An adoptive father returns home

15220196_10207849971792711_7856518105733868503_nKevin Kelley finally went home this past Wednesday.

Kevin had been raised in the Catholic faith and he lived out the values imparted by the Jesuit education he received at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, followed by college at the College of the Holy Cross.

Kevin and his wife (Lyn) found their way to our church after adopting their sons from Eastern Europe. They had been very involved in their local parish prior to the adoptions, but their church didn’t have the supports in place to enable them to attend Mass as a couple. Thanks to our church’s special needs ministry, they were able to continue their practice of worshiping together.

Kevin joined our ministry Board shortly after our inception. While serving on our Board, Kevin was actively involved in establishing a dialogue between Key and our local Catholic diocese so that other families wouldn’t be faced with the difficult choice that he and his wife experienced.

I associate two things with Kevin that were foundational to our ministry. One is the appreciation he brought us for the challenges adoptive parents face in staying involved with the church when their children experience emotional, behavioral or developmental challenges that make church attendance difficult. The other is the idea that every church should be prepared to welcome families of kids with “hidden disabilities.” While our church was fortunate to have Kevin for two decades, he and his wife shouldn’t have had to leave the church they were part of for many years to find a place where they could worship together as a family.

Kevin had retired after serving nearly 25 years as an insurance executive. He faithfully served as the greeter at the main entrance to our church’s 9:00 AM contemporary worship, and his family is a regular fixture near the front of the church on the right hand side. Late this summer, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and was conspicuously absent from his post at church throughout the fall as he experienced an especially rapid progression of his illness. He had an opportunity to meet Jesus face to face this past Wednesday.

The faithfulness that Kevin and his wife demonstrated in seeking to maintain the family’s practice of worshiping together following the adoption of their sons resulted in a significant spiritual legacy. Kevin was an important influence in the early days of our ministry. His wife has served in leadership positions in our church during important times of transition. Their boys grew up in a home where God was honored surrounded by a summertime church family.

On behalf of our entire Key Ministry team, we would like to extend our prayers and condolences to Lyn and their sons, Jordan and Adam, along with our appreciation for Kevin’s service to our ministry.

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

Matthew 25:21 (ESV)

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A different way of looking at mental health ministry

shutterstock_428175340I wish all of our readers had been able to attend the Mental Health Ministry in the Local Church conference this past weekend, presented by OutsideIn Ministries and hosted by Ironbridge Baptist Church in Chester, VA.

Catherine Boyle and her team at OutsideIn have a vision to bring persons with mental illness into the Body of Christ. I left feeling very encouraged that the Lord is raising up like-minded people in many different places to champion the development of mental health inclusion ministry as he is doing for special needs ministry.

The range of speakers selected for and topics presented at the conference challenged church leaders to consider a broader approach to mental health support and inclusion. Featured presentations examined the science behind mental illness, legal tools to help individuals with mental illness and the importance of developing trauma-informed faith communities.

fullsizeoutput_22bcCatherine presented OutsideIn’s model for mental health ministry. She used the illustration of a three-legged stool to represent the cultural support for mental health needs, with one leg representing the government, one leg representing service providers and support/advocacy groups and the third leg representing the church, with the church being uniquely positioned to offer relationship. In their model, components of a mental health ministry include…

  • An identified mental health prayer team
  • A mental health liaison
  • A communication director/team
  • A care team
  • A plan to identify church and community needs
  • Mental health training – including mental health first aid, child abuse training/response, suicide prevention and emotional CPR

I found her “job description” for a mental health liaison to be especially helpful. I’ve wrestled with the idea of having a “concierge” to provide a single point of contact for families impacted by mental health conditions who struggle with some aspect of church participation and to advocate internally for appropriate accommodations and supports to optimize involvement.

The team at OutsideIn Ministries has much to offer churches looking for help in building a foundation to support a substantial commitment to mental health ministry.

The best way for me to communicate the spirit of the conference is to share this brief video in which Mark Jordan, the Senior Pastor at Ironbridge discusses why his church places such high value on welcoming and embracing families impacted by mental illness.

Editor’s note: My presentations from the conference on Mental Health Inclusion Ministry…The Mission Field Just Outside Your Door and Seven Strategies for Promoting Mental Health Inclusion in the Local Church are available here.

