Barb Newman…Why is inclusion important in Christian Schools?


Editor’s note: Barb Newman needs no introduction to the disability ministry community. I had the privilege of interviewing her on the topic of inclusion in Christian schools for Inclusion Fusion 2014. Here’s Barb…

Why is it important for Christian schools to include students at all levels of ability and disability? During Inclusion Fusion, I will be discussing the Biblical foundation for inclusion based on 1 Corinthians 12 and what it means for us as the Body of Christ.

Inclusion in schools can be difficult. As the Director of Special Education at Zeeland Christian, and as a School and Church Consultant at CLC Network, I have seen multiple barriers that schools face when trying to include those with disabilities into their communities. One of these barriers can be solely focusing on preparing students for college, or towards a certain career path. But, it can also be as simple as not knowing how. During our time together, we will further explore these barriers and the resources available to you as you work to better include those with disabilities into your schools.

Pink Puzzle PiecesAnother topic I will discuss is how inclusion allows an individual to use his or her gifts. One of the philosophies we have at CLC Network is to keep the “Puzzle Piece Perspective” when we think about those with and without disabilities. We believe that God has knit us together with green and pink strands, which is represented with a green and pink puzzle piece. These areas on our puzzle piece represent the things that we are good at and enjoy (green), and our hot spots—the things that we struggle with (pink). Each one of us, disability or not, are green and pink people, and because of this, each and every one of us have gifts to offer to our communities. Just as puzzle pieces are meant to fit together, each of us are made to come alongside one another and support each other as the Body of Christ.

What, then, does inclusion look like? At CLC Network, we believe it means ownership and friendship. The general education classroom “owns” the student with the disability and each student is assigned a place of belonging within the general education setting. Along with this, we believe that it’s important to build mutual, authentic relationships between peers of those with disabilities and of those without disabilities. I’ll talk more about this during our time together, but you may find it beneficial to look through some resource we provide schools with, and I invite you to explore our website for more information.

It is my prayer that as you participate in these discussions, you will find support and guidance as you strive to include each unique individual into your community. I look forward to meeting with you on Inclusion Fusion!

logoBarbara J Newman is a church and school consultant for CLC Network. She is the author of “Helping Kids Include Kids with Disabilities”, “The Easter Book”, “Autism and Your Church”, “Any Questions? – a Guidebook for Inclusive Education”, “Nuts and Bolts of Inclusive Education”, “Circle of Friends Training Manual”, and “Body Building: Devotions to Celebrate Inclusive Community”. She has written curriculum for Friendship Ministries, was a major contributing author of “Special Needs SMART Pages” for Joni and Friends, co-authored the “G.L.U.E.  Training Manual”, and is a frequent national speaker at educational conferences and churches. In addition to writing and speaking, Barb enjoys working in her classroom at Zeeland Christian School.


Emily and StephenJoin keynote speaker Joni Eareckson Tada, Chuck Swindoll, Emily Colson, Barb Newman and 20+ leaders representing the scope of the disability ministry movement this coming November 12-13 for Inclusion Fusion 2014, Key Ministry’s FREE, worldwide disability ministry web summit. Engage in interactive chat with many of our speakers and watch each presentation at the time of day that works best for you in the environment in which you’re most comfortable. Click here to view our entire speaker lineup and register for Inclusion Fusion 2014.

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The prayers of our people…#KMIF14

shutterstock_5067274We need your help!

Our upcoming Inclusion Fusion Disability Ministry Web Summit was designed as a vehicle to bring together pastors, ministry leaders, volunteers and families around the cause of including kids and adults with disabilities and their families into the life of the local church.

Our team included an optional space for prayer requests on the registration form for Inclusion Fusion. We got lots of prayer requests! And we need lots of faithful people praying for the requests we receive!

Below are some of the prayer requests we’ve received through the registration process as of the morning of November 6th. Where appropriate, we sought to edit any information that might violate the privacy of our attendees. We’ll update this listing as we’re able through the Web Summit. If you have a prayer request, please add it to the “Comments” below. Our staff and volunteers will attempt to pray for every request.

Inclusion Fusion 2014 registrationWe’d love to have you and/or any of your friends join us on Wednesday, November 12th and Thursday, November 13th for our Inclusion Fusion Disability Ministry Web Summit. Inclusion Fusion is offered FREE OF CHARGE, but registration is required. Register here, or scan the QR code at right with your smartphone or tablet to register.

Can you find a few minutes to pray for some of these requests during the coming week?

I really want to start a disability ministry in my church and need prayer to be able to do that.  

My prayer is for our new Special Needs ministry to begin where God wants it and to grow as He needs it.

We are more focused than we have been in providing for people with disabilities and making a way for them to serve in ministry. We need wisdom.

Son, XXXXXXXXX. 14 with Autism (HFA); Type 1 Diabetes and other autoimmune disorders including Alopecia (he’s lost all his hair). He is somewhat angry with God that he has all these things to deal with. He needs Christians to reach out and welcome and love him…but we’ve not seen too much of that. :*(

That my daughter, XXXXX will always have somebody to take care of her as her own daughter when I will no longer be able to take care of her or when the Lord will take me. (I am 69 yrs. old and XXXXX is 31 yrs. old)

shutterstock_154760609_2Pray as we seek the Lord about starting a ministry for special needs children.

Help me in starting a disability ministry at our church for the ability to know what do to that is the best for the kids with disabilities that will be able to learn what they can and in the way they can.

For God’s leading and wisdom in opening the doors and drawing others that are hurting or affected by disability into church and to be the hands and feet of Jesus to them. To know how, myself, to be able to attend church and serve regularly when medically it is so difficult to be in most public places. Thank you so much!!!

Please pray for our area’s Joni and Friends Family Retreats so that more individuals will sense the call to become STM’s

shutterstock_163397243_2My newborn was diagnosed as having Down syndrome. I want her to live the fullest life ever. Thanks for your prayers and service!

My husband and I have 2 special needs children with multiple disabilities. Please pray that we can use our story to reach out and support others, that He will bless our efforts to start an awesome new ministry. He is giving us a big vision and I pray as we begin to step out in faith that He will bring us resources to bring this vision to life.

Please pray that church ministry leaders and parents grow in their understanding of how much Jesus loves children and wants all the children (special needs kids included) to know Him and love Him as well.

For those who have stopped attending church because of wounding caused by their disability.

For Self: mental health balance, due to my daughter’s condition my stress base line norm is high and any small stress triggers strong negative behavior to the rest of the family…. for XXX my Daughter: For the intestinal adaptation treatment to work and function to full capacity. She had 90% of her small intestines removed, was born a micro preemie and spent 9 months in the hospital.

