Five reasons churches shouldn’t have vaccine policies

Preparing_a_measles_vaccine_in_EthiopiaVaccines are a hot topic. Before I go into my thoughts about vaccines at church, I think it’s only fair to share my personal stances: I am pro-vaccine for my family. I have read mounds of research, and I’m fully convinced of their effectiveness and role in advancing modern public health. Our family also has several members who are immune deficient – one by HIV (my child), one by taking immune-suppressing drugs for an autoimmune condition (that’s me), and a few due to asthma (me and some kiddos). I believe research proves that herd immunity is a real thing, so I’m thankful when those around us are vaccinated.

All that said, I don’t think churches should have vaccine policies (which Steve recommended in this post). Here’s why:

  1. Enforcing a vaccine policy at church would be a mess.

Do visitors gets to come a certain number of weeks before they have to produce records? How do we decide who gets a legit pass for not being able to have vaccines and who doesn’t because we decide their reasons are more of a choice than a need? Which alternative schedules are okay with us and which aren’t? What about the flu shot? How about children who have recently received live vaccines and might shed the virus to others; will they be excluded from church too, and if so, for how long?

Is this really the cross on which we want to hang our identity as a children’s ministry?

  1. We don’t ask for medical records about anything else.

Our school system’s kindergarten physical form includes a question about other health conditions present in our home, and I’m the snarky mama who writes, “Any medical diagnoses in other members of our family are completely irrelevant to this child’s education, and I find this question to be inappropriate.” I’m pretty sure asking parents for vaccine records before entering children’s ministry will have some parents lose their religion for a moment and say something like “%$*# you” as they pivot toward the exit. Honestly, even though I have those records for each of my kids, I might feel the same way because I loathe paperwork and have to produce enough of it elsewhere. Church is a safe place from that for me.

  1. Creative ministry can figure out other ways to protect kids who might be at risk.

In cases in which a child – for example, a cancer patient – cannot be around unvaccinated children, more thoughtful policies can create separate spaces/classes to accommodate that child in a group of kids who are vaccinated. When done well, all children could be included with both protection for the child who needs it and permissiveness for other parental choices.

For example, we had a separate Sunday school class for a while for a little guy whose mitochondrial disorder meant his immune system couldn’t function properly, so other kids were risky for him. Is that our norm? No. But we did it because it was necessary for him and his family to come to church.

  1. Vaccine injuries are real, albeit rare.

One reason I rarely join in the vaccine fights online is my friend Melissa. Her son Christian passed away two years ago from a brain tumor, but he also had autism and some other complications. His doctors believed some of his neurological issues were due to a rare, severe vaccine reaction. Do I think these reactions are common? No. Does Melissa’s experience and my love for her son Christian make me change my mind about vaccinating my own children? No. But does it make me pause and consider how unloving and hurtful my pro-vaccine stances might feel to families like hers? Yes.

A recent blog post called out Focus on the Family for a pro-vax article in their magazine. That post (which I think was poorly researched, so I won’t link to it here) argued that negative vaccine reactions aren’t rare because of the money doled out for vaccine injuries, but if you look at the number of individual cases rather than the dollar amounts, you could just as easily use those numbers to prove the point that such injuries are uncommon. But as the church, should that matter to us? Why not say that it doesn’t matter if vaccine injuries are rare because we should care about those families too, even if they aren’t the common cases?

  1. We’d be turning people away from church.

When I entered disability ministry, I didn’t have a child with any special needs diagnosis. I didn’t have a personal stake, not in the same way I do now. But I saw families being turned away from church, and I just couldn’t stand for that. Exclusion isn’t part of God’s design for the church or true to the gospel we say we believe is good news for all.

Is safety a major issue for the church? Yes. Do we occasionally turn people away from the church due to safety? Yes, in rare cases like individuals on the sex offender registry, for example (though churches work to creatively engage them in ways that also respect local laws). But excluding unvaccinated or undervaccinated children would mean turning away a significant group of families.

In a world in which the church is often identified more by what we oppose than by the Christ we love, I’m not interested in joining another fight in which we draw lines of unwelcomeness.

ShannonShannon Dingle provides consultation, training and support to pastors, ministry staff and volunteers from churches requesting assistance from Key Ministry. In addition, Shannon regularly blogs for Key Ministry on topics related to adoption and foster care, and serves on the Program Committee for Inclusion Fusion, Key Ministry’s Disability Ministry Web Summit. Shannon and her husband (Lee) serve as coordinators of the Access Ministry, the Special Needs Ministry of Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC.


2000x770 S DINGLE CHRCH4EVCHILD 2Check out Shannon Dingle’s blog series on adoption, disability and the church. In the series, Shannon looked at the four different kinds of special needs in adoptive and foster families and shared five ways churches can love their adoptive and foster families. Shannon’s series is a must-read for any church considering adoption or foster care initiatives. Shannon’s series is available here.

Posted in Advocacy, Autism, Controversies, Families, Key Ministry | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Autism, vaccines and the need to keep our kids safe

shutterstock_161622521An excellent study was published on Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association that should permanently lay to rest the oft-repeated claims of links between autism and the MMR vaccine given to children to protect against measles, mumps and rubella. I’ll share the abstract here…

Importance Despite research showing no link between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism spectrum disorders (ASD), beliefs that the vaccine causes autism persist, leading to lower vaccination levels. Parents who already have a child with ASD may be especially wary of vaccinations.