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

The man on the pier


Editor’s note: Andrew Schneidler is the author of today’s post in honor of Orphan Sunday. He and his wife (Michele) are former foster parents who have adopted three children, and among the leading advocates for adoption in the American church. They are speaking this weekend in Wheaton, IL at the Refresh Conference Chicago. Here’s Andrew…

One day, a man walked to the end of a long pier, jutting out to the sea.  Along the shore, throngs of people gathered, chanting “jump jump jump” as he neared the pier’s end.  The closer the man got to the end, the louder the crowd grew.   “Jump! Jump! JUMP!!!”

Looking down at the swirling waters, the man called back, “Should I jump?”

“JUMP!!” the crowd returned.  By this time marching bands had joined the crowd and people wore matching tee-shirts and waved banners that read “JUMP!” 

As the volume of the chants increased, so did the man’s courage.  With his toes over the edge, he yelled over the noise to the crowd on the shore. “I THINK I’M GONNA DO THIS!”

By now thousands had gathered and the crowd reached a frenzied pitch.  “JUMP! JUMP!! JUMP!!!!!” 

Finally, emboldened by noise of the crowd, the man jumped in. 

It is only when his body hit the water the man realized the water was freezing cold.  He couldn’t touch the bottom, and in fact, he didn’t even know how to swim. 

“HELP!” he cried from between the waves.   But this time the crowd was silent.  Gone were the drums, banners and chants. 

“HELLLLLLLLLLLLLLP!!!” he screamed, the water filling his mouth as he fought to stay afloat. 

At last one person on the shoreline broke the silence. “Um…. We don’t know how to help.  We only know how to say ‘jump.’”

Many foster and adoptive parents can relate with the man at the end of the pier.  In the last decade or so, the issue of “orphan care” has become rather en vogue within the Church — even to the point of having an “Orphan Sunday.”  And that’s all good and well, but if we are not careful, the Church could be the crowd on the shore.  But what if, instead of saying “we only know how to say jump,” the crowd had rushed to the end of the pier, with arms outstretched, yelling “Hang on! Help is on the way! Don’t lose hope!  We are right here with you.  You are not alone!” as they threw the man a life ring?


Throwing a life ring is exactly what the annual Refresh Conference in Redmond, Washington is about.  After welcoming a child into their homes, many parents feel as if they are drowning from the extra care required to meet the special needs of the child in their home.  But Refresh is here to help.

Started back in 2011, Refresh was created by parents who “jumped in” and found themselves floundering to stay afloat.  Building on this base of common experience, they sought to create a unique two-day conference where nationally recognized experts in the area of attachment and trauma, grief and loss gather to equip parents.  But more importantly, everything about Refresh is designed to encourage parents to realize they are not alone – many of their challenges at home are common with the other attending parents.  This time of refreshing is achieved through amazing worship, plenary and breakout sessions, creative times of whimsical enjoyment and generous surprises throughout the weekend.

The comment most frequently heard from Refresh attendees is “It felt so good to know we weren’t alone.”  Upon arriving at Refresh, haggard parents are sure to find more than a thousand other parents in the “waters” around them.  But this time there is a multitude of people standing on the edge of the dock, arms extended, ready to lend a helping hand.

Some people say Refresh shouldn’t be called a conference because it really is more of an experience.   And you know what?   They might be right.  So call it whatever you want, but just come and check it out. If you feel like you are barely keeping afloat, you are not alone.  Reach out for a life ring and join us at the next Refresh Conference on March 3-4, 2017 in Redmond, Washington.

schneidler-2A former foster parent of 7 years and father of 3 adopted kids, Andrew Schneidler is founding attorney behind the Children’s Law Center of Washington, a 501c3 law clinic offering free & low-cost legal services to achieve permanence for Washington’s orphaned and vulnerable kids.  Andrew and his wife Michele co-founded the Refresh Conference for foster & adoptive parents and run the foster-adoption ministry at Overlake Christian Church in Redmond, Washington. 

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The false gospel and mental illness

shutterstock_94601887Bad theology hurts people. Through my experience working with families as a child and adolescent psychiatrist and my involvement with Key Ministry, I’ve come across far too many stories of those who have been hurt badly by the advice and counsel they’ve received from pastors, church leaders and fellow attendees at church.