We have two days of training that we pray will bring much encouragement and fruit to many families and churches: January 31st – “A Day of Hope” with Sondra Williams, our keynote speaker sharing from her perspective as having autism.

April 11th – Building God’s Kingdom through Disability Ministries training at Murrysville C&MA Church in Murrysville, PA with Keynote Emily Colson and many churches sharing.

shutterstock_162382229That those without a voice find their voice.

To help my church fully participate in an inclusion ministry.

We are starting a ministry and need prayer as we take this step in ministering to families.  

We are a new church plant in east side of Houston Texas. We are a service-geared church not program driven. Please pray we stay focused on God’s mission. Pray for growth. Pray we are able to meet the needs of all.

Prayers for healing and family relations. God purpose for my life. Wisdom and guidance in all areas. Financial, spiritual, organizational, transportation.

That our ministry would continue to move forward – we need wisdom and creativity!

Pray that more churches will embrace a special needs ministry.

Health, wisdom, peace.

Pray that our church can reach more families through our special needs ministry. Pray for volunteers for our special needs ministry. Pray for unity among the leaders in our special needs ministry.  

Dealing with isolation for weeks.

Finding local support with Christians during the week because my husband still works.

Chronic pain support.

How to ask for help without sounding like a Debby Downer.

Trying to do the impossible task of exercise.

Easy fix nutritive foods

Praying for God to guide me to start a disabilities ministry at our church! That I am following God’s will.

I am seeking a safe home for our family. The current home is nice but is not one level and it creates safety issues for Henry.  

Stumbo Sensory Room 2We have been given some designated money for a special needs ministry/inclusion ministry…but it’s not near enough to what we know will be needed just for basic supplies (changing table, other specific items…) but more so…we are just praying that God will start sending some children/students to us that we know are in our area. We believe that once others (in the church) see there is a need they will step up and easily provide the funds. We (those that have a passion for this ministry) believe that most in our church don’t understand the need of the families to be ministered to in this capacity. It’s hard to explain to others unless you have lived it or helped others who live it. I’ve worked many years with special needs students in a public middle school. I am so ready to bring it to the church where we should be ministering to these precious students and their worn out parents and siblings who need to be shown the love of Jesus and be allowed to come soak in His Word and His love. Please pray that we will be shown what we need to do preparing our hearts, souls and minds to be ready for this type of ministry. We pray that he will send us the families that need this type of ministry and ultimately it is our prayer God will work all this and more through us who have this burden and calling on our hearts to serve in this way. Thank you!!! :)

My prayer request is that my church would be open and willing to put a ministry into place that would truly serve my boys. They are young and it breaks my heart that already they are treated more as a burden than as individuals. I pray too that members in the church would rise up to help in this ministry and partner with my family and so many others like us.  

Praying for my son, Mark….

To be used by the Lord for the work of the Lord.

For his life to touch others’ lives.

Pray for continued strength for my family peace among us all when we don’t agree.

Foster to adopt grandchildren is finalized.

Please pray that people of Cornerstone Church of Skippack will come along side those who need support to be able to attend our church programs, and therefore those families will know and experience God. We are striving to meet the needs of a family now and need more buddies.

Blessings for Katie, Madeline, and Persevering Parent Ministries

shutterstock_59406991_2Friendship opportunities are hard when your special needs teen lacks social skills and physical abilities to join in with the typical kids. He wants friends to hang out with, but no one seems to want him. I know this seems a typical teenage struggle, but it is compounded by the diagnosis.

Please, Lord, show us Your Heart for the disabled

Starting Young Life Capernaum in our local high schools this Fall.

In July of 2014 Access stopped transporting its’ disabled rides to Joni And Friends including me. Please pray this will change!

Joy, and prayer request. Our church has Calvary Christian School grade pre-k4 to 11th and next year 12th grade. They have children with IEP’s and are doing an excellent job. Prayers for Mr. Paul Green, the staff, volunteers continued guidance, protection and support. Thank you!  

We have a lady in our ministry who is having some health issues. She is a fighter and is not going to give up. We are praying for God to heal her…doctors cannot seem to find a solution to the problems she is having.

I will be praying for YOU…for those you’ll touch/reach through this ministry and that each person will feel they can take the next step because they have the tools and don’t feel so alone! Cindi Ferrini  

Our HOPE special needs ministry has just had a donor step up to renovate two portables as a dedicated space for our Sunday morning Bible Fellowship and respite events. We are so excited! Pray for wisdom as we build out the space and that many will come to know Him via this ministry.

Our church would like to start a Special Needs Ministry. We ask for guidance, wisdom and discernment as we research how we can successfully have a SNM that will bring glory to God.

shutterstock_116017678Pray for our church to understand a special needs ministry is more than a place for parents to drop off kids so they can go to church. A successful day isn’t judged by “we kept them quiet with no meltdowns.”

Pray that our body of Christ sees that our Luke 14 banquet is a mission that should open our hearts to receive those with disabilities all the time. That no person ages out of our church.

Pray that our church leaders hear my plea “go quickly” as a call to save, include and bless us, not as a takeover of their principles.

Please pray that the church and its members would understand better Jacob’s mental disorder and why it’s hard to go to church with him. They talk about us outside of church and make him sound like he is an animal.

Pray for peace!

Our church is just beginning a special needs ministry. Please pray that we reach out and grow to who and how God would have us to.

I pray when we go to church that the Holy Ghost will come and minister to our son. Minister to him in ways that he understands. I pray Lord that you will bring acceptance that follows him around with every move he makes. I pray Lord that I will release fear and worry Lord, that I allow you to take over, that we all get in line with the intended purpose of your message and your word. In Jesus name, Amen

My 12-year-old son has debilitating anxiety/high functioning autism. He had a difficult time at Special Olympics during the down time, and is now afraid to go back to school. He is not in trouble, and chances are no one would say a word, but in his mind there is no way to overcome this.

shutterstock_79177156Pray for my granddaughter who has Down syndrome. Her parents are not together and she is shifted back and forth between households.

A friend of mine Mary S. has been hospitalized for over a year with a broken neck.

We are in the process of starting a special needs ministry in our church. Currently, I am the point person for this ministry and will be leading a volunteer training next week. Pray for us as we start this new venture.

Grace for each day. Strength for my lovely husband, John, my career. Great thankfulness for our church family.

We are just starting to offer opportunities for people with disabilities and people without disabilities to get to know each other. Our first event is November 1. I have waited a year for this

For our church’s special needs ministry to grow. We want to see more families served.