Objective To report ASD occurrence by MMR vaccine status in a large sample of US children who have older siblings with and without ASD.

Design, Setting, and Participants A retrospective cohort study using an administrative claims database associated with a large commercial health plan. Participants included children continuously enrolled in the health plan from birth to at least 5 years of age during 2001-2012 who also had an older sibling continuously enrolled for at least 6 months between 1997 and 2012.

Exposures MMR vaccine receipt (0, 1, 2 doses) between birth and 5 years of age.

Main Outcomes and Measures ASD status defined as 2 claims with a diagnosis code in any position for autistic disorder or other specified pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) including Asperger syndrome, or unspecified PDD (International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification 299.0x, 299.8x, 299.9x).

Results Of 95 727 children with older siblings, 994 (1.04%) were diagnosed with ASD and 1929 (2.01%) had an older sibling with ASD. Of those with older siblings with ASD, 134 (6.9%) had ASD, vs 860 (0.9%) children with unaffected siblings (P < .001). MMR vaccination rates (≥1 dose) were 84% (n = 78 564) at age 2 years and 92% (n = 86 063) at age 5 years for children with unaffected older siblings, vs 73% (n = 1409) at age 2 years and 86% (n = 1660) at age 5 years for children with affected siblings. MMR vaccine receipt was not associated with an increased risk of ASD at any age. For children with older siblings with ASD, at age 2, the adjusted relative risk (RR) of ASD for 1 dose of MMR vaccine vs no vaccine was 0.76 (95% CI, 0.49-1.18; P = .22), and at age 5, the RR of ASD for 2 doses compared with no vaccine was 0.56 (95% CI, 0.31-1.01; P = .052). For children whose older siblings did not have ASD, at age 2, the adjusted RR of ASD for 1 dose was 0.91 (95% CI, 0.67-1.20; P = .50) and at age 5, the RR of ASD for 2 doses was 1.12 (95% CI, 0.78-1.59; P = .55).

Conclusions and Relevance In this large sample of privately insured children with older siblings, receipt of the MMR vaccine was not associated with increased risk of ASD, regardless of whether older siblings had ASD. These findings indicate no harmful association between MMR vaccine receipt and ASD even among children already at higher risk for ASD.

A brief explanation of the data…a relative risk ratio less than 1.00 suggests that the risk of autism is lower than what would be expected by random chance, while relative risk >1.00 suggests a greater than expected risk. In this study, the statistics suggest that in kids with older siblings with autism who received both recommended doses of the MMR vaccine, rates of autism approached the statistical threshold of being significantly lower than the rate in siblings who were unvaccinated. The authors had some interesting observations about this finding that were discussed at some length in the paper.

So…why bring this up here? Because what church leaders communicate to their congregations really matters, and the medical consequences of measles are potentially very serious for the young children we minister to.

ManWearingTinFoilHatWe just finished a blog series about attitudes regarding mental illness and the church and it’s pretty obvious that skepticism in large pockets of the church about recommendations from the medical community run pretty deep…and from where I sit, some of that skepticism…especially when people in the medical and scientific community operate from a very different worldview…is well-deserved. But there’s a point at which blind rejection of good science jeopardizes our ability to credibly communicate our witness to the world outside our Christian cocoon. We become as easy to dismiss as people who wear tinfoil hats and reinforce the perception among outsiders that one needs to check their brain at the door in order to come to church.

There’s a real possibility that you have kids in your church with a chronic medical condition that precludes them from getting the MMR vaccine. Kids who are being treated for cancer, kids who are HIV-positive (3.2 million children worldwide, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation) and kids receiving high doses of oral steroids are unable to take the vaccine. They depend upon “herd” immunity from infections that are potentially fatal for those with compromised immune systems. When large numbers of families forego immunization, vulnerability to outbreaks increases.

One such outbreak occurred at Eagle Mountain International Church in Texas in 2013. In that church, 21 people contracted measles, 16 of whom had never been vaccinated, including all of the children who developed measles. The story received national scrutiny from major media, including Fox News, NPR, USA Today, the Washington Post and ABC News. From the Fox News story

Although church officials were quick to act after the outbreak — including hosting clinics in August where 220 people received immunization shots — and have denied they are against medical care or vaccinations, people familiar with the ministry say there is a pervasive culture that believers should rely on God, not modern medicine, to keep them well.

“To get a vaccine would have been viewed by me and my friends and my peers as an act of fear — that you doubted God would keep you safe, you doubted God would keep you healthy. We simply didn’t do it,” former church member Amy Arden told The Associated Press.

What are our “take home” points…

  • The finding that the MMR vaccine doesn’t cause autism is as close to “settled science” as we can get in modern medicine. Additional money spent researching this topic would  represent extraordinarily poor public policy and stewardship of research money better spent determining the causes of autism and studying interventions to limit the functional impact of the condition.
  • If I were a parent of a child with a vulnerable immune system, I’d be very concerned about bringing my child to church if I had concerns that many of the kids present in the children’s ministry were unvaccinated.
  • If I were a pastor or an elder at a church in an area shown to have low immunization rates or families involved with adopting orphans from Sub-Saharan Africa (where HIV-positive status is endemic), I’d have to consider a policy of asking (if not requiring) families who are regular attenders to provide vaccination information as part of the children’s/youth ministry registration process. Obviously, we don’t want to create unnecessary barriers to families attending church, but we also need to maintain safe ministry environments for the kids we serve. One alternative might be to offer kids with immune system vulnerabilities classes/activities with kids who have been vaccinated. Note: On a statewide basis, Ohio, West Virginia and Colorado currently have the lowest MMR immunization rates according to the CDC, while some neighborhoods and private schools in affluent areas of Los Angeles have immunization rates comparable to those found in South Sudan!

While it’s critical to not allow controversies to divide us (and to continue to welcome families opposed to vaccines at church) we need to maintain ministry environments that are safe for all kids. Where significant numbers of kids go unvaccinated, other kids with medical conditions that preclude vaccination are exposed to risk.



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, Controversies, Key Ministry | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Sin, mental illness and the church…Erring on the side of grace

shutterstock_165733445In this series, we’ve looked at the origins of some common attitudes and perceptions among church leaders regarding the causes of mental illness and the treatment approaches used by the mental health profession, approaches for addressing believers with mental illness within the reformed/evangelical tradition and research examining reactions of church attendees after seeking help for themselves or for family members with mental illness from pastors or church staff.

As the series comes to a close today, I’d like to toss out a suggestion to all in positions of leadership within the church, based on 29 years of experience interacting with families impacted by mental illness in my “day job.”

We need to treat persons with mental illness and their families with the same sensitivity and grace we would show to any vulnerable believer.

I’ll pick what seems to be a rather odd section of Scripture to support my point.

Paul shared some principles in 1 Corinthians 8 (ESV) that may be relevant to our discussion…

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

As church leaders, we may recognize situations in which symptoms associated with a mental health condition may be exacerbated by patterns of thought or behavior that can be characterized as sin. We may also see evidence in those struggling with mental illness of an absence of coping strategies available to those with more mature faith. But we’re clearly guilty of a lack of sensitivity in how we communicate with and care for our brothers and sisters with mental health condition as well as parents of kids with emotional, behavioral or social challenges.

Why the need for such sensitivity?

  • Compared to others, persons impacted by a mental health condition are more likely to misperceive how they’re viewed by others in an inappropriately negative way. One reason many struggle with depression or anxiety is that they make incorrect assumptions about what others think of them. Because of these cognitive distortions or “thinking errors,” they may fear the judgment of pastors, counselors or other church leaders and demonstrate exquisite sensitivity to the words or actions of those in leadership.
  • People with mental illness who experience “cognitive rigidity” or are prone to obsessiveness or perseveration in thinking have a much more difficult time than others getting past a hurtful experience.

What good does it do for us as church to push people away through our words and actions who might have what Paul describes as a “weak conscience” from the way their brains are hard-wired who we might otherwise influence to grow in faith through relationship? Are we causing our brothers and sisters to stumble?

And as we’ve discussed previously, there’s an enormous population living within the shadows of our steeples who struggle as a result of their (or their spouse’s) experience with mental  illness or the experience of raising kids impacted by mental illness. People who need to experience the love of Christ with gifts and talents intended for use in expanding the Kingdom.


GA-Social-Media-StephenGrcevich-1 - Version 2Miss any of the posts in this series on Sin, Mental Illness and the Church? Here are links to  the earlier posts in the series…

The elephant in the living room…Sin, mental illness and the church. (January 16)

The evangelical understanding of mental illness…How Freud, Skinner, Rogers and Ellis led to Jay Adams. (January 25)

Jay Adams and the foundations of a movement… (January 28)

Unintended consequences…Sin, mental illness and the church (February 5)

Why many in the church don’t see ADHD as a disability… (February 11)

What if medication is a tool that helps us resist sin? (March 1)

Are you less likely to be referred to a psychiatrist if your physician is a Christian? (March 8)

Was Elijah Depressed? (March 24)

Posted in Advocacy, Families, Hidden Disabilities, Key Ministry, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hopeful, Trusting, Confident and Calm…Karen Crum

Karen Crum“Calm, assertive energy in the human –and calm, submissive energy in the dog”– that’s what Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, strives to create in his work with dogs and their families. I’ve recently watched a few episodes of his Family Edition show and it’s been enlightening. Surprisingly, when Cesar is called in to “rehabilitate” a dog, a common part of his process is to train the humans in the family to relax. Dogs are masters of reading body language and other cues indicating human emotion, and they respond accordingly. Because of a dog’s social-behavioral “pack” mentality, changes in the psychological energy of the dog owners (“pack leaders”) affect their canine friends in fascinating and almost miraculous ways. A calm and assertive human almost always effects a positive change in dog behavior. I think, in a similar way, a calm and assertive parent usually brings about positive behavior in a child.

While this might seem like a blog about becoming a calm and assertive parent (which is a good goal)—it is really about growing as a hopeful and trusting parent. Let me explain. My children are young adults now, but when my oldest “pup” was young and showing signs of autism, I responded with anxiety, tenacious research, and problem solving. As time passed with misdiagnoses, limited local resources and other stressors, my anxiety increased. I soon learned that autism is not a puzzle easily solved. Helping my child was too big for me to negotiate in my own strength.