Mike Vonderau is one of the pastors at the church I attend. He was preaching earlier today from 1 John 4:1-6 on the threats of false teaching. He pointed out that false teaching may not overtly deny Jesus…it adds to the story of Christ or detracts from it. Sometimes, the message is compelling or the motivations of the teacher is good.

Most of his message addressed what he referred to as the “gospel of self-sufficiency.” This particular false gospel is often responsible for intensifying the distress experienced by persons with mental illness and their families from teaching or advice they received from church. To paraphrase Mike, we burden people with the Gospel of self-sufficiency by making them the solution to life’s problems…by casting them back upon themselves. The problem with that perspective is that Jesus says that he is the vine and that we are the branches, and as such, we’re totally dependent upon him.

We like to assume responsibility for identifying the solutions to all our problems, because when we do so, we feel as if we’re in control of our circumstances. When people come for counseling, we want them to begin to accept responsibility as part of the process. But what do we want them to be responsible for? And what is God’s responsibility according to Scripture?

All too often, when someone in the church is struggling with mental illness they are encouraged to do the following…

  • If you pray enough…
  • If you study the Bible enough…
  • If you identify patterns of sin in your life and confess them…

Or, if a child has significant difficulties managing their emotions or behavior, we in the church assume that the problems will get better if the parent(s)…

  • Pray enough
  • Are sufficiently dedicated to parenting and discipline
  • Loves their child enough

All of these actions are good (and appropriate) things. But what happens when things don’t work out? We assume that the fault lies with the individual and often fail to recognize that other purposes may be in play. Consider the story of Job and his well-meaning friends. But that thinking reflects a perspective that we’re ultimately responsible for our health and well-being as opposed to God, and leads us to depend less upon God. The enemy also uses that type of distorted thinking to shame us into withdrawing from God and withdrawing from one another.

We fail to recognize that it may be OK with God if we struggle or suffer so long as it accomplishes HIS purposes. Guiding us into a deeper relationship with him and a greater dependency upon him would certainly fall under that category.

Do we need to be wise stewards of the resources God has given us when we find ourselves or a family member struggling with symptoms of mental illness? Should we take advantage of the wisdom of counselors or the benefit of prescription medication when offered? Absolutely. Should we listen when someone with spiritual discernment who knows us well suggests we commit ourselves to prayer, study or a process of self-examination? Yes.

At the same time, we need to reject the false gospel that the outcome of our efforts to obtain relief from the burden of mental illness for ourselves or our loved ones hinges not on our efforts to heal ourselves, but on God’s mercy and grace. We also need to recognize that the ongoing presence of mental illness in ourselves, our friends and our family members may not be a barometer of faithfulness so much as a necessary step in the fulfillment of God’s purposes.


OutsideIn_horizontalSAVE THE DATE! Key Ministry is pleased to partner with Outside In Ministries to offer Mental Health Ministry in the Local Churcha one-day conference for pastors, ministry leaders and faithful Christians seeking to take the next steps in helping their churches welcome, serve and disciple children, adults and families impacted by mental illness. The conference will take place on Saturday, November 19th, from 8:30 AM – 1:00 PM at Ironbridge Baptist Church in Chester (suburban Richmond), Virginia. Tickets are currently available here.

Hope to see you on November 19th!

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A conference dedicated to mental health inclusion ministry

shutterstock_486319768Catherine Boyle from OutsideIn Ministries has graciously shared with our readers a series of blog posts (here, here and here) describing her church’s process (and progress) in developing a mental health inclusion ministry. Our team is very excited to come alongside Catherine and the leadership of her church as they prepare to take the next steps in launching their ministry, and we’d like to invite as many of our friends and colleagues to join us and other champions for mental health outreach and inclusion at a special event next month for church leaders throughout the mid-Atlantic region and the East Coast.

OutsideIn_horizontalOutsideIn Ministries and Ironbridge Baptist Church are offering a one-day conference on Mental Health Ministry in the Local Church on Saturday, November 19th from 8:30 AM-1:00 PM at the church’s campus in Chester, VA (a suburb of Richmond). The goal of the conference is to provide answers to common questions church leaders ask when considering the launch of a mental health inclusion initiative. Among the questions to be addressed…

  • What does ministry to people and families impacted by mental illness look like?
  • How does my church get started?
  • What are the costs?
  • How many people are needed?

Catherine and the team from Ironbridge have assembled an excellent lineup of speakers:

Dr. Ananda Pandurangi, Professor and Vice-Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Director of the Schizophrenia and Brain Stimulation Therapy programs at Virginia Commonwealth University Health System will be speaking on The Science Behind Mental Illness.

fullsizeoutput_2263Dr. Mark Jordan, (pictured at right) Lead Pastor at Ironbridge Baptist Church will be presenting a message on Biblical Support for Mental Health Ministry.

Robert W. Lesniak is an attorney in public law practice who serves as counsel for individuals who are hospitalized involuntarily under temporary detention orders. He is scheduled to speak on Legal Issues and Legal Tools for Churches to Help the Mentally Ill.

I’m honored to be serving as the keynote presenter for the conference and I’ll be sharing two presentations. In the keynote presentation, Mental Health Inclusion Ministry – The Mission Field Just Outside Your Door, I’ll be casting a vision for evangelism and outreach to children, teens and adults with common mental health conditions and their families and introduce seven barriers to church involvement for persons impacted by mental illness.

I’ll be concluding the conference with Seven Strategies for Promoting Mental Health Inclusion in the Local Church. In the closing presentation, I’ll present the model for mental health inclusion our Key Ministry team has developed to guide churches as they seek to connect with individuals and families in their local communities affected by mental illness and offer a process to assist mental health inclusion teams in identifying and minimizing the obstacles to worship service attendance and engagement in ministries of the church that serve as catalysts for spiritual growth. Attendees will be able to access “beta” versions of ministry planning tools under development for our ministry’s book on mental health inclusion, scheduled for release by Zondervan in February, 2018.

In addition to the above presentations, information will also be available on child abuse prevention and ministry and mental health training for churches.

ironbridgeOnline registration for the conference is now available through this link to the events page at OutsideIn Ministries. Thanks to their support and the support of Ironbridge Church, the conference is being made available for only $25.00. We encourage our readers to register today, and to share information on the conference with friends and associates who share our passion for helping everyone impacted by mental illness to find a local church where they might come to know Jesus, grow in their faith and use their gifts and talents alongside their brothers and sisters in Christ to advance the purposes of his kingdom.

Hope to see old friends – and meet lots of new ones in Richmond on Saturday, November 19th!


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

The mental and physical health crisis of kids in foster care

shutterstock_211439761Using data from the 2011-12 National Survey of Children’s Health, a new study featured in the November 2016 issue of Pediatrics seeks to compare parent-reported mental and physical health outcomes of children placed in foster care to those for children who have never been in foster care, children adopted from foster care, children from different family structures (traditional, single parent, step-parents, grandparents, cohabitation, etc.) and children with multiple indicators of socioeconomic disadvantage. Some of the findings and conclusions are startling.

When compared to kids in the general population, children placed in foster care were:

  • Twice as likely to have learning disabilities (14.7% vs 7.6%), developmental delays (7.3% vs 3.4%), asthma (18.0% vs 8.7%), obesity (24.1% vs 15.7%), and speech problems (11.2% vs 4.7%)
  • Three times more likely to have ADD/ADHD (21.8% vs 7.4%)
  • Five times more likely to have anxiety (14.2% vs 3.1%)
  • Six times as likely to have behavioral problems (17.5% vs 2.9%)
  • Seven times as likely to have depression (14.2% vs 2.0%).

The differences in mental health outcomes (ADD/ADHD, depression, anxiety, behavioral or conduct problems) were statistically significant while the differences in physical health outcomes never reached that threshold.

I was surprised to discover how many children in America have firsthand experience of the foster care system. While approximately 1% of U.S. children are placed in foster care at any given point in time, between 5% and 6% of US children will spend some time in foster care. The numbers increase to 10% among African-American children and 15% for Native American children. This is a big problem.

Several years ago, we did an entire series on the impact of trauma in kids, including a look at the impact of adverse childhood experiences on mental and physical health. It’s not a surprise that kids exposed to the types of abuse and neglect that result in foster care placement have more mental health issues