My daughter is 20 and aging out of the school system when she is 21 this summer. Finding a job or another program will be a challenge. She will be very sad about losing her friends. I am in charge of her funding thru Iris. I need wisdom as we travel this path to help Colleen live a full and meaningful life. It is a lonely, scary process. So prayers for my daughter and I would be appreciated!

For our church to grow in disability awareness and acceptance, and for more volunteers and ministry leaders to be called to serving families of those with special needs.

For God’s vision for our disability ministry. For wisdom and discernment, equipping, empowerment and courage to respond to God’s call.

GA-blog-ad-1-200x200Please pray for wisdom and guidance for all who are beginning to create Special Needs Ministry programs in their churches. Pray that families and individuals with disabilities who have experienced closed doors in the past will give the church another chance to welcome them in.

That every church realizes the gift of serving those with special needs. That churches will find the financial and human resources needed to develop the ministry. That those being served feel the love of Christ as if Christ himself was serving.

Yes please pray that we can reach more disabled individuals with the Gospel.

I am praying for wisdom in leading a small group for moms with kids with disabilities and how to connect the church more with families affected by disability.

We are in the process of adopting two teen boys from Ukraine before they “age out” of their orphanage. Prayer for last of the finances to be provided and prayer for strength to parent these broken and hurt teens when they come home. Thank you!

Our adult grandson (and a friend’s son) has Aspergers. Another adult grandson has albinism and related problems (type 1 diabetes, which was not correctly diagnosed, among other things). Thank you for prayers for these young men!

Please pray that God would inspire and enable Riverside Vineyard Church to be more disability friendly. Particularly to give me and my team wisdom in how to make our Messy Church really accessible to children and adults with disabilities.

For wisdom regarding next steps: is it time to move on from our church/town in search of better services for our son and connection with a disability sensitive Christian community?

Service dog is having surgery on nov 11th. His name is Angus. Please agree in prayer for a quick recovery & a good report! (9 year old Labradoodle/80 lbs of awesome! He is such a blessing!

Our 18 yr. old Teen boys with X-Linked Lissencephaly & SPD. His classroom situation is not working anymore. We need wisdom as to what to do now. Complicated…Teacher has lost sight of the heart & spirit of our child. Pray for words to say as we talk with the supervisor and IEP team. Also, going for guardianship in December as he turns 19. Our 14 yr. old. Lissencephaly & seizures. Pray as we wean him of of one of his medicines & start another due to side effects. We have 4 boys! (need I say more?:) Thanks!!

Thank you for asking! We are praying about adopting again, and in need of significant financial and physical healing.


12_JONI_SPEAKING_0001INCLUSION FUSION 2014 is this WEDNESDAY and THURSDAY! Don’t miss keynote speaker Joni Eareckson Tada, Chuck Swindoll, Emily Colson, Barb Newman and 20+ leaders representing the scope of the disability ministry movement on November 12-13 for Inclusion Fusion 2014, Key Ministry’s FREE, worldwide disability ministry web summit. Engage in interactive chat with many of our speakers and watch each presentation at the time of day that works best for you in the environment in which you’re most comfortable. Click here to view our entire speaker lineup and register for Inclusion Fusion 2014.

Posted in Inclusion Fusion, Key Ministry | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

I love adoption, but…

© 2014 Rebecca Keller Photography

This post concludes Shannon Dingle’s blog series on Adoption and the Church. In addition to serving as a Key Ministry Church Consultant, Shannon is a co-founder of the Access Ministry at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC. Her series can be accessed in its’ entirety through this link. Here’s Shannon… 

I love adoption. You don’t become the mother to six children, four by adoption, without loving kids and loving adoption.


I think sometimes when we celebrate adoption, when we observe Orphan Sunday in our churches, and when we make glossy brochures or memes based on our children or families, we fail to acknowledge that any beauty is born from loss or pain. I cringe when people talk about our adoptions as some great thing that Lee and I have done for the children in my home. I cringe because no one talks about my two childbirths, both of which were challenging at the end of difficult pregnancies in which my body was stretched literally and figuratively far beyond what I ever thought it could be, no one says anything about what a great thing I have done with our first two children in making that sacrifice.

That’s because it’s what we do as parents. We sacrifice, both in adoption and in birth.

We sacrifice for our kids as we lay down our lives for them. And, especially when they are new to our family and demanding and reeling from the realities of life, be that as a newborn or as a newly adopted teenager or as a foster child just dropped off for the night, they don’t show a whole lot of gratitude. And? Please hear this next part: We don’t and shouldn’t expect them to.

C4EC adoption series image 3 - Version 2Please, church leaders and friends, be careful how you portray adoption and foster care. Especially in front of my children, who – like most kids – don’t want to be singled out as different or as being or having been needy at some point in their lives. Especially to other people in our church who while well intentioned might not be prepared or equipped to say yes to adoption or foster care, maybe not ever or maybe just not yet. Especially when so many Christian messages imply or outright present adoptive parents as the savior when we have only one Savior (and it’s not us).

It doesn’t help my children to be, from the pulpit or in the hallway at church or anywhere in between, frequently reminded that some people view them as a charity case. Because while some of my children were once legally classified as orphans, they’re not orphans anymore. They’re kids, simple as that.

And it doesn’t help the rest of the church to be faced again and again with the romanticized version of adoption. It would be disrespectful to my children to share all of them details of the battles we have fought behind closed doors and on our knees to present the happy, well-adjusted, sweet family of eight our church body sees walking through the doors and filling an entire row in the worship center. None of this is for the faint of heart.

So might I suggest something? Might I suggest that we begin to preach about adoption in the same way that we preach about marriage? We tend to talk about marriage as this beautiful thing, this covenant commitment before God, this institution that needs to be safeguarded. To that end, we require pre-marital counseling, we examine or at least mention the reality that many marriages do end in divorce, and we talk openly about how hard marriage can be. As we balance the beauty and the hard, we stress the importance of marriage. We don’t worry that our messages will scare people aware, because we know we speak the truth and we believe there are great rewards in the midst of great difficulties in marriage.

Why not do the same with adoption and foster care? When we say yes as a church to caring about vulnerable children and families, let’s also say yes to talking about related challenges too. As we address the topic of divorce before couples say “I do,” maybe we should proactively address to topics of disruption and dissolution of adoptions before families step forward to that covenant commitment. Just as we share the realities that marriage requires much work during some seasons of life, or all seasons of life, could we also affirm that parenting through adoption or foster care requires a lot of us too?

It’s easy, relatively speaking, to host Orphan Sunday at your church. It’s harder to say yes to children from hard places the other 51 Sundays of the year, plus an occasional week for Vacation Bible School and other days here and there. It’s harder to say yes if you come to the realization that one special needs ministry coordinator did, as shared on my friend John Knight’s blog: “At Bethlehem we have a disproportionately high number of the last three [fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and reactive attachment disorder] mostly because of so many adopted children in our church body.”

I love adoption. And, if you’re reading this, I’m guessing you do too.

Let’s show it by loving even when it requires us to change and even when it isn’t picture perfect for some glossy advert and even when the broken is looming bigger than the beauty.

In other words, let’s love like Christ loves. 


12_JONI_SPEAKING_0001INCLUSION FUSION 2014 is this WEDNESDAY and THURSDAY! Don’t miss keynote speaker Joni Eareckson Tada, Chuck Swindoll, Emily Colson, Barb Newman and 20+ leaders representing the scope of the disability ministry movement on November 12-13 for Inclusion Fusion 2014, Key Ministry’s FREE, worldwide disability ministry web summit. Engage in interactive chat with many of our speakers and watch each presentation at the time of day that works best for you in the environment in which you’re most comfortable. Click here to view our entire speaker lineup and register for Inclusion Fusion 2014.

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A place like no other…Tracy Terrill

Shepherds College TNT Ellen Cook Photos 2010 005I am excited to participate in the 2014 Inclusion Fusion and share Shepherds College (SC) with each of you. SC is a postsecondary school designed for people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities. It is one of a kind – a place like no other.

Shepherds College is a place where students learn that God has designed each and every one of them on purpose and for a purpose. And while it is true that they each have a disability, we help them realize that God has also given each of them numerous abilities – abilities, gifts and strengths that can and should be used to serve God and others.

Shepherds College is a place where students’ dreams become reality. Dreams of going away to college like their siblings have done; dreams of independence and the pursuit of a fulfilling and meaningful life.   But these dream don’t simply come true, they are made true through the collaborative efforts of determined and hard-working students and dedicated and talented staff members.

Shepherds College is a place of empowerment. Philosophically and practically, SC has been built around the construct of Appropriate Independence™ (Ai), which is defined as supported self-sufficiency that is aligned with the strengths of each individual and guided by Christian values. Students learn about their design through personal assessments (Strengthsfinder, SHAPE, DISC profile, Love Languages, etc.) and receive holistic training in general academics, social skills, life skills, spiritual life, and a specific vocational field, all in an effort to equip each of our graduates for their own personal pursuit of Appropriate Independence™ and a life of inclusion into their community, church, and place of employment.

Shepherds College is a place that cares for people with I/DD. In the SC Inclusion Fusion presentation, you will hear from a number of our faculty and staff and learn more about the distinct features of our school. As you learn more about SC, I hope that the names and faces of specific individuals come to mind as people that you need to tell about this unique and life-changing opportunity – a place like no other.

Join us for Inclusion Fusion 2014, or for more information about SC visit our school’s website at

TNT Terrill 08 03 HeadshotAs the Executive Director of Shepherds College, Tracy Terrill has served as the school’s administrator since its inception in 2008, overseeing the development of one of the nation’s premier postsecondary school for young adults with intellectual disabilities. Under his leadership, Shepherds College has attained accreditation as a non-degree granting postsecondary school and has qualified to participate in the Federal Student Aid program. Mr. Terrill earned a Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education and a Master of Science in Curriculum & Instruction. He has served in a variety of educational roles, including administrator, teacher, coach, and athletic director and has established himself as a pioneer of new schools and programs, having overseen the start-up of several new endeavors through the years.


Inclusion Fusion for Key TVJoin keynote speaker Joni Earackson Tada, Chuck Swindoll, Emily Colson, Barb Newman and 20+ leaders representing the scope of the disability ministry movement this coming November 12-13 for Inclusion Fusion 2014, Key Ministry’s FREE, worldwide disability ministry web summit. Engage in interactive chat with many of our speakers and watch each presentation at the time of day that works best for you in the environment in which you’re most comfortable. Click here to view our entire speaker lineup and register for Inclusion Fusion 2014.

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Joe Butler…Connecting with families in your community

Joe ButlerJoe Butler will be interviewed for Inclusion Fusion on the use of recreational activities in special needs ministry. Here are Joe’s thoughts on how churches might more effectively connect with families in the communities they serve…

Including families of children with special needs into your church is not rocket science, but it is intentional. The same thing goes for nonprofit organizations whose focus are individuals and families of children with special needs.

13 years ago, I wouldn’t have had a clue on how to connect with families of children with special needs. Not because it’s difficult, but mainly because my perspective of disability, or special needs, was warped. But that was before disability affected my child and my family’s life. Our second child, Micah, was born without any signs of complication or disability. It wasn’t until he was nine months old that our pediatrician diagnosed him with developmental delays. At two and a half, Micah had a seizure and was taken to the hospital via ambulance; 45 minutes later medical professionals sedated him to stop the seizure. Over the next 24 hours specialists ran all kinds of tests and scans on my son. The next day, a neurologist told my wife and I that there were “abnormalities in Micah’s brain,” and that they weren’t sure if he’d ever walk, talk in complete sentences, or be independent some day.  

Phrases like, “abnormalities in the brain,” “sensory processing disorder,” and the like, can make churches and para-church ministries uncomfortable or fearful to reach out to families living with special needs. Oftentimes, it’s because of the way people with disabilities are portrayed in society. We pity, or feel sorry for them. We assume they are disabled because of something they did to deserve it. We think, if only they could be “educated, or healed, or fixed,” they’d have a much better life. What if the church was intentional in connecting with families affected by disability in their communities? I think the vast majority of churches would find that these families are more similar than different to the rest of the families in their church.

Butler familyI often hear from pastors, “Joe, I can see there’s a need to include and come alongside these individuals and families, but how do we go about it?” When I hear these words, I often share my experience as a father of a child with special needs, and how my wife and I, learned to deal with our child’s disability and include him into our family. In a sentence, we simply loved Micah and got to know him. The church can do the same with any person with a disability, love them and get to know them. It’s not about starting a “special needs ministry,” as much as it’s about changing your philosophy of ministry to include families affected by special needs into the life of your church.

When it comes to practically including individuals and families with special needs into your church, a.k.a. being an “inclusive church,” I look at three areas: 1) Your Place, 2) Your People, and 3) Your Programs. Number one, can people with physical disabilities access your Place (church facility)? Every floor? Every classroom? What about your parking lot? Are there enough accessible parking spaces? Are there curb cuts in the sidewalk? It’s amazing to me how inaccessible many of our churches are in the United States. I’ve talked with pastors who want to include families of kids with special needs in their church but their kids classrooms are on the second floor and they have no way for a child, or parent, in a wheelchair to access the second floor! I’ve been to other churches where you could access the foyer, but then you either had to go up or down stairs to access the rest of the place. When our churches are not accessible for people with physical disabilities, it’s like putting a BIG sign on the front door that says, “People With Physical Disabilities are Not Welcome Here!”

But, being an inclusive church goes beyond having an accessible place. You can have an accessible building without having an inclusive church. Number two; do the People at your church know how to welcome individuals and families with special needs? I had a mom tell me a story recently about her experience at a church on a Wednesday night. It was the first time she visited the church. Her husband was not with her, just her two boys, one with Down syndrome and the other in a wheel chair. She asked the greeter as she came in the door, “Where is the children’s class?” The worker looked at her two kids, paused for a moment, and then said, “Let me check if we have enough help first.” I can tell you, that is not the way you want to greet a parent of a child with special needs. The mom just wanted to know which way to go, and the greeter made her feel like an outcast. Needless to say, she never returned to that church.

Just because families with disabilities can get into your church doesn’t mean your church is inclusive. Your leadership team and congregation need to know how to welcome and address individuals and families with disabilities. Share about the need to reach out to and include ALL people, with and without disabilities, in the body of Christ, talk about people-first language, where you address the person first, before the disability (e.g., the boy with autism versus the autistic boy). And, encourage fellowship among congregants and families with special needs. The church is meant to be a community where we share one another’s joys and burdens.

Number three; the majority of kids and adults with special needs can be included in your existing ministries, with a little support. Remember, when it comes to your programs, it’s not so much about starting a “special needs ministry,” as it is about changing your philosophy of ministry. I suggest mainstreaming individuals with special needs into your existing programs whenever possible. Very few children need a self-contained classroom. Even if they do, it’s something worth providing since we are talking about kids and families coming to church to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. When Jesus walked this earth, he was accessible and inclusive to those who sought him out. Personally, I believe the church should be the most inclusive place on the planet! Most families can send their child with special needs to school five days a week, but have a difficult time finding a church to go to one day a week. By providing a one-to-one buddy (volunteer within your church) or in some cases, using a peer mentor/buddy, you can include the majority of kids and adults into your existing ministries.

Ability TreeAbout five years ago, my family and I resigned from our pastoral position to pursue ministry to and with families affected by disability in communities across the United States. We founded a nonprofit organization called Ability Tree. The mission of Ability Tree is to reach out to families impacted by disability through recreation, education, support, and training (or R.E.S.T.); we aim to partner with individuals and churches to raise awareness and build support networks to strengthen and grow able families. We were given a building in Northwest Arkansas in 2011, and after four months of renovation, opened our doors for a variety of practical support for families, like an after school program, respite nights, and art programs.

During the four months of renovating our space, we had great success in connecting with families in our community and surrounding areas by hosting free community events geared for families of children with special needs. We started by renting out our local aquatic center for three hours and inviting families to enjoy the pool, slides, diving boards and water play park in a safe and welcoming environment. We hosted horseback riding days, bowling outings, sensory-friendly movie days, Fall festivals, Christmas parties, etc. These events provided an opportunity for families to attend an outing together and also build new relationships with other families on similar journeys.

We continue to hold Micah’s Big Day Out (aquatic event) on an annual basis and host community events in Arkansas, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, and hopefully more states soon. We envision families impacted by disability being accepted and supported in their local community, enjoying healthy relationships in their neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and churches.

When it comes to finding a church home, for a family affected by disability, the process can be scary and choices can be slim. Much like new parents, the majority of churches do not know what to do with children with disabilities or how to come alongside such families. The bottom line is, families are just looking for a place to belong. It’s not rocket science, but it does need to be intentional. I believe the most important quality in becoming an accessible church is creating a welcoming environment. Jesus was the best at this! He socialized with people from all walks of life, and welcomed those whom society rejected. The old saying is true, “people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

Joe ButlerJoe Butler is a husband, father, and ordained minister. Joe has been married to his wife Jen since February of 1997. They have three children, Hannah (15), Micah (13), and Clara (10). Micah has multiple disabilities. Joe and Jen have been U.S. missionaries to persons with disabilities and their families since April of 2009. Joe and his wife founded Ability Tree as a faith-based nonprofit corporation in June of 2010, to reach out to other families like their own through recreation, education, support & training (R.E.S.T.). Joe holds a B.A. in Bible from Valley Forge Christian College and an M.A. in Disability Studies, with a concentration in Disability Ministry, from California Baptist University. Joe and his family live in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.


Emily Colson IF ScreenshotJoin keynote speaker Joni Eareckson Tada, Chuck Swindoll, Emily Colson, Barb Newman and 20+ leaders representing the scope of the disability ministry movement this coming November 12-13 for Inclusion Fusion 2014, Key Ministry’s FREE, worldwide disability ministry web summit. Engage in interactive chat with many of our speakers and watch each presentation at the time of day that works best for you in the environment in which you’re most comfortable. Click here to view our entire speaker lineup and register for Inclusion Fusion 2014.

Posted in Advocacy, Families, Inclusion, Inclusion Fusion, Key Ministry, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

When it’s scary to say yes…

Dingles SpringShannon Dingle will be completing her series on Adoption and the Church this coming Sunday. Today’s post is very personal…and very important for church leaders to hear. Here’s Shannon…

At the beginning of our journey into foster care and adoption, my husband and I examined our parenting styles and openness to various areas of disability, and we identified five areas of disability that we really didn’t think we could manage. One was any significant degree of physical disability, one was fetal alcohol syndrome, one was HIV, one was epilepsy, and one was autism.

I’m hesitant to share that list for two reasons.

(1) I have sweet friends who have one or more of those diagnoses, and I have other sweet friends whose children do. Please, friends, know that I love you and love your children well. I think you’ll understand that when you hear my second reason for being hesitant about sharing the disabilities we were prepared to say no to…

(2) Every single one of those disabilities is currently represented among the six children in our family.

Yeah, some people say God has a sense of humor. Well, I suppose you could say that. Or, more accurately, we could say that God knew better for us than we did, and we are so very thankful for that.

Some of those labels caught us by surprise, while others were known from the moment we knew about our dear ones. And that’s the reality for many families. Yes, some special needs are known prior to adoption, but many are not. All bets are off in birth and adoption about disabilities or diagnoses.

However, research shows that children who are or have been in foster care or an institutional setting (like an orphanage or other children’s home) have higher rates of disability, higher rates of fetal alcohol syndrome and other prenatal exposures, higher rates of mental health disorders, high rates of medication prescribed for ADHD and other neurological concerns, higher rates of PTSD and other trauma-related difficulties, the unique potential to be diagnosed with what some experts call institutional autism (that is, difficulties in social and communicative abilities due to extended time outside of the family environment), greater possibilities for lasting changes to the brain due to prolonged exposure to stress, and a whole lot of grief even in the absence of any other diagnoses. Adoption and foster care can be beautiful and redemptive, but neither would be needed in the absence of sin. They would never have existed in the Garden of Eden. Before death and injustice and abuse and assault and disease and abandonment entered our world, adoption wasn’t necessary.

If we ask families in our churches to say yes to adoption, then we need to be ready to say yes to those families and their children if they need support after their yes leads to unexpected challenges.

But you’re not alone. As you say yes, even to families who have diagnoses that might be on that list of ones that scare you, you might need some help. That’s what Key Ministry is here for. We offer a free consultation service for churches, and I’m one of those consultants who is glad to help you figure out how to say yes and keep saying yes. Because sometimes hard things can paralyze us so that we don’t know what the first step should be. And if that’s where you are in your desire to say yes to families affected by disability, including but not limited to adoptive and foster families, then we would love to come alongside you. It’s what we do.

In addition to serving as a Key Ministry Church Consultant, Shannon Dingle is a co-founder of the Access Ministry at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC.


ColsonsJoin keynote speaker Joni Eareckson Tada, Chuck Swindoll, Emily Colson, Barb Newman and 20+ leaders representing the scope of the disability ministry movement this coming November 12-13 for Inclusion Fusion 2014, Key Ministry’s FREE, worldwide disability ministry web summit. Engage in interactive chat with many of our speakers and watch each presentation at the time of day that works best for you in the environment in which you’re most comfortable. Click here to view our entire speaker lineup and register for Inclusion Fusion 2014.

Posted in Adoption, Families, Key Ministry, Resources, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mental health recovery and the role of the church…Joe Padilla

Joe PadillaJoe Padilla is the CEO and co-founder of Mental Health Grace Alliance. Here’s a taste of what you’ll experience in his Inclusion Fusion presentation…

I am excited to be one of the presenters for this year’s Inclusion Infusion event. It has been an honor getting to know Dr. Steve Grcevich and refer many to Key Ministry. I believe with events like this we can start seeing greater equipping for the Church and even impact our culture.

We are who are strong are encouraged through scripture, “to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves … and to please our neighbor for his good and building up” (Romans 15.1-2). How does this work when we are looking at those who are dealing with mental health difficulties and disorders … Mental Illness? As the Body of Christ, the Church, do we know how to have effective support not only for loving support, but for mental health recovery?

This is what I will cover in my presentation. A simple and helpful way to understand what is really happening in the Church and a simple overview how to look at simple and effective support within the Church.

Now, introducing this into your church is a process and many times it’s usually a family member who is asking more from the church. This is a common question we always get from families. Some churches are ready for everything they can, others are very cautious. Here is a short snippet from my original blog, “How to Help Your Church Understand Mental Illness” to help you begin a dialogue within your church leaders.

MINISTRY vs. SUPPORT … If you approach your pastor by saying you want to “start a ministry for mental illness,” they immediately start thinking: money, people (leaders), building space, and then they are naturally flooded with “stigma” concerns regarding liability (remember they do not have a full understanding … yet).

We need to take a different approach that doesn’t overwhelm the pastor. Instead, let’s invite them into a new process of understanding and the implementation of practical support that will not overwhelm church resources.

1) Be Patient and Invite Understanding

Don’t assume that one meeting with your pastor will change everything immediately. Expect to have several meetings to develop a process of understanding. BOTTOM LINE… Don’t be PUSHY or DEMANDING! Be humble, and SUBMIT this whole idea and process to the leadership. By submitting your thoughts and ideas to your pastor, you invite leadership to take ownership. Keep your focus on God, and allow Him to give everyone the wisdom or insight needed to move forward.

2) Focus on a Process that Blesses the Church

Don’t push for a ministry; it is more about having a system of support in place. Invite the pastoral staff to look into strategic steps and a process to build a healthy church response when mental health difficulties are encountered. Remember, the pastor has to lead the church and elders into accepting this too – so your pastor is usually thinking of the whole body, not just a few members.

3) Story vs. Business

Don’t overwhelm the pastor or leaders with your personal story and then assume the need for a ministry. Help them connect to your story, but then look at the “business” steps. Share your story and then show a good process. Pastors like to see a practical plan, not just a great idea with no practical process in place.

4) Be Willing to Lead

Don’t assume the church will hire someone for this … a good pastor is always looking for a catalyst leader to help serve, lead, and build within their church. You will need to decide what level you will want to help with this.

Go to our blog for the rest of the details and make sure to sign-up for Inclusion Fusion 2014 November 12-13 to hear other great topics that will aid you and your church to be a powerful part of transforming lives!

1414687227656Joe Padilla is the CEO and Co-Founder of Mental Health Grace Alliance, providing mental health recovery support programs for those living with mental illness and their families. Before starting the Grace Alliance, Joe served 13 years with Antioch Ministries International in church planting leadership, director of social development projects and business in Asia and Africa, and his U.S. roles ministry director for training, strategy, and pastoral oversight for international teams. Joe lives with his wife, Jessica, and their five daughters in Waco, Texas.


Padilla Video ShotJoin keynote speaker Joni Eareckson Tada, Chuck Swindoll, Emily Colson, Barb Newman and 20+ leaders representing the scope of the disability ministry movement this coming November 12-13 for Inclusion Fusion 2014, Key Ministry’s FREE, worldwide disability ministry web summit. Engage in interactive chat with many of our speakers and watch each presentation at the time of day that works best for you in the environment in which you’re most comfortable. Click here to view our entire speaker lineup and register for Inclusion Fusion 2014.

Posted in Advocacy, Families, Inclusion Fusion, Mental Health, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

To love adoptive and foster families, (5) be willing to listen and learn.

C4EC adoption series image 5Today, we present the fifth installment of Shannon Dingle’s series on Five Ways Your Church Can Love Adoptive and Foster Families. Here’s Shannon…

Adoption is hard.

That’s what makes me uncomfortable about the main narrative presented in churches this month, with Orphan Sunday observed in some churches this past weekend and National Adoption Month being celebrated throughout November. In the church, we gravitate toward redemption stories. We like tidy, happy packages wrapped in a bow with rainbows and unicorns.

Let’s take Daniel 3, for example. We say we like that chapter because of the boldness of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (better known by their captive names Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) but if we’re honest, I think there’s another reason. We like Daniel 3 because the three men emerge from the furnace without even the stench of smoke on them.