Like many parents of children with social, emotional or behavioral challenges, I looked for the perfect combinations of therapy, medication and specialized programs to give me a sense of peace and hope for my child’s future. I never completely found it there because people, systems and medicine are constantly changing and are sometimes more helpful than others. While I longed to trust that God would provide and care for my child, His provisions were not always on the time table or to the degree that I wanted. This fueled my doubt, worry and hopelessness—and led to a more intense striving for solutions and answers. By the time I learned to turn over the burden of these issues to God, I had already worked myself into a hopelessness and exhaustion that I didn’t see coming. Without hope and confidence in a rock solid foundation, it was impossible to feel internally calm.

I didn’t realize the significance at the time, but regaining hope was a key ingredient to my ability to parent with “calm, assertive energy”, as opposed to “frantic, anxious energy.” Like many of the dog owners on Cesar’s show, I was not even fully aware of my intense internal striving. One day I felt the overwhelming burden, however, and turned it over to God, dropping on my knees to pray for myself and my family. I admitted to God that the problems were too big for me, and I asked Him to take them over. Right then and there, I felt a burden lifted from my shoulders and I knew with certainty that God and I were in this together. I was not alone– and neither are you.

I wish I could honestly say that I never took those problems back as my burdens, but I have. However, now I more quickly identify my useless striving, and more quickly lean on God again. If you took an honest survey from my kids, I think they would tell you that most of the time, I exhibited the external behavior of a calm, assertive mother. I was not the yelling sort, or a complete pushover (at least not most of the time.) However, as calm as I may have looked on the outside, I was often behaving like a duck—appearing to peacefully glide upon the water while my legs were paddling crazily underneath. I know they sensed my internal state even if neither of us could explain it, and it most certainly affected our lives. When I was actively listening to God’s directions, I was able to relax and feel so much more internal confidence and peace as a parent. I learned that many things will not will work according to my plans and timing, but I know that God is in control and that I can trust and hope in Him to lead “my pack”.

You may find yourself in a similar place with your child. Your problem solving style may be different, but in all cases it is critical to learn to calmly and submissively trust our Father in Heaven. The results may be nothing short of miraculous—for the peace and calm of the entire family.

Lately, a hymn has been on my mind and part of the lyrics keep replaying themselves into my soul:

“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ love and righteousness,

I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus’ name,

On Christ the solid rock I stand,

All other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

I pray that you ask for and listen to God’s calm and assertive voice so that you might learn to trust, hope, and be confident and calm as a parent. It will make all the difference.

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast because they trust in you” (Isaiah 26:3)


Dr. Karen Crum has a doctoral degree in Public Health and Preventive Care. She promotes the health and well-being of children with autism and mental illness. She has developed and presented programs to support special-needs children, and currently focuses on educating and supporting parents as they care for their children with social, emotional or behavior challenges.

Persevering ParentKaren’s newest mission includes her work with a Christian focus. Dr. Crum is the author of Persevering Parent: Finding Strength to Raise Your Child with Social, Emotional or Behavior Challenges. This book points to God’s truths and to practical and spiritual principles that enhance hope, joy and effective special-needs parenting. Persevering Parent can be purchased online by following this link. In honor of Mothers Day, the book is 50% off the regular price during the months of April and May (use discount code 885VMZAG).

Persevering Parent Ministries is a non-profit organization and a portion of proceeds from direct website orders are donated to provide respite care for struggling families. The book is also available from Amazon and other online distributors.

Posted in Autism, Families, Hidden Disabilities, Parents, Resources, Stories | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

5 tips for modifying your Sunday school curriculum for diverse learners

Zoe Sunday SchoolThis Friday (April 17th), Shannon is moderating a panel titled “Tips, Tweaks, & Tune-Ups for Sunday School Curriculum & Classrooms” at the 2015 Accessibility Summit at McLean Bible Church in McLean VA, sharing the stage with Barb Newman, Amy Kendall, and Vangie Rodenbeck. If you’ll be at that session or any other part of the conference, please let us know! Shannon would love to connect with you there.

I don’t like change.

If you know anything about my family and the number of changes we’ve had in the past few years as well as some on the horizon, you’re probably laughing. But it’s true. I really like the status quo. A lot.

Often, churches operate in the same way. Change seems too different, too threatening, too counter-cultural to the community we’ve created. But just as God has stretched our family in gloriously beautiful ways through change, He might just be leading your church to similarly good things through change.

One change needed in many of our churches is modifications to Sunday school curriculum to include diverse learners. In this post, I’m primarily talking about children and youth with disabilities, but most of these tweaks can benefit the entire class. In fact, they all do, because the inclusion of children with disabilities enriches your classes, displays the works of God in a unique way per John 9:3, and demonstrates God’s design for different parts to form the whole of His church according to Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12.

Since I know the idea of change can be scary to many of us, here are five tips for making positive and (mostly) painless changes by modifying your Sunday school curriculum for diverse learners…

  1. Understand that everyone modifies Sunday school curriculum. Maybe your church’s classes are grouped by age differently than the curriculum you use assumes they will be. Maybe your class is too big to complete the given activity as written, or maybe it’s too small. Maybe the wording is awkward. Maybe you’re from the South so you say y’all instead of “all of you” in the teacher’s script. Whatever the case may be, no one uses their Sunday school curriculum exactly as written. So modifying it to meet the needs of diverse learners isn’t all that different from what you’re doing already.
  2. Know your kids. Some churches use forms to help with this. (Here’s ours for respite nights, which we also use for Sunday morning support, but including a “any special needs or allergies?” at the bottom of a much more basic form can be hugely helpful.) But you don’t need a form or question if that’s not what works well in your church environment – you just need to know your kids. Here are some questions you’ll want to be able to answer about each of your regular attendees: What do they enjoy? What do they do well? What do they struggle with? How do they learn best? What do they dislike?
  3. Create a multi-sensory environment. If the lesson includes a lot of talking, consider how you might add in other senses to teach more holistically – visuals? music with dance or other movement? hands-on activity or object lesson? a meaningful craft? a snack that ties into the lesson?

shutterstock_65015896Then consider specific senses some kids do well with or struggle with. A lot of kids, especially many with autism, benefit from visual aids, like picture schedules to set expectations or illustrations to show Bible stories. That’s just one sense, though. Consider how does a welcoming environment feel for kids who learn well through touch? How does it smell for kids who are sensitive to odors? Does it offer safe tastes, especially for those with food allergies? Since you know your kids (see #2 above), are any sensitive to noises, either seeking them out or made uncomfortable by loudness? If a game or activity involves movement, how can a child in a wheelchair or with other movement-based differences still be part of the group? Kids learn in different ways, so thinking about multiple senses – both in planning and in being sensitive to kids’ unique strengths and challenges – can help everyone.

  1. Physical inclusion is good, but that’s not our stopping place. Can we all agree that our goal for any kid at church is more than just being present? Obviously, that’s a good starting place, but I go to church for more than just attendance. I want to belong, I want to be a part of everything, I want to grow with others, and I want to be missed if I’m not there. That’s what our kids and youth want too. (This article isn’t about adults with disabilities, but the same holds true there too.)
  2. Expect it to be hard sometimes. When we’re teaching about many aspects of our faith, we’re trying to make intangible concepts – like grace, hope, love, and faith – tangible. Even God himself isn’t tangible. Young kids are concrete learners, and intangible concepts are hard to understand. Continuing to view the world in concrete ways is part of several common disabilities, so that can be a challenge. Another challenge, presented this week by a church leader’s email to me, is figuring out how to approach violent Bible stories when a child who has witnessed or experienced violent trauma is in the class. When you hit a hard place, don’t be scared away. Those will come. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (That last sentence isn’t my words; it’s Galatians 6:9.)

One definition of modification is change. So, yes, I am advocating for an openness to change, knowing that’s a bad word to some churches. Instead of being resistant to these changes, though, let’s view them as opportunities to create a rich tapestry displaying God’s good and diverse creation. Isn’t that what the church is meant to be, after all?


shutterstock_24510829Key Ministry is pleased to make available our FREE consultation service to pastors, church leaders and ministry volunteers. Got questions about launching a ministry that you can’t answer…here we are! Have a kid you’re struggling to serve? Contact us! Want to kick around a problem with someone who’s “been there and done that?” Click here to submit a request!

Posted in Adoption, Inclusion, Key Ministry, Ministry Environments, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

50% off resources to equip foster and adoptive families until April 15

© 2014 Rebecca Keller PhotographyDr. Karen Purvis at Texas Christian University is a leader in research and thought on early childhood trauma, especially for children who have been institutionalized, in foster care, or adopted. Her book The Connected Child and the associated Christian study guide from Empowered To Connect are considered gold standards for parenting children from hard places.

From now until April 15, all Karen Purvis’ video resources are 50% off. My church is buying an entire set of the DVDs to have in our church library to equip foster and adoptive parents, as the counsel in them is both research- and Bible-based for parenting children with early childhood trauma, neglect, or loss. I also know some churches who buy every foster and adoptive family their own Trust-Based Caregiving: A TBRI Pocket Guide, and I think that’s a wonderful idea.

Purvis_Connected Child_coverWe highly recommend these resources, for parents, Christian leaders, and church libraries. For parents, they can train you in a style of that is not only research based but also divergent at times from typical Christian parenting advice books. For Christian leaders, they can help you understand why and how adoptive and foster families might parent in a different way, taking into account their children’s trauma, so that you can better serve them. For church libraries, they can be readily available for those who need them, including grandparents, friends, and others who have adoptive or foster families in their lives.

To learn more about the DVDs and other resources, go here:

To buy (with discounted prices reflected until April 15), go here. For church libraries, we recommend the full set that’s $195 under #3 as well as the teen TBRI video under #4. For families, we recommend the Healing Families series, which includes all of #1 (sold as a group for $125 under #3), as well as the pocket guide under #4. If you can only get one DVD at this time, the Trust Based Parenting one is a good starting place. For church leaders, the TBRI Overview DVD that’s only $7.50 right now is a fantastic primer for you to understand how to support families and children in your congregation and community.

Please note, Key Ministry does not gain anything if you purchase these resources, and the links above are not affiliate links. We just want to pass along this info and this sale on amazing resources so your church and families can benefit.

For other resources that have proven useful for foster and adoptive families:

Every family is different, but these resources are highly regarded in the adoptive and foster community. On a personal note, I have found each helpful to me as the mother of six children, four of whom joined our family by adoption. I pray that they will be useful for your church and the family you serve.


2000x770 S DINGLE CHRCH4EVCHILD 2Check out Shannon Dingle’s blog series on adoption, disability and the church. In the series, Shannon looked at the four different kinds of special needs in adoptive and foster families and shared five ways churches can love their adoptive and foster families. Shannon’s series is a must-read for any church considering adoption or foster care initiatives. Shannon’s series is available here.

Posted in Adoption, Advocacy, Families, Foster Care, Hidden Disabilities, Key Ministry, Resources | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

From @EdStetzer…Is the church guilty of “spiritual abuse” toward the mentally ill?

shutterstock_154131002I’d encourage our readers to check out this thought-provoking post from Ed Stetzer of Lifeway Research, titled A New Approach to Mental Illness in the Church, posted at Christianity Today this past Friday.

In the article, Ed shares of his struggles early in his pastoral career when he found himself inadequately prepared for challenges he faced in ministry with people impacted by mental illness. Here’s an excerpt from Ed’s article…

I was unprepared to deal with mental illness, and by my actions, I almost denied that it is even real. Of course, I would have been prepared for any number of other forms of illness. If someone had come to my church with a broken leg, I would have recommend they go see a doctor. For virtually any other illness, I would have said the same.

It is common practice in churches, however, to treat mental illness differently. We immediately assume there is something else, some deeper spiritual struggle causing mental and emotional strain.

The fact is that mental illness and spiritual struggle can be (and are) related. We are not separate things, we are complex people—remarkable connected in spirit, soul, body, mind, etc.

But, let me be direct here: if we immediately dismiss the possibility of mental illness and automatically assume spiritual deficiency, our actions amount to spiritual abuse. I know those are powerful and pointed words, but I believe them to be true. Please, don’t miss them.

I read Ed’s article early on Sunday morning and put it aside for a little while while heading off to church, pondering the definition of spiritual abuse and wondering if it was a little unfair to good people leading in churches with an inadequate understanding of mental illness. In doing a Google search of “spiritual abuse,” I sadly found no shortage of websites and blogs describing church leaders who behaved very badly. But…if one of the ways in which we define “spiritual abuse” is the misrepresentation of the essential teaching of our faith by those in positions of leadership or authority in the church…pastors and elders and deacons and counselors in their daily interactions with vulnerable people, I must reluctantly conclude that all too many are guilty as charged by Ed of spiritual abuse toward persons with mental illness and their families.

Timothy_KellerMy pastor is a big fan of the writing and teaching of Tim Keller, so I thought I’d search out what he had to say about the causes of mental illness. In the process, I stumbled upon this wonderful article from Susan Fiske on reaching out to the mentally ill. In Susan’s article, she shared from a message preached by Keller titled The Wounded Heart.

We have become far too reductionistic in the church about the complexity of the relationship between the mind, body and spirit. Keller discusses this in his message…

“The Bible’s understanding of human nature, understanding of what goes wrong inside is more nuanced, more multifaceted, more multidimensional, more complex than any other answer that I know of.” Any other counseling model, any book on despondency, or what’s wrong or how to have emotional health or how to have a happy life, you read them all and compared to the Bible, they are too one dimensional, they’re reductionistic, they boil everything down, they’re too simple minded, too simplistic, they’re not savvy, they’re not wise. The Bible gives you the most fully nuanced, the most complex assessment of what can go wrong and lead to despondency, lead to a crushed spirit.”

From Redeemer Presbyterian’s website, here’s a summary of Keller’s message…

The Bible teaches an extremely nuanced vision of the human spirit. We are physical beings whose spirits can be brought low by physical ailments. We are relational beings who need the love and support of friends. We are moral beings who can be crushed by the weight of our sin. We are existential beings who seek to find meaning in our lives. Lastly, we are faith-based being who will always put our hope in something. Unless we put our faith and hope in God, we will never satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts.

Many in the church are guilty of spiritual abuse when they communicate to vulnerable people searching for help their certainty that the reason for their distress is insufficient faith or moral failure. They fail to recognize the complexity of the interrelationship between our minds, bodies and spirits, and much like Job’s friends in the Old Testament, exacerbate pain and suffering by misrepresenting God’s grace and God’s character.

shutterstock_69175456In fairness to those accused in the church, pastors, elders and Biblical counselors have no monopoly on reductionistic thinking when it comes to mental distress. I’d argue that many in the medical/psychiatric community misrepresent the causes (and cure) for mental illness by reducing everything to genes, synapses and neurotransmitters. Secular therapists often falsely assume that guilt resulting from our understanding of right and wrong and our adherence to moral absolutes causes mental illness. Others assume that by helping others to identify flaws in our thinking patterns we can provide relief from suffering in most circumstances. Most are reluctant to recognize the presence of a soul or spirit that can’t be objectively measured or observed through a SPECT scanner or fMRI machine.

The church ought to be the very best place for folks to be who are experiencing symptoms of mental illness to be because the Bible provides us with the most complete understanding of the contributing factors to our distress, and we as followers of Jesus uniquely have the capacity to understand the relationship between the brain, body and soul.  Our crew at Key Ministry is eager to help the church “be the church” through helping leaders minister to families impacted by mental illness in a manner that more accurately reflects the fullness of God’s truth and grace.

PS: Here’s the link for Tim Keller’s sermon. Listen to this if you’re prepared to be challenged on any assumptions you fully understand the cause of anyone’s emotional distress…including your own.


Spring Counseling SummitInterested in a “crash course” on some of the most pressing topics in children’s mental health? Join us at Cincinnati Christian University on Friday, April 17th for the 2015 Spring Counseling Summit!

Some topics we’ll be covering include…

– recognizing and treating anxiety disorders
– making sense of the ADHD epidemic
– clinical challenges when kids have two or more psychiatric diagnoses
– clinical challenges with adopted/foster kids
– recognition and advocacy for kids with special education needs
– recognizing and treating mood disorders

For more information, or to register for the Spring Counseling Summit, click here to access the Summit webpage. CEUs are available to counselors, social workers and marriage and family therapists in Ohio and counselors in Kentucky.

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

The struggles of kids with mental illness in a sexualized culture

shutterstock_113334331I just had another teen patient hauled off to the hospital following the end of a sexual relationship.

When teens who struggle with mental illness find themselves engaged in sexual relationships, there’s lots of danger involved. As a physician specializing in child and adolescent psychiatry, I should know. Their parents frequently bring them to our practice with the hope that we can help to keep them alive. Some of them experience same-sex attraction and face unique challenges, especially when they struggle to reconcile their biological drives and the messages of the culture with (in many instances) the teaching they’ve been exposed to from their parents and from the church.

There are reasons why we have laws against 14 year olds driving cars, or 17 year olds buying alcohol. We don’t permit this behavior because we question whether kids at that age have the necessary judgment and emotional maturity to exercise such privileges responsibly.

From a developmental standpoint, there are lots of teenagers who aren’t remotely equipped to manage the intensity of emotions that accompany a sexual relationship. Kids who are prone to obsessive thinking may experience great emotional distress from the normal types of ups and downs that occur in any close relationship. Kids with ADHD or other conditions that impact executive functioning (especially self control and emotional self-regulation)…trauma, mood disorders, substance use disorders-are more prone to act impulsively when processing intense emotions. We think the most plausible explanation for the increased risk of suicide among kids treated with antidepressants involves the disinhibition some kids experience while taking these medications.

A couple of years ago, I said the following in a magazine interview on the topic of the advisability of parent-sanctioned “sleepovers” when teens have boyfriends or girlfriends…

“As a society, we don’t ‘accept’ a person’s choice to drink significant amounts of alcohol and get behind the wheel of a car, even though there are presumably times when people have driven while under the influence without doing harm to themselves or others. Given what we know about the potential consequences of sexual behaviour for teenagers, why would we have an ‘accepting attitude’ about that behaviour?”

One of the reasons I feel so strongly that churches need to welcome kids who struggle with mental illness is that Christianity as described in the Bible offers the prospect of a much healthier identity than that put forth by the hopelessly broken culture that Christ came to redeem. As Christians, we’re defined by who we are in Christ…not by the color of our skin, our place of origin, or who we’re sexually attracted to. After all, in 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul states clearly that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, and in Ephesians 4:24 we’re encouraged to “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness”.

So…what’s the “morally responsible” thing to do? I think each and every one of us is called to reflect the love of Christ to everyone we encounter, which in my case includes a lot of kids with mental illness who are at much greater risk for serious complications when they experience the intense emotions that result from acting upon their sexual desires. The research suggests that teen sex (both opposite sex or same-sex relationships) leads to a greater risk of suicide. Is it our unwillingness to affirm the risky behaviors that all too often lead to tragic consequences or a hopelessly broken, messed up culture that tells emotionally vulnerable teens that they’re defined by who they’re attracted to and their desirability to potential sexual partners? The same hopelessly broken culture that Jesus came down to Earth to redeem?


KM Logo UpdatedKey Ministry has assembled resources to help churches more effectively minister to children and adults with ADHD, anxiety disorders, Asperger’s Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, depression and trauma. Please share our resources with any pastors, church staff, volunteers or families looking to learn more about the influence these conditions can exert upon spiritual development in kids, and what churches can do to help!

Posted in Advocacy, Anxiety Disorders, Controversies, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Are churches blind to mental illness?

shutterstock_182299751Several years ago, I wrote about a significant study from Edward B. Rogers, Matthew Stanford and Diana Garland from Baylor University examining the effects of mental illness on families within faith communities. I’d like to take a closer look at some of the key findings from this study and the implications for churches as they seek to connect with families of kids with hidden disabilities. Here’s a look at the abstract:

The present study examined the experiences and values of families caring for a mentally ill loved one within the context of a Christian faith community. Participants (n= 5899) in 24 churches representing four Protestant denominations completed a survey describing their family’s stresses, strengths, faith practices, and desires for assistance from the congregation. Results showed mental illness in 27% of families, with those families reporting twice as many stressors on average. In addition, families with mental illness scored lower on measures of family strength and faith practices. Analysis of desires for assistance found that help with mental illness was a priority for those families affected by it, but ignored by others in the congregation. These results suggest that mental illness is not only prevalent in church communities, but is accompanied by significant distress that often goes unnoticed. Partnerships between mental health providers and congregations may help to raise awareness in the church community and simultaneously offer assistance to struggling families.

Here are some of the significant findings…

  • Among the adults completing the study, participants from families affected by mental illness were more likely to be younger, female, unmarried and to have been attending their current church for a shorter period of time.
  • Family stressors, including financial strain, serious illness or disability of a family member, close friend or relative, setting priorities for use of money, problems balancing work and family, job difficulties and conflicts between parents and children were all significantly more likely among families impacted by mental illness.
  • Members of families affected by mental illness reported praying less consistently and were more likely to report that one or more family members failed to attend church regularly.
  • When asked to identify the top six supports the church can offer families from an inventory of 47 items, families affected by mental illness rated support with mental health second out of 47 items while study participants from unaffected families ranked mental health support 42nd out of 47.

shutterstock_12866266The most obvious take-home points from the study seemed to be that families in which someone was struggling with a mental illness were very desirous of support from their local churches, but members not exposed to mental health issues were basically oblivious to their needs and the presence of mental illness appears to be an impediment to church attendance and regular prayer.

There are lots of limitations to this study. First, the study instruments were distributed at church. Families who had stopped attending church would not have been included. There is no data that differentiates the impact of mental health issues when the study participant is experiencing mental illness as opposed to a family member, or differentiates between mental health issues among children as opposed to adults. There was no attempt to validate mental health diagnoses among family members surveyed, or to quantify the relative impact of specific disorders. The data was drawn from a non-randomized sample.

Nevertheless, the study points out the need for additional research examining the impact of specific mental health conditions on church participation and spiritual growth, along with data evaluating the effectiveness of helps and supports offered by churches to promote inclusion and spiritual growth.

What have you experienced from churches (good and bad) when you or a family member with a mental illness have attempted to attend worship or become involved with church programming on a regular basis?


KM Logo UpdatedKey Ministry has assembled resources to help churches more effectively minister to children and adults with ADHD, anxiety disorders, Asperger’s Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, depression and trauma. Please share our resources with any pastors, church staff, volunteers or families looking to learn more about the influence these conditions can exert upon spiritual development in kids, and what churches can do to help!

Posted in Advocacy, Families, Inclusion, Key Ministry, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Wish you could go to church this Easter?

shutterstock_139126682We started Key Ministry because we wanted all families to be able to be part of a local church, and we know attending church can be VERY challenging for families of kids with mental illness, families of kids who have experienced significant trauma and kids who struggle with social situations.

Millions of families here in the U.S. and throughout the world would like to be able to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection this weekend together with friends and neighbors. And while the disability ministry movement has made great strides in helping local churches to welcome and include kids with disabilities and their families at church, far too many will be unable to attend this Easter…

  • Kids and adults who experience panic attacks in crowds
  • Kids and adults with significant sensory processing issues
  • Kids and adults with social anxiety or difficulties with social communication
  • Families of kids who struggle with self-control
  • Families of kids who become distressed in unfamiliar situations

11021377_10153187173057748_1527585294611221573_oThanks to the generosity of our friends at Community Bible Church in San Antonio, we’ll have a number of LIVE and prerecorded, interactive worship experience that any family can join online this Easter weekend. We’ll have great music and an inspiring message from Chris Emmitt, one of the teaching pastors at CBC. He’ll be preaching on the theme Break Every Chain.

“Chains” are things that control us and confine us: shame, guilt, pain, hurt, unforgiveness, addictions, our past, sin, failure, fear, thoughts, habits – just to name a few. Desperately we want to be freed from them, but we have tried pretty much everything legally we can and for some reason we always seem to come up empty. We figure this is how it’s supposed to be and we choose to cope. But what if it didn’t have to be this way? What if you didn’t have to cope? What if there was a way to break these chains in your life…forever?

Join us today and Sunday for these special LIVE Easter service as Chris Emmitt challenges us to embrace the true way to permanently break these chains in our lives. Come here the Gospel message like never before!

Here’s TWO ways to join us…

Method #1

Go to

Key TV 040315

Connect with us and others attending online by signing in with your Facebook account…a Facebook account isn’t required to attend online church, but to join the chat, either Facebook (or a Twitter account in which posts use the hashtag #frontdoorchurch) is required.

Connecting through Facebook

Method #2

Go to our Facebook page or the Front Door Facebook page

KM Facebook Page

Click on the Media Social Go app on the left side of the Facebook page…

Media Social app

Watch without having to leave our Facebook page!

Here’s our most recent schedule of hosted worship services…check back for updates!

Saturday, April 4:

6:00 PM Eastern (LIVE)

8:00 PM Eastern (recorded earlier)

Sunday, April 5:

11:00 AM Eastern (LIVE)

12:30 PM Eastern (LIVE)

2:00 PM Eastern (LIVE)

7:00 PM Eastern (hosted by Ann Holmes)

8:00 PM Eastern (hosted by Barb Dittrich)

WE NEED YOUR HELP! Please share the link to this post on your Facebook wall and through your social media accounts with families who would otherwise be missing from church this Easter.

On behalf of the Board and staff of Key Ministry, we wish everyone a very Happy Easter!

He is Risen!


KM Logo UpdatedKey Ministry has assembled resources to help churches more effectively minister to children and adults with ADHD, anxiety disorders, Asperger’s Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, depression and trauma. Please share our resources with any pastors, church staff, volunteers or families looking to learn more about the influence these conditions can exert upon spiritual development in kids, and what churches can do to help!

Posted in Advocacy, Families, Inclusion, Key Ministry, The Front Door-Online Church From Key Ministry | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment