors, volunteers, and individuals who wish to create an inclusive ministry environment. We have designed our Key Catalog to create fun opportunities for our ministry supporters to join in our mission through supporting a variety of gift options. Click here to check it out! For a sixty second summary of what Key Ministry does, watch the video below…