Sometimes life is like that. I, like those three, believe God can do it. But what about the times when He doesn’t? What happened when the trial is ongoing, the medical condition chronic, and the grief or pain without resolution? Are we willing to accept or even embrace the furnace if that’s the path that God chooses for us, the way that glorifies Him most?

Sometimes adoption stories are like when the three left the furnace. And sometimes they’re more like a prolonged stay in the fire, perhaps with the obvious presence of Christ but nonetheless harsh and blistering.

Are you and your church willing to love families when their adoption story has unfolded all the way to the end of Daniel 3 and families for whom the pain is still acute, the redemption nowhere in sight, and the feeling of failure all the more public because everyone in the church is watching this newly formed family and maybe even fawning over them?

So, please, partner with us. Be willing to listen and learn, especially when what we’re saying doesn’t match the glossy images and fancy videos we like to showcase.

  • Learn about our children specifically, without assuming that the happy stories you’ve heard from other adoptions fit their realities and without assumption that the hard stories you’ve heard from other adoptions fit their realities either.
  • Learn to look for potential triggers, such as noticing when the Bible story for Sunday school or children’s small group time includes the abandonment or death of a child, violence within a family, abuse by someone in a position of authority, or the doctrine of adoption, for example. The first three listed could elicit traumatic memories while the last could be confusing when the same words are used for earthly horizontal adoption of parent to child as for spiritual vertical adoption of God to us.
  • Listen to the challenges we encounter as adoptive and foster families, such as being conspicuous in public due to adopting or fostering a child of a different race, considering dissolution or disruption of a child’s placement within our family in favor of another family who might be better equipped to meet the child’s needs, losing friends or family who don’t agree with our choice to adopt or foster, and struggling with the special needs of our child, whether known before placement or presenting as a surprise post-placement. As you listen, remember that we are flawed and human rather than saints or idols.
  • Listen to the real life testimonies of adult adoptees, including both those that do and do not fit the usual mold presented in Christian adoption materials. In this case, “listening” might be done in person or online via blogs or essays.
  • Listen and join with us in recognizing that God’s call for church isn’t just adoption but also care for widows and preservation of existing families in hopes of preventing the need for some adoptions.

Adoption can be hard, and adoption can be beautiful. No matter how hard adoption or foster care is, though, when the church commits to loving adoptive and foster families by listening to and learning from us no matter what our circumstances might be, that’s always an act of beauty.

In addition to serving as a Key Ministry Church Consultant, Shannon Dingle is a co-founder of the Access Ministry at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC.


Chuck Swindoll 10/7/11Join keynote speaker Joni Eareckson Tada, Chuck Swindoll, Emily Colson, Barb Newman and 20+ leaders representing the scope of the disability ministry movement this coming November 12-13 for Inclusion Fusion 2014, Key Ministry’s FREE, worldwide disability ministry web summit. Engage in interactive chat with many of our speakers and watch each presentation at the time of day that works best for you in the environment in which you’re most comfortable. Click here to view our entire speaker lineup and register for Inclusion Fusion 2014.

Posted in Adoption, Controversies, Families, Foster Care, Key Ministry, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A small church doing big things…Ellen Stumbo

Ellen profile picEllen Stumbo is a rising star in the field of disability ministry and the founder of Disability Matters. She is a writer and speaker who focuses on sharing the real -sometimes beautiful and sometimes ugly – aspects of faith, church, disability, parenting, and adoption. Ellen is a pastor’s wife, and her husband, Andy, leads a Christian and Missionary Alliance church. Ellen’s writing has appeared on Focus on the Family, LifeWay, MomSense, Not Alone, Mamapedia and the Huffington Post. Ellen blogs at and you can also find her on Twitter and Facebook. We interviewed Ellen in anticipation of her upcoming Inclusion Fusion presentation.

C4EC: Can you tell us a little bit about the importance of disability ministry at your church (Orchard View Alliance Church)?

ES: Disability Ministry at our church is best described as simply doing life together. We don’t have an established disability ministry, mainly because we are a micro church (50 or less people), yet we are somehow defined by disability. We have adults with disabilities, children with disabilities, and many caretakers. As a matter of fact, over 50% of our congregation is impacted by disability in some way. As we meet on Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights, or special occasions, we make disability fit in as an organic way of doing church. We don’t have the people to staff new ministries, so we look at each other and say, “We are not alone,” and together we do the messy of life, and we celebrate the good, and we laugh and cry and support one another.

C4EC: You’ve developed an interesting model for including families impacted by disability into community. Can you tell us about it?

ES: First, we believe that we are all made in the image of God, and that we are all valuable members of the body of Christ, all of us. We need each other. We all give, and we all take, it is part of human interactions and relationships. We also look at our church as a family. About half of our kids in our children’s ministry have disabilities, which also means that most of the typical kids have a sibling with a disability, so these kids naturally help out, or they are awesome at ignoring behaviors. Nobody makes a big deal about noises, or steaming, or speech that is hard to understand.

If a mom is sitting in the foyer with a child, we make sure that mom is not sitting on her own, because what is the point of going to church if you sit alone in the foyer trying to keep your child calm from the overwhelming stimulation of church? Sometimes, some of the best conversations happen in the foyer, or walking around the church parking lot pushing wheelchairs. We share openly, honestly, we are willing to be vulnerable because we desperately need those close relationships.

And we take turns, we don’t have the people to run Children’s Church, so we gladly take turns with the kids.

C4EC: What advice would you give to other small churches in which persons with disabilities represent a disproportionately large part of the congregation?

ES: Trying to establish a new program or ministry with already overworked or limited volunteers is intimidating, daunting, and perhaps not even doable. But including disability as a normal part of church makes it attainable. Back when the Christian church began, believers did life together. They gathered often, they helped each other, they had no established “ministries.” So the question would be, how can your church include disability organically? Can adults with disabilities help as greeters, ushers, or help with small, easy tasks? Can the special needs parents connect with each other and be supported by the rest of the church members?

C4EC: How did you find the resources to make your church facility so friendly to kids with disabilities?

Stumbo sensory roomES: One Sunday we found ourselves with 16 kids, and eight of them had a disability. We have kids in wheelchairs, non-verbal kids, kids with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy. And many of them have sensory issues. Church is a hard place to be for many kids with special needs. So one of the moms said, “We need a sensory room.” And another moms said, “I have a swing I could donate.” and it went from there. Eventually, this idea grew and we saw the benefit it had for the kids we have (as not all of them can be in a Sunday School class because of their needs and the overstimulation). My husband and I visited a church in Illinois (Rockford First) and we toured their sensory rooms and special needs ministry. It was amazing! From there, we saw how we could combine a sensory room with Children’s Church. We made a list of what we would need, looked at our space at church (we have a large building) and came up with the cost. Then we raised the money. We knew God was in this when it took us only three weeks to raise $5,000.

C4EC: How can a small church make a big impact for the Kingdom through ministry to families impacted by disabilities?

Stumbo Sensory Room 2ES: When we built our sensory rooms, we planned on making them available to the special needs community. Our idea was to have “open hours” so parents could bring their kids and use our facility. We have therapy equipment, and lots of sensory items that can be beneficial to children with disabilities, yet too expensive for most families to purchase and have at home. The local respite program heard about what we were doing, and they contacted us asking if we would consider hosting their program. To us, this was an answer to prayer, another confirmation that this was from God. Every week, we have a moms group gathering, while the kids have a special activity, and every month we have dozens of families drop off their kids for respite. Our church might be small (micro) but we are making a difference in our special needs community. We are the church that embraces disability.

It also helps that the senior pastor (my husband) has two children with special needs!

C4EC: You’re personally embarking on a new ministry adventure. Why did you launch Disability Matters?

ES: Disability Matters was the result of a long drive back home to Wisconsin from Montana. I had written a blog post about Church and Disability as a response to many stories shared with me from special needs parents and adults with disabilities and their experiences at church. The response from that post was overwhelming, with more and more stories making their way into my inbox or the comments section on my blog. After reading all those stories my husband and I began asking, what can we do to encourage every church to embrace disability? So I took out a notebook and we started brainstorming. When we got home, we had the main concept for Disability Matters, with a mission, vision, and plan of what we wanted to do and accomplish. Our mission is to encourage every church to embrace disability. We are not talking a new program or ministry, but a way of doing life together, because disability is a normal part of life.

C4EC: What will you be sharing with everyone who joins us for Inclusion Fusion?

ES: I will be sharing about Disability Matters, about doing life together, about how people are searching for meaningful and real relationships and how those relationships should happen at church. I will also be sharing about our model of small groups, and how established small groups can become great support groups for everyone involved, not only those impacted by disability.

Find out more about Disability Matters at ***********************************************************************************************************

IF 2014 PosterJoin keynote speaker Joni Eareckson Tada, Chuck Swindoll, Emily Colson, Barb Newman and 20+ leaders representing the scope of the disability ministry movement this coming November 12-13 for Inclusion Fusion 2014, Key Ministry’s FREE, worldwide disability ministry web summit. Engage in interactive chat with many of our speakers and watch each presentation at the time of day that works best for you in the environment in which you’re most comfortable. Click here to view our entire speaker lineup and register for Inclusion Fusion 2014.




Posted in Families, Inclusion, Inclusion Fusion, Key Ministry, Ministry Environments, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The responsibilities of church leaders who promote adoption

featured-image2Today, Orphan Sunday is being recognized and celebrated in thousands of churches, large and small, here in the U.S. and beyond. It’s incredibly cool to see the church “being the church” through enabling the world’s most vulnerable kids the opportunity to experience the love of Christ through a caring family.

One of our priorities for Key Ministry as we move forward is to expand the scope of resources available to share with churches responding to the need for adoptive homes. Our ministry developed as a byproduct of a large church’s attempts to meet the needs of a highly committed group of families who were struggling to stay involved at church in the aftermath of adopting kids from Eastern European orphanages. We’ve already begun to see the fruits of our planning through the incredible response we’ve experienced to the series Shannon is doing on adoption and the church.

My clinician’s perch affords me a unique perspective on the commitment and faithfulness of families called to serve as foster care providers or led to adopt kids who wouldn’t otherwise have a home. My “day job” has also led me to anticipate the challenges families will often face in their adoption or foster care ministry…challenges that far too many families and churches are oblivious to when they commit to an adoption or orphan care ministry. In our practice, our adopted kids are among our most challenging to treat, and the most likely to need an out of home placement. In reality, the church hasn’t exactly distinguished itself by its’ depth of understanding of those with complex mental health concerns.

Dingle Front Door SliderShannon has been discussing how churches can love their adoptive and foster families. I’d like to challenge church leaders to assume responsibility for supporting their families when they pursue adoption ministry.

1. Church leaders have a responsibility to be forthright with the families about the challenges they’ll potentially face. According to this paper in Pediatrics, adopted children are more likely than biological children to:

  • Have difficulties with emotions, concentration, behavior, or getting along with others.
  • Have a learning disability, developmental delay, or physical impairment
  • More than twice as likely as biological children to have special health care needs
  • More likely to have repeated a school grade
  • Less likely to have a very close relationship with the parent
  • Parents of adopted children are more likely than parents of biological children to have felt that the child is harder to care for than most children

Too many parents go into foster care or adoption assuming their love will be sufficient for overcoming the damage resulting from a child’s experiences or upbringing. Love isn’t always enough.

2. Church leaders have a responsibility to commit the time of your church staff and the necessary funding to ensure that your leadership becomes trauma-informed. Shannon said what needed to be said on the subject here.

3. Church leaders have a responsibility to provide tangible supports for families who, as a result of encouragement from church leadership pursue a calling in adoption or foster care. Will you help families access the mental health services they’re more likely to need for an adoptive or foster child? What about the medical services they may require if adopting a child with special medical needs. What about tutoring or advocates who might help families access special education or support services from schools? What about child care or respite care when families can’t find or can’t afford someone when they need a break?

4. Church leaders have a responsibility to put in place the supports to allow the family to maintain no less than their preexisting level of engagement in the church. In my mind this one is MOST important. Are you prepared to welcome their kids into your children’s ministry or youth ministry? What if the parents adopt a child who is HIV-positive? What will the parents need to continue to attend their small group every week? What will they need to continue to serve in the ministries where they’ve grown and matured in their faith?

Are we as church called to care for orphans? You bet. Are we expected to use the gifts and talents entrusted to us to plan effectively to support families after respond to such a noble calling? They should expect nothing less!


Inclusion Fusion 2014Join keynote speaker Joni Eareckson Tada, Chuck Swindoll, Emily Colson, Barb Newman and 20+ leaders representing the scope of the disability ministry movement this coming November 12-13 for Inclusion Fusion 2014, Key Ministry’s FREE, worldwide disability ministry web summit. Engage in interactive chat with many of our speakers and watch each presentation at the time of day that works best for you in the environment in which you’re most comfortable. Click here to view our entire speaker lineup and register for Inclusion Fusion 2014.

Posted in Adoption, Families, Foster Care, Key Ministry, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments