Emily Colson…Becoming Still

Max Colson GreetingEmily Colson is an author, speaker and extraordinarily powerful advocate for the inclusion of families impacted by disability in the church. Most importantly, she’s Max’s mom. We’re honored that Emily agreed to serve as our guest blogger for Autism Awareness Day 2014, and our guest for this month’s Inclusion Fusion Web Symposium on Monday, April 7. Here’s Emily…

Becoming Still

I desperately needed church this morning to calm my fevered mind. Pressures have splintered my life lately. I am living in fragments of therapies, paperwork, medical appointments, work demands. And in between I’m often in a frenzied search for one of Max’s favorite objects that’s gone missing, which in our house feels like a sign of the end times. I’d been nursing a four-day stress headache, and I needed to be quiet before God. I craved stillness.

But our morning would be more aerobic.

Max stood in the doorway of church so excited that he was practically vibrating. His helper Marsha stood proudly beside us. It’s not that I can’t manage my 23-year-old son with autism alone; I’ve been a single mother for most of Max’s life. But when someone steps in to help, I feel like the ground shifts less beneath me. I straightened my son’s blue blazer and the three of us waited for the first car to pull up. Max stared through the windows and then started to bounce, straight up from his toes. His calf muscles are the size of New Jersey. As a woman approached the door Max stretched out his hand, his voice exploding into the foyer. “Welcome to church!” he yelled, now leaping like a 190-pound ballerina. Caught off guard, and trying to grab for his moving-target handshake, the woman burst into a smile. “Thank you,” she answered, her armor dropping noticeably.

After 30 minutes of high-impact greeting, I corralled Max over to the busy Welcome Center. That’s Max’s spot during the service. We’re a bit too “wiggly” to enjoy sitting through the sermon just yet. Max often sits with a helper at the Welcome Center, and I’m even able to attend some of the service. Max listens to the sermon on a television monitor positioned beside the Welcome Center. When our pastor reads scripture, Max always reads along for others to hear, holding up the sermon worksheets as if he were the town crier. Max sleeps with those worksheets under his pillow. We’ve come a long way since those early years of staying home on Sunday mornings when we couldn’t find our place. Back then, like so many families, we couldn’t even make it across the threshold. Autism held us hostage. I had to make a conscious decision to go forward every day, no matter what, and claim the abundant life God promises. I always knew Max needed the church, but no one could have imagined how much the church needed Max.

get-attachment-37.aspxThe church service ended and Max threw open the doors. Light spilled into the darkened church. As the music began, loud with guitars and drums, I let go of my helium-filled son. People here expect Max now, delight in him. If their only contact with Max had been at the mall or the park, they might have smiled politely and passed him by, or even pretended they didn’t notice. I might have too. Most of us avoid what makes us this uncomfortable. We keep our distance, until someone changes position.

The music carried Max through the open doorway and right into the church. I prayed extra hard, asking God to surround him with angels, a Holy Spirit cowcatcher clearing the track of small children and older folks, especially those carrying cups of hot coffee. I watched as Max made it to the center of the church, and then dropped to the floor in a yoga-gone-break-dance move. Max’s arms and legs flew wildly as if bouncing over twisting currents of whitewater. He became the music. I could see the worship team smiling at him from up on stage.

Max jumped to his feet and lept toward several people who were standing and singing. We do have a non-traditional format in our church, but this is New England; people here are rather restrained in their worship. My trigger fast reflexes kicked in and I darted into the church, ready to shift Max into a more open space. But before I could get there, people started clapping for Max. His unbridled joy seemed to call others to it. The whole back row welcomed him. And in that moment they all forgot themselves.

And they danced.

The beauty and ache caught in my heart, and everything stopped. Even the music grew faint. I could see Max still dancing but he was in slow motion, floating weightlessly in a too big sort of way, like a bubble in a lava lamp. And I knew I’d seen a little miracle this morning, watching our lives connect, seeing God plant gifts in Max that the rest of us desperately need. It’s as if God gives gifts to one person knowing they will be delivered to another, like a spiritual FedEx system. But we have to get up close, forget ourselves, and be open to receive. God’s fingerprints are on every life.

I could sense Max’s presence behind me. He was making breathy little noises from all that exercise. Max gently wrapped his arms around my shoulders from behind, this gargantuan muscle-bound young man hovering over his tiny mouse-mother. I think he was smelling my hair. I leaned back against my son in awe of how God has used Max to bless so many lives, right through the autism. God can create such beauty through what the world defines as brokenness and loss; He never makes mistakes. And there, in the noise, in the flashes of neon vying for my attention, in the unpredictability of life with autism, I found my focus. And I was still.

Emily ColsonEmily Colson is a popular speaker, and author of the award winning book, Dancing with Max. She speaks in churches and organizations nationwide, and has appeared on numerous media outlets including Focus on the Family, the Huckabee Show, and Hallmark’s Home & Family.  Her book was recently awarded “Book of the Year” by the Autism Society. Through her powerful message of the sanctity of life, Emily has inspired many to persevere through their own challenges and see the gifts. Emily has been a single mother for most of Max’s 23 years, with hard fought lessons in faith, life, love and a whole lot of laughter. Emily and Max live on the coast of New England where they can often be found dancing.


Square Peg Round HoleKey Ministry has assembled a helpful resource on the topic of Asperger’s Disorder and Spiritual Development. This page includes the blog series Dr. Grcevich and Mike Woods developed for Key Ministry, links to lots of helpful resources from other like-minded organizations, and Dr. Grcevich’s presentation on the topic from the 2012 Children’s Ministry Web Summit. Click here to access the page!

Posted in Advocacy, Autism, Families, Hidden Disabilities, Inclusion, Inclusion Fusion, Key Ministry, Stories, Training Events | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

David Lynden…Connecting with God through the routines of life

Dave LyndenThroughout Autism Awareness Month 2014, we’re honored to share with a blog series from a true champion of families of kids with autism and other special needs in the church. Dave Lynden will be sharing with us a six part series on the topic of Spiritual Autism.

Dave is a graduate of the University of Akron and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. While serving as an associate pastor at Far Hills Community Church in Dayton, OH, Dave was instrumental in launching a respite care initiative for families of kids with special needs. Dave and his wife (Desiree) experienced the need firsthand… their middle child (Micah) is diagnosed with autism. Early in Dave’s five year tenure as Senior Pastor of Fellowship Bible Church in Chagrin Falls, ohio he launched “Breathe”…the largest, free, church-based respite ministry in Northeast Ohio. Here’s the first post in Dave’s series…

The morning ritual

Coffee CupMost mornings for our family are a clockwork-like routine.  On school days, I get up around 5:50AM, get some sweatpants on, descend the staircase, make a pot of coffee and turn on the TV for the morning news shows.  Then, it is time to head back upstairs and get the first two kiddos up.  To achieve this, I typically reach up and grab our oldest- Josiah- by the heels and begin to drag him halfway out of his loft bed so that the sensation of hanging out of bed will wake him the rest of the way.  Cruel, maybe. Effective, absolutely…and he has not fallen yet.  Our daughter, Jordan, requires a simple wake-up call.  After trudging down the stairs and over to the kitchen table, they slowly begin to nibble away at breakfast.  Despite the grogginess and the tinge of crankiness of my two early morning diners, there is something peaceful about this morning routine.  It has a certain serenity and quiet safety to it.  Everything is ordered, everything is structured.  Josiah and Jordan are still too sleepy to begin pecking at each other.  It is a small moment shared with others who belong to you and you belong to them.  I cannot say why I experience this sensation as I watch two of my kids slumped in chairs, eating their breakfast and grumbling about how tired they are and how tough they have got it, but I do.  In all of its simplicity, it is a little wonder with two of my three children.

About the time they are finishing breakfast (and perking up), 7:00AM rolls around and it is time to wake up child #3 (whose bus comes later).  And there is rote and routine here as well.  Like his brother Josiah, waking Micah usually requires me to drag him feet first out of his bed.  After a long, deep stretch, Micah begins pulling his socks and pants on, although still bleary-eyed and zombie-like.  He slips his shirt over his head, gives me a big hug, squeezing his face against mine and then off we head downstairs, past Josiah and Jordan who are heading up the stairs to brush their teeth and have my wife Desiree fix up Jordan’s hair.  Micah is still hugging me as we get to the steps, which he counts all the way down even while clinging to my side before tiptoeing over to the kitchen table to nibble away at his own breakfast.  It is a small little innocuous moment and yet, one filled with wonder…if you are looking.  Walter Brueggemann wrote,

“The most foundational experience of orientation is the daily experience of life’s regularities, which are experienced as reliable, equitable and generous…this experience is ordained and sustained by God.” (emphasis his)[1]

Why don’t I experience God?

I don’t know if it is just me, but it always feels like I am waiting for some big encounter with God to assure me again of His presence and His care.  I don’t need a burning bush, mind you.  But, it seems like it should be something fairly out-of-the-ordinary, something that really stands out.

Perhaps if you have become familiar with the Bible, you might be tempted to see stories of God speaking audibly with Abraham or Jacob.  Or perhaps you might see Daniel having dreams and visions and assume, “If I have an encounter with God, it should look something like that.  So, why do I not experience God?”

Yet, sometimes it is these small wonders and little moments where it becomes obvious that God is present.  We forget the story of Elijah when God “passes by” and he sees a firestorm, a windstorm and feels an earthquake only to experience God in a “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12).  Sometimes, it is the simple, the subtle, the hard-to-detect that offers us a fresh encounter with God.  Sometimes, it is in the everyday routines and rhythms, the “daily experience of life’s regularities” in which we are able to orient ourselves to see what might have slipped by in the chaos of the moment.  I have found that my relationship with Micah not only helps me see something new about this relationship with God, but I even see it from what it might look like from God’s perspective.

Small breaks in the routine

Micah in tree 1Micah is a beautiful twelve year old boy who also has autism.  He is very low functioning with a minimal capacity to use language expressively.  His favorite toys are everyday items around the house with which he can engage in stimming (e.g. strings, beads, rubber snakes, etc…).  His world is one regulated by routine- when he gets up, what he has for breakfast, the order of brushing his teeth, combing his hair, getting his coat on, waiting for the bus.  Later the same day, when he gets off the bus, he checks the mailbox, comes in the house, takes off his shoes, gets his folder out and sets it in the same spot and then looks for snacks.  Soon, it is time for dinner, some play time, a shower, brushing his teeth and getting ready for bed.  For bed time, Micah will request the same book for a month at a time.  Currently, we’re reading The Monster at the End of This Book and I have developed a sore throat from trying to talk like Grover every night for the past three weeks.

There are plenty of times when Micah is walking through his routines, that I find myself feeling more like a prop than a parent; more like a means than an end.  If he cannot reach something in the cupboard above the refrigerator, he’ll grab my arm and aim it at what he wants.  When he needs pressure, he wedges himself behind whoever is sitting in a living room chair.  If I ask, I can get an obligatory hug from Micah, but if it interferes with one of his routines, he squawks loudly.  As I stand back from these interactions, however, I wonder if that is how God experiences us.  Perhaps we do not experience God’s presence because we are missing the gift of routine.

God’s routines and rhythms

Curiously, the story of the Bible begins with routines.  It begins with a certain rhythm.  God speaks- “Let there be”…and it is so…and there was ______ (e.g. light, waters above and below, land, fish, birds, etc…)…and God saw that it was good…and there was evening and there was morning, day ____.  Woven into the very creation is a rhythm to the week- six days work, one day rest.  Then later on in Genesis, God establishes another routine, another rhythm- the seasons (Gen. 8:22).  Such a rhythm is quite counter-cultural to our world of 24/7 news coverage and the immediate accessibility, the adrenaline junkies seeking new thrills and the continual need for upgrades for our tech toys.  And yet, God counters our penchant for stimulation (which, left unchecked, will ultimately overstimulate us) and has gifted us with rhythm and routine in life.

Micah may need routine, but even through his disorder, God has been teaching me about order.  God has given us routines and rhythms for living so that we do not get overwhelmed and frustrated.  I stumbled across an interesting observation while reading the book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon.  The main character, telling the story in the first person, is a teenaged autistic savant who shares with the reader the feeling of being overwhelmed by too much noise and change.  He describes it as trying to listen to an AM radio station where two stations are coming in at the same time and all you hear is static with an occasional word or two.  Is this what Micah experiences?  Is this how our children with autism feel?  This is why we give our children the gift of routines and structure.  And in that, perhaps we can stop and see beyond another sunrise, or the rhythm of the work week or the school year to understand that God is offering us structure to help us cope with our “spiritual autism”.  Brueggemann wrote this about the rhythm and routine of the week with Sabbath rest:

“Sabbath is an unspoken prayer for the coming of a new sanity shaped by the power and graciousness of God.”

In a word, we experience God by the rhythm and routines He gives our lives.  And we also experience God in the breaks in the routine.

Breaks in the routine

There is something more about the gift of routines: they can create a contrast to help us see what might be considered small and insignificant.  One of the mantras of wisdom that our autism support group used to rehearse is to celebrate the small, incremental progressions of our children with autism.  And they were easier to see because the routines make them stand out so much more than our typical children.

For instance, Micah and I have a very regular bedtime routine.  After brushing his teeth, he leaps into his bed.  He must have “Tiger” (his favorite stuffed animal), whom he holds tightly with his left arm.  I then pull his favorite blanket over him, lay down on the side of the bed with the big floor fan blowing at us and read him his night time story.  Then I sing him the Shema (I was raised Jewish and this was part of my night time routine), pray for him and tell him, “I love you, Micah” to which he responds, “I love you, Micah”.  I shake my head and point to myself and he makes the correction- “I love you (pause), Daddy.”  “Night night”, I say.  “Night night”, he echoes back.  “See you in the morning”, I say.  “See you in the morning”, he echoes back…and then I am free to leave the room and allow him some sleep.

That is how we have done bedtime for years.  So when Micah and I were settling down for bed and I said, “I love you Micah”, the break in the routine stood in sharp contrast to the norm.  This particular night, he rolled towards me, pressed his nose against my nose and giggling, said without prompt or adjustment, “I love you, Daddy”.  The routine created a backdrop for this interaction.  The “I love you” statements that get tossed about so casually in most typical relationships jumped out at me with Micah.  And this moment, too, taught me how to move past this spiritual autism of ours.  It called me to pay attention to the subtle differences, to the incremental changes in the routine.  With a child who is so restricted socially, the question of, “Does he really know I love him?  Does he really love me?” is answered by the break in the routine- “I love you (pause), Daddy.”

We need, then, to both know our routines and pay attention to the subtle changes.  When we look at the sky that we see every day and every night with a new tinge of purple or orange painted across the bottoms of the clouds, we see God reaching through the routines to get our attention.  When we read the Gospels or the Psalms and get away from the assumptions we bring to the text and then see something we had never seen before, God is drawing us out to a fuller awareness of who He is.  And yet, it is the routines that draw our attention to these moments in the first place.  It is the routines that slow us down enough to hear the still, small voice of God.  Part of the solution to the spiritual autism that isolates us from God and makes “eye-contact” so difficult is the discipline of slowing, the structure of routine, what some Christians call a personal “Rule of Life”.  I love what Chuck Swindoll once said when it comes to the speed of life and the lack of quiet.

“The only trouble with success is that the formula for achieving it is the same as the formula for a nervous breakdown.”


School BusOne of our more recent mornings went like clockwork.  The kids were up at the slated times.  Breakfasts were eaten, sleepy kids grumbled, teeth were brushed, hair was combed, backpacks were filled and buses were boarded.  But, this morning presented a slight change to Micah’s routine.  Our dog Buttercup recently had ACL surgery and we have begun short walks down the driveway as part of her therapy.  So we combined Micah’s walk to the bus with Buttercup’s therapy, which meant that I had to stop halfway down the driveway and allow Micah to get on the bus without me right next to him.  The change in the routine offered a contrast and thus, insight.  He followed much of the routine as though I were right there.  And standing back with a wider perspective of everything, I could see beyond the routine.

Without me there to stop him from getting his shoes wet, Micah played around the stream of ice water in the drainage ditch which ran under our driveway, hopping over the tiny brook or tossing in a stone for the “kerplunk” noise.  With the subtle switch in routine and my newfound perspective, I watched this little boy experience a bit of wonder in the things that we both pass by so quickly in the midst of our various missions of the day.  When the bus arrived, Micah was standing in his typical place.  The door opened, he climbed on and in accordance with the routine, said (with back still turned to me), “Bye Dad, I love you.”  But, I was a little further back with the dog and I didn’t hear him, thus breaking the routine of echoing back to him, “Bye Micah, I love you.”  The break caused Micah to stop, turn back, look directly at me and repeat, “Bye Dad, I love you.”  I responded, “Bye Micah, I love you.  Have a good day at school.”  A broad smile crossed his face and then he sat down to buckle up.  Was this how God sees us?  Is this how God gains our attention?  With routines, and subtle breaks in the routine?  Is this one of the still, small voices by which God breaks through our spiritual autism to look at us face-to-face and declare, “I love you” with greater clarity?  Is it the broad smile of understanding that God is seeking in us?

“The most foundational experience of orientation is the daily experience of life’s regularities, which are experienced as reliable, equitable and generous…this experience is ordained and sustained by God.”

[1] Brueggemann, Walter, The Message of the Psalms- A Theological Commentary, pub. by Augsburg, 1984, p. 28

Some photos courtesy of http://www.freedigitalphotos.net


Emily Colson largeEmily Colson, speaker, award-winning author and mother of Max will be serving as our special guest blogger for Autism Awareness Day 2014 on Wednesday, April 2nd, and will be our featured interview for a special edition of Inclusion Fusion on Monday, April 7th. Emily will share her family’s experience prior to finding a church where they were welcomed and accepted, and we’ll learn of the unique and wonderful ways that Max has been a blessing to the people of his church. Emily will be available at designated times throughout the day to chat online, and our participants will be provided the opportunity to share their stories as well. Mark your calendars today!

Posted in Autism, Key Ministry, Spiritual Development | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Game of Chess With No Winners…Mike Pitts

shutterstock_81693892She certainly didn’t look like a seventh grader and maybe that’s why every middle school guy wanted to be with her. Each Wednesday night was like a scene out of a 80’s teen movie when she walked in. You know the one where the pretty girl walks by and the world happens in slow motion. We youth workers would always have a good laugh at the middle school boys’ expense. Maybe the next time I needed to make an announcement I should just have Michelle walk past so they would be quiet. By appearance Michelle looked more like she was in high school than middle school. Michelle definitely stuck out more than her fellow seventh grade girls.

Honestly, I never thought Michelle was a mean girl, but at times her nose appeared to be in the air (the entourage of mean girls that followed her didn’t help). None of my volunteer youth workers ever reported her being mean to anymore, and most had never even heard her speak. Like most middle school kids, she would only speak when spoken to and even then they were usually only one to two word declarative statements to appease the question. Sadly, her stay in my student ministry was short lived. She dropped off the scene just as quickly as she popped onto it.

Youth Pastor Confession: I thought that maybe we weren’t cool enough for her. After all my group was full of “average Joes”, underdogs, and fringe kids. We definitely didn’t fill the niche of “queens bees” and the “elite.” Every youth pastor understands that community is everything in youth ministry and maybe we just couldn’t provide the type she was looking for.

Michelle’s parents were long-time members of our church and I remember feeling slighted when they never reached out to connect with me. To be honest, it made me feel like I had done something wrong…like I had failed to qualify as a youth pastor because maybe they didn’t trust me to shoulder their daughter’s issues and burdens alongside them.

shutterstock_79177156I can’t imagine what it feels like when your kids don’t want want to be part of the youth ministry in the very church they were born and raised in.

But it breaks my heart to know our churches are full of students and families like that. I guess in some ways I did fail Michelle and her parents as I never reached out either. Maybe we were both hanging by the phone to see which side made the first move until we waited so long nobody did.

Years later one of my former middle school guys told me that Michelle had withdrawn from high school after her anxiety and panic attacks had become unmanageable. Then he said, “You know she was diagnosed with anxiety in 7th grade? She takes medicine and everything.” Why did I not know?

They never told me.

But I never asked.

Maybe they were embarrassed.

How do you ask a parent if those questions if they don’t volunteer the information?

I had failed Michelle. They had failed Michelle. We had failed Michelle. And to think that church could have been a huge win for Michelle and the Kingdom! It hurts.

Parents, truth is I could have done a heck of a lot to accommodate Michelle in my youth group and I know hindsight is 20/20. We could have made minor tweaks, we could have helped to lessen the unknowns that cause anxiety, we could have given her a safe and quiet place to go when she felt a panic attack coming on, and we could have connected her with one of our female volunteers who also has anxiety. The list goes on and on. Thinking about how many possible “Michelles” I’ve had over the years almost makes me want to have a panic attack.

THE CONCLUSION: I want to start waiving the flag for you, but I need some help. The church needs you to help us be the church. We need information that will help us include, celebrate, and minister to your teen’s uniqueness. We don’t want to label your student or give them an IEP at church. We are the church-not the public school. We want to make them feel wanted and included. Let me leave you with some food for thought after having this very conversation with a fellow youth pastor.

Asking a parent if their student has a disability or disorder is like asking a woman if she is pregnant.


Youth Pastor: So I’ve been observing Billy, and I think he might just be on the spectrum. High functioning of course. He meets all the criteria on Web MD.

Parent: We’re finding a new church.

There’s got to be a better way. Parents…How you can you help us help you? How can we better partner?


Mike PittsMike Pitts is a  youth worker from the southeastern United States who made his way north to the Midwest. Along his journey, this southern transplant developed a passion for middle school students and for engaging students with hidden disabilities. Mike is an ambassador for Key Ministry challenging youth workers to pursue ministry with students with hidden disabilities. Mike and his wife Hope have been married for four years and live with their two young children (Emery & Phoebe) in Cleveland, Ohio.


Posted in Anxiety Disorders, Inclusion, Key Ministry, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Amy Simpson Interview

Amy SimpsonAmy Simpson will be speaking later today at Saddleback Church’s Gathering on Mental Illness and the Church.  We were fortunate to have her guest blog for us last Mother’s Day. Amy is a former publishing executive now working at Christianity Today as Editor of GiftedForLeadership.com and developing marriage & parenting resources for Today’s Christian Woman. She has published articles in Leadership Journal, Christianity Today, Today’s Christian Woman, Relevant, PRISM Magazine, Her.meneutics, ThinkChristian, Christian Singles, Group Magazine, and several others. 

Her family’s firsthand experience with mental illness provided the inspiration for her new book, Troubled Minds: Mental Health and the Church’s Mission. She wrote for us last year on the topic, Does Your Church Inadvertently Hurt People With Mental Illness?

In April, news outlets revealed a disturbing practice that’s apparently common in Nevada’s State mental health system, and particularly in its largest psychiatric hospital, Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas.

The hospital, coverage revealed, regularly places people with mental illness on Greyhound buses and sends them to other states. In 2012, Rawson-Neal sent nearly 400 patients to 176 cities and 45 states around the country.

The state claims it’s merely helping people find their way back home, but specific cases show this is not always true. Nevada also claims the state is sending people off with adequate provisions, but again, documented cases call that claim into question.

Is Your Church Like Vegas?

Like Nevada, and all the states those Greyhound busses are bound for, churches are full of people who struggle with mental illness. Each year, 26.2 percent of the American adult population suffers from a diagnosable mental illness. At the same time, an estimated 20 percent of children in the United States are at least mildly impaired by some type of diagnosable mental illness. And about 5 to 9 percent of children ages 9 to 17 have a “serious emotional disturbance.” That translates to millions of individuals and families directly affected by mental illness. Many more are affected by the symptoms of friends, classmates, co-workers, and the people who sit next to them on Sunday morning.

The church is the first place many people go when they’re looking for help of all kinds, including treatment for mental illness. Among people who have sought treatment, 25 percent have gone first to a member of the clergy. This is a higher percentage than those who have gone to psychiatrists, general medical doctors, or anyone else. Unfortunately, many church leaders are ill-equipped to help people get the care they need. And while 25 percent of those who seek help from clergy have the most serious forms of mental illness, studies have shown that clergy refer less than 10 percent of them to mental-health professionals. On top of that, for every person who seeks help, many more stay silent, afraid to admit their illnesses to themselves or to risk the rejection of the people around them.

With so many opportunities to help people in need, how many churches respond as the state of Nevada does?

Some churches actually intentionally reject people with mental illness. In their theological framework, mental illness has no place among God’s people. Those who manifest symptoms are assumed to be demon-possessed, willfully attached to some egregious sin, or lacking the faith they need to claim God’s healing. When they don’t get better by simply praying or exercising more faith, they are considered at fault and not welcome within the fellowship. Such churches misunderstand the true nature of mental illness and need to revisit their theology of illness and suffering of all kinds. Until they do, they are not safe places for people with mental illness or their families and are best avoided.

But most churches do not hold to the kind of theology that overtly blames, rejects, and casts out people whose brains have shown themselves particularly vulnerable to the forces of disease and decay that haunt us all in various ways. Even so, many inadvertently communicate rejection through their policies or culture.

Here are three ways many churches are emulating Nevada, along with some key questions for church leaders.

Uniquely Attractive—and Responsible

As news coverage has pointed out, the city of Las Vegas makes Nevada a unique state: “The city’s entertainment and casino culture draws people from all over the world…including the mentally ill.” The trappings of Vegas may be more likely to attract people with mood disorders, schizophrenia­, and other conditions—and the same may be said for churches. Spiritual experiences, promises of peace and joy, opportunities for community and for communion with God…these elements of church life are understandably attractive to many people with mental illness. Churches have a special responsibility to recognize this and respond intentionally.

- ­Do you make people with mental disorders feel unwelcome? ignore them and focus on the more attractive new people who walk through your doors, hoping they’ll go away and other churches will meet their needs?

- In sermons, Bible studies, and classes, do you send the false message that Christians should not expect trouble, pain, or sickness? that happy, comfortable, and “victorious” life is the norm?

- When was the last time mental illness was mentioned in a sermon, in a way that normalized it?

- Does your community expect people to have it all together when they walk through the doors?

- Do you expect people to be “cured” before finding a place to serve?

None of us will ever be whole this side of heaven—and many people with mental illness suffer from chronic and repetitive symptoms that can be managed but not technically cured. These conditions do not cancel God’s purposes for them. They do not disqualify people from a place in the body of Christ. Just as much as other ill or injured people, they deserve loving acceptance, clear and consistent boundaries, and grace.

Missing Basic Needs

In at least a few documented cases, Nevada’s mental-health care system placed people on buses without adequate provisions or chaperones. Many churches use a similar strategy, without realizing they’re not fulfilling their responsibilities.

  • If you’re a church leader who doesn’t happen to be a qualified mental health professional, do you recognize and acknowledge your limitations? If yes, that’s a good thing.
  • Do you refer people to professionals who can help with disorders and provide therapy and medication as necessary? This is also a good thing.
  • But do you then walk away and assume your job is done?
  • Mental-health care is incomplete without spiritual nurture and loving friendship. Does your church push people toward psychiatric care but leave them without adequate spiritual guidance and a kind friend to walk alongside them?
  • Do you provide practical help (hospital visits, meals, rides, financial assistance) to people with other health crises but ignore these basic needs in families affected by mental illness?

Psychiatrists do not provide pastoral care. Therapists don’t make sure the bills are paid and the kids get to school. Medication does not answer questions about why God feels so far away. Just because people receive medical treatment does not mean they don’t need anything more from the church.

Neglecting Support Systems

Nevada claims it is simply busing people back to their home states and first making contact with support systems at those destinations. But investigations reveal those connections are not always made and plans for follow-up care aren’t always in place. Many churches also fail to consider what they can do to strengthen the support system for people with mental illness.

  • Are you ignoring the families of people with mental illness? My own survey showed that only 56.8 percent of church leaders have reached out to the family of someone with mental illness within their congregation. Have you asked families what they need? Are you prepared to help as you can?
  • Do you consult with mental-health professionals? If people in your congregation are receiving care, you can request that they sign consent forms to allow you to collaborate with professionals and discuss the best ways for your church to support these members’ mental health. If you don’t receive that written consent, you can still discuss the best ways for you to support people with various types of mental illness.
  • As in Nevada’s state mental-health care system, in your church are people getting caught within a beauracratic system with no one really aware of or responsible for their needs?
  • Are you relying on “trickle-down ministry,” focusing on your core leaders and expecting them to lead the next tier, and so on? Is anyone in your church likely to feel responsible for a good support system, or does everyone assume someone else will take care of it?
  • Are you willing to adapt your schedules, plans, and expectations in order to deal compassionately with people in crisis? Or do you expect everyone to follow the same process and grow within the same system?
  • Are you willing to let people with mental illness do ministry in your church? Mental illness is rarely predictable, but it is not a spiritual or relational death sentence. People affected by mental disorders don’t always fit into a tightly scripted service with high production values. It can hard to find their place in a segmented congregation. But with understanding and grace, you can give them opportunities to serve according to the gifts God has given them. Allowing people to engage in ministry when they’re functioning well, and take a break when they’re not, can provide an incredible support system.

A Call to the Church

CT Book AwardsI wrote my new book, Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission, to help the church better understand the needs of people affected by mental illness. I also wrote it to challenge the church­—that’s everyone who follows Christ—to see this as part of our mission in this life.

As I’ve said in my book, “The church should not lag; it should lead the way. We serve a God who calls us to serve “the least of these” as if we were serving him (Mt 25:40). Jesus said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” (Mk 2:17). As living temples carrying God’s presence in this world, we must allow his light to shine out from us and infiltrate the darkness that surrounds so many people and drives some of them to despair.”

Let’s embrace our calling and shine the light of Christ in the darkness.


Troubled MindsMental illness is the sort of thing we don’t like to talk about. It doesn’t reduce nicely to simple solutions and happy outcomes. So instead, too often we reduce people who are mentally ill to caricatures and ghosts, and simply pretend they don’t exist. They do exist, however—statistics suggest that one in four people suffer from some kind of mental illness. And then there’s their friends and family members, who bear their own scars and anxious thoughts, and who see no safe place to talk about the impact of mental illness on their lives and their loved ones. Many of these people are sitting in churches week after week, suffering in stigmatized silence. In Troubled Minds, Amy Simpson, whose family knows the trauma and bewilderment of mental illness, reminds us that people with mental illness are our neighbors and our brothers and sisters in Christ, and she shows us the path to loving them well and becoming a church that loves God with whole hearts and whole souls, with the strength we have and with minds that are whole as well as minds that are troubled. Available at Amazon.


Posted in Advocacy, Inclusion, Key Ministry, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Interview with Dr. Matthew Stanford

Stanford_Color_HDThe movement to include families impacted by mental illness in the church will be well-represented tomorrow at Saddleback Church’s Gathering on Mental Health and the Church. In honor of Amy Simpson’s appearance, we’ll rerun a guest blog she had shared with us last year. Today, we’re recognizing Dr. Matthew Stanford from Baylor University and Mental Health Grace Alliance by sharing an interview he did with us two years ago along with a video he did for Inclusion Fusion 2012.

Dr. Stanford was involved in the publication of a study with Dr. Diana Garland, Dean of the Department of Social Work at Baylor and Edward Rogers (lead author and former youth pastor) examining the relationship between mental illness and faith practice published in the journal Mental Health, Religion and Culture that we reviewed last July on this blog. He also serves as Director and Founder of Mental Health Grace Alliance, a faith-based, non-profit organization created to promote understanding in the church and provide assistance and support to individuals living with mental illness and their families.

SG: Your group at Baylor has developed an interest in studying the impact of mental illness on family involvement in churches. What led you to see this topic as a necessary and worthwhile area for research?

MS: As a person of faith and a psychologist I have often been pulled aside by fellow believers and asked questions about mental health issues or told of negative interactions between those struggling with mental illness and the church. That led me to begin taking seriously the interaction between those with mental illness and the local church. I came to Baylor in 2003 to specifically begin a line of research in the area in an attempt gain understanding and educate the church.

SG: Last year, your group published the results of a study of nearly 6,000 participants from 24 churches representing four Protestant denominations examining the impact of mental illness in a family on church involvement and spiritual practices. What in your mind were the key findings from the study?

MS: I would say that the key finding of that study was that approximately a quarter of families in the church are struggling to care for a mentally ill loved one. Those families are in significant distress and that distress has not only affected their personal relationships and daily lives but has also disrupted their ability to practice their faith and connect with God. Sadly, these families appear virtually invisible to the congregation as a whole.

SG: Was there any data to suggest that the presence of mental illness in a child or teen has more or less impact on church involvement and spiritual practices compared to mental illness in a spouse or a parent? Any hypotheses from data you’ve reviewed?

MS: While we didn’t specifically look at that question the families we surveyed were caring for a variety of loved ones suffering with mental illness including children. From what we can tell at this time there is no difference; both have a significant negative impact on the family’s spiritual practices.

SG: What additional studies is your group conducting (or planning to conduct) on the impact of mental health issues on spiritual practices? Is there research being done by other groups that churches served by Key Ministry should know about?

MS: Presently we are conducting several studies 1) the interaction of sexual assault survivors and the local church, 2) how personal spirituality or faith can be used therapeutically within a secular therapy setting and 3) the difference between the mental health needs of men and women in the church.

SG: You’ve been involved in the development of a new non-profit organization, Mental Health Grace Alliance. Can you share with our readers the mission and vision of Mental Health Grace Alliance, and some of the services and resources your organization provides?

MH Grace AllianceMS: Mental Health Grace Alliance is a faith-based, non-profit organization created to promote understanding in the church and provide assistance and support to individuals living with mental illness and their families. We assist individuals and families affected by mental illness through Christ-centered counseling and support. We use a comprehensive (holistic) approach to equip individuals and families with biblical and clinical understanding and practical tools to navigate the health care system and daily life. We facilitate Christ-centered support groups, called Grace Groups, for both those living with a mental illness and their loved ones (presently in CA, FL, MA, TN, TX). We also provide training seminars and resources for churches and faith-based organizations to help leaders and professionals understand the balance between the clinical and spiritual aspects of mental illness and recovery. You can learn more at http://www.mentalhealthgracealliance.org.

Stanford Grace for the AfflictedSG: In addition to your work at Baylor and through Mental Health Grace Alliance, you’ve also published two books…The Biology of Sin (available as a Kindle e-book) as well as Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness (also available as an e-book). What are some of the key topics and questions you’ve addressed through your books?

MS: I think the key issue in all my writings is that the scientific or clinical aspects of mental health issues are not incompatible or inconsistent with a spiritual perspective. So when we are discussing medical or psychological treatments for Bipolar disorder we should also be discussing the spiritual impact on the individual and how we might effectively minister to them in their distress.

Matt did a fabulous talk for Inclusion Fusion on the topic of Viewing Mental Illness Through the Eyes of Faith that should be required viewing for pastors and church staff seeking to more effectively minister to families impacted by mental illness. Some of the topics Matt addressed in this relatively brief talk (20 minutes) included:

  • What is a Biblical and clinical understanding/response to mental illness?
  • How to recognize mental illness.
  • The essential role of the church in the recovery and treatment process.
  • How to respond to families dealing with mental illness.
  • How to create mental health related supportive care within the church.
  • Resources to help families navigate the health care system and everyday life.


Stanford Biology of SinMatthew S. Stanford is professor of psychology, neuroscience, and biomedical studies at Baylor University. He serves as the graduate director for the Psychology Doctoral Program. He received his Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Baylor in 1992. After graduating from Baylor he completed a post-doctoral fellowship in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Prior to coming to Baylor in 2003 he was a faculty member in the Department of Psychology at the University of New Orleans. Dr. Stanford’s research focuses primarily on the biological basis of impulsive and aggressive behavior. In addition, he has conducted psychophysiological research in a variety of patient populations including those with aggression, personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, stroke and traumatic brain injury.

Dr. Stanford’s books, The Biology of Sin (available as a Kindle e-book) as well as Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness are available at Amazon.


Posted in Hidden Disabilities, Inclusion, Key Ministry, Mental Health, Training Events | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Saddleback’s Gathering on Mental Illness and the Church to be available online…

Saddleback Gathering

Rick and Kay Warren are using their platform to call attention to the needs of families impacted by mental illness in the church.

On Friday, March 28th Saddleback Church will be hosting the Gathering on Mental Health and the Church from their Main Campus in Lake Forest, CA. The Gathering is a one-day event designed to encourage individuals living with mental illness, educate family members, and equip church leaders to provide effective and compassionate care to any faced with the challenges of mental illness.

Stanford_Color_HDIn addition to the Warren’s, Saddleback has assembled an excellent lineup of speakers, including two leaders who have previously guest blogged for us…Dr. Matthew Stanford from Mental Health Grace Alliance and Amy Simpson from Christianity Today.

We learned yesterday that the Gathering will be streamed live by the folks from Saddleback so that church leaders, advocates and family members everywhere can participate. Blog readers can follow this link to the conference website on the day of the event to find the live feed. Presentations begin at 11:30 AM Eastern, 8:30 AM Pacific Time.

Amy SimpsonThanks to the folks at Saddleback for making the Gathering available to us unable to travel to California! This conference looks to be essential viewing for anyone interested in the cause of those impacted by mental illness in the church.


shutterstock_80344798Confused about all the changes in diagnostic terminology for kids with mental heath disorders? Key Ministry has a resource page summarizing our recent blog series examining the impact of changes in the DSM-5 on kidsClick this link for summary articles describing the changes in diagnostic criteria for conditions common among children and teens, along with links to other helpful resources!

Posted in Key Ministry | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why are so many parents open to ADHD medication for their kids?

ADHD Does Not ExistOver the past week, two respected colleagues sent me links to the Time Magazine article pictured at right seeking my response to the attention-getting title of a new book on ADHD from a behavioral pediatrician in Chicago.

While I’ll address some some of the inaccuracies in Dr. Saul’s statements at the end of this post, I was drawn to what I think is a far more interesting question…Given the stigma that exists about the use of medication for ADHD, the difficulty involved in accessing physicians with the knowledge and expertise to properly treat the condition, the cost of doctors’ visits and prescription medication (once-daily ADHD medication can easily cost $2,500 a year or more) and the extraordinary hassles involved with getting insurance companies to pay for what’s needed, why are so many parents pursuing the use of ADHD medication for their children?

In my practice, the vast majority of parents who present seeking my assistance for their kids with ADHD are most fearful about the long-term consequences of their child’s inability to perform in school at the level one would predict from their intelligence and their family’s ability to support their academic success.

Between the kids and families I see in my day job and my current experience as the parent of a bright high school senior entering the final stages of the college selection process upon completion of thirteen years of public education, the stark realities of the world in which our kids are expected to function hit me in the face on a daily basis.

Steve's 50th 4The volume of academic work kids are expected to produce today substantially exceeds what was expected of students in earlier generations. In 1972, one in 20 high school seniors spent 10 or more hours per week on homework. By 1992, that number increased to one in four. I’ve previously shared this review article examining the research on homework. 80% of U.S. teachers see homework as a tool for teaching organizational skills. According to one study, 82% of U.S. teachers graded homework vs. 14% in Japan and 6% in Germany. A recent study from Stanford University suggests the homework problem may be especially acute at high-performing high schools. As a result, kids with relative weaknesses in organizational skills and the capacity to complete large amounts of work quickly and efficiently operate at a MAJOR disadvantage in academic settings. For many, family life is centered around homework completion. When relationships between kids and parents begin to break down around homework struggles, can parents be blamed for seeking out all possible solutions to the problem?

The competition for slots in desired majors/colleges is markedly more intense than in my generation. Here’s an interesting study examining college admission practices from researchers at Harvard University and the University of Michigan. Here are some key findings…

  • The proportion of applicants admitted to elite universities fell by about 25% from 1986 to 2003.
  • The likelihood of students being admitted to any college dropped by 9% during that period.
  • The percentage of applicants admitted to college with SAT scores below the 25th percentile and 50th percentile experienced the largest drop…by 43% and 23%, respectively.

Here’s one graph from the report that demonstrates the increase in competitiveness in college admission, comparing the 75th percentile SAT math scores of students accepted to different types of colleges from 1986 to 2013…

College admissions by SAT score 1986-2003

The consequences of suboptimal academic performance are far greater than they were when I was attending school. In 1972, only 29% of high school seniors applied to four year colleges…by 2004, this number increased to 53%. When I graduated from an elite public high school in 1979, a little over 60% of our class went on to college…but for those who did not, blue collar jobs were available in local auto and steel plants that paid solidly middle class wages. In 2012, the median wage for employed high school graduates was $9.50/hour…$2.00 above the Federal poverty line. Only three in ten high school graduates between 2006 and 2011 had found full-time employment by 2012.

Square Peg Round HoleThe end result is that the consequences of a lack of success in our educational system can be dire, and if we conceptualize kids having to pass through an ever-increasing number of “round holes” in our schools, the desperation of parents to get their “square peg” through those round holes is mounting. The end result is that parents pursue medication, tutoring, alternative schools and other approaches for their kids who struggle academically because they fear the long-term consequences associated with academic underachievement. 

A few thoughts on Dr. Saul’s provocative book title and article…

While I have no doubt that he and/or his literary agent came up with a catchy title that will sell lots of books, his opinion doesn’t appear to be supported by the data. From the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s Practice Parameters for the Diagnosis and Treatment of ADHD

Upon reviewing the voluminous literature on ADHD, the American Medical Association’s Council on Scientific Affairs (Goldman et al., 1998) commented, Overall, ADHD is one of the best-researched disorders in medicine, and the overall data on its validity are far more compelling than for many medical conditions. Although scientists and clinicians debate the best way to diagnose and treat ADHD, there is no debate among competent and well- informed health care professionals that ADHD is a valid neurobiological condition that causes significant impairment in those whom it afflicts.

While Dr. Saul is correct in noting that there are lots of other conditions that can produce difficulties with attention, a thorough and detailed evaluation from a competent professional can generally differentiate these conditions from ADHD.

Finally, there is no evidence that large numbers of kids develop tolerance to the effects of stimulants. I’ve seen a few older kids develop tolerance who misused stimulants by dosing their medication to achieve around the clock effects. It’s also possible that some individuals on long-acting stimulants may develop some transient reduction in benefit from accumulating the drug in their system. Most patients who notice such an effect also notice the return of a robust response to medication if they take a brief medication holiday. Kids may occasionally require increases in medication dose as they get older because of increased expectations for academic productivity in middle school and high school. What many describe as “tolerance” is more accurately described as a environmentally-based change in demands upon executive functioning.

We know that lots of kids with relative weaknesses in their capacity to maintain attention when engaged in uninteresting tasks, kids with executive functioning weaknesses and kids with processing speed delays are struggling greatly to cope with the expectations they face on a daily basis in school. While we can all agree that kids who are struggling need a thorough evaluation from a competent professional who takes into consideration all the potential causes of the child’s difficulties, irresponsible statements that help to sell books but shame and blame parents acting out of fear and concern for their child’s well-being aren’t helpful.


shutterstock_144843835Key Ministry has assembled a helpful resource page for church leaders and parents addressing the topic of ADHD and spiritual development. This page includes our blog series on the topic and links to helpful videos and resources for pastors, church staff, volunteers and parents. Access the resource page here.

Posted in ADHD, Advocacy, Controversies, Key Ministry | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

A success story from one of our colleagues…

Melissa BartleyMelissa Bartley was led to a small church at the end of her street about five years ago after praying for a place to begin a respite ministry. She is now serving as Special Needs Ministry Director at Hurst Baptist Church and leads monthly Game Nights with an average attendance of 6 adults with special needs and one young boy. On Sundays, her church welcomes an average of 3-4 adults with disabilities per week. Three have prayed and accepted Christ.

Melissa sent us this message on Facebook following their worship service on March 2nd…

Awesome Sunday….I have to share.

We only had a handful of people at church because of the bad weather and I decided not to teach. During the Praise and worship service, one of the young ladies looked at me with tears coming down her face…during her favorite song. I talked with her for a minute and then got on my knees and prayed with her. She accepted Christ. After church, our pastor prayed with her (while I sat with her and held hands with her). He told her that this is a special moment and she should be happy. Our Pastor always enjoys these moments.

Thanks to Melissa for her faithfulness. Thanks to the leaders of her church who embrace the vision of her ministry.

Jesus intends for ALL of His churches…from the very large to the very small…to extend His love and grace to persons with disabilities and their families.


Square Peg Round HoleKey Ministry has assembled a helpful resource on the topic of Asperger’s Disorder and Spiritual Development. This page includes the blog series Dr. Grcevich and Mike Woods developed for Key Ministry, links to lots of helpful resources from other like-minded organizations, and Dr. Grcevich’s presentation on the topic from the 2012 Children’s Ministry Web Summit. Click here to access the page!

Posted in Inclusion, Intellectual Disabilities, Stories | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

An unexpected plot twist…”Movie with Max”

Movie with MaxThis past January, we shared with you the story of Emily Colson’s Christmas trip to the movies with her son, Max. As is the case with many children and adults diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, Max may experience distress when he’s exposed to excessive sensory stimulation.

In this interview with the Hallmark Channel, Emily described her family’s experience during the movie…

Emily’s blog post describing her experience went viral. Her website crashed from all the traffic. The Huffington Post picked up their story. Other disability ministry leaders put Emily’s post on their sites. I was taken aback by the treatment Emily and Max received in a day and age when society claims to be more tolerant and accepting of persons with disabilities.

The story of Emily and Max has taken an unexpected turn, thanks to the generosity of a woman who, along with the Colson’s attends North River Community Church in Pembroke, MA.

Renee Walston is renting out a local theater next Thursday evening for a showing of Muppets Most Wanted that Max will be attending, along with many other kids and young adults with disabilities, joined by members of the general public. Renee started off by renting a 94-seat theater. Six days prior to the scheduled event, a 300-seat theater is nearly sold out. Renee described to a local reporter her reasons for buying out the movie theater…

“As Christians, we’re supposed to love our neighbor as ourselves,” she said. “I just thought that if it were my child, I would have to find a way to make this right for him.”

Emily and Max are fortunate to belong to a church where their presence and involvement are valued and desired. Not all families of kids with disabilities are so fortunate. Quoting from Emily in the video…

“I had a lot of parents, hundreds of parents that contacted me and said thank you for sharing this story, because this happens in my family, it happens in the community, it might look different but it even happens in our church that we can’t find our way in and people feel like you’re disrupting us.”

Emily is assuming a vital role in sharing Max’s story to advance the cause of inclusion of persons with disabilities in the church. Our team at Key Ministry is honored to have been given the opportunity to come alongside Emily in that task.

Emily Colson largeOn Wednesday, April 2, Emily will be joining us as our guest blogger in honor of Autism Awareness Day. On the following Monday (April 7th), Emily will be joining us for the next installment of our Inclusion Fusion Web Symposium. We’ll have an opportunity to sit down with Emily and listen as she shares her family’s experience prior to finding a church where they were welcomed and accepted, and we’ll hear of the unique and wonderful ways that Max has been a blessing to the people of his church. Emily will be available at designated times throughout the day to chat online with others interested in her family’s story, and we’ll be offering our participants the opportunity to share their stories as well.

We’re grateful that God appears to be orchestrating a very happy ending to this installment in Max’s story!

Updated 3/20/14, 10:15 PM: Here’s a link to an interview with Emily and Renee from tonight’s evening news on the Fox affiliate in Boston.


Dancing With Max BookWith candor and wit, Emily Colson shares about her personal battles and heartbreak when, as a suddenly single mother, she discovers her only child has autism. Emily illuminates the page with imagery—making you laugh, making you cry, inspiring you to face your own challenges. Chuck Colson, in his most personal writing since Born Again, speaks as a father and grandfather. It is a tender side Max brings out of his grandfather, a side some haven’t seen. As Emily recalls her experiences, we discover that Max’s disability does not so much define who he is, but reveals who we are. Dancing with Max is not a fairy tale with a magical ending. It’s a real life story of grace and second chances and fresh starts in spite of life’s hardest problems. And Max? Max will make you fall in love with life all over again, leaving you dancing with joy. Dancing With Max, available at Amazon.

Posted in Advocacy, Autism, Families, Hidden Disabilities, Inclusion, Inclusion Fusion, Stories, Training Events | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Components of a ministry strategy for including kids with mental illness at church

Church pewsIn the eighth segment of our Winter 2014 blog series Including Kids and Teens With Mental Illness at Church, we look at the components of an effective ministry strategy for outreach and inclusion of children and teens with mental health concerns at church.

For the first seven segments in this series, we’ve examined in depth the obstacles families of kids with mental illness experience if they desire to attend church…social isolation, social communication, executive functioning, sensory processing, reluctance to self-identify, the desire of kids to not be seen as “different” from peers and parents with mental illness. Today, we’ll look at five key components of any effective ministry strategy for including them at church.

  • The strategy would be outwardly-focused. For reasons that we’ve described over the last few weeks, the families we seek to serve aren’t going to come to us. Many may have been hurt by their past experiences at church. We need to reach out into the community to them.
  • The strategy would promote integration of families into the relational fabric of the local church. Families struggling with mental illness can easily disappear from church unnoticed during difficult times. Caring friends are essential for helping families stay connected to church.
  • The strategy would afford families the ability to experience “church” in the environments best suited for them. Ideally, families would be able to connect with church in the sensory environment of their choosing with an intensity of social interaction within their  comfort zones.
  • The strategy would promote inclusion at weekend worship services and other church activities without the need for kids/families to self-identify. The best solutions will provide benefits to persons both inside and outside the local church with and without disabilities and will have broad appeal beyond the disability community.
  • The strategy would be simple for churches to implement at a modest cost in money and volunteers. Church leaders are confronted with an impossible array of ministry needs and opportunities. An effective strategy is one that churches can implement without shifting volunteers and resources away from other critical ministry opportunities.

Next…A bold experiment


Emotional girlConfused about all the changes in diagnostic terminology for kids with mental heath disorders? Key Ministry has a resource page summarizing our recent blog series examining the impact of the DSM-5 on kidsClick this link for summary articles describing the changes in diagnostic criteria for conditions common among children and teens, along with links to other helpful resources!

Posted in Inclusion, Key Ministry, Mental Health, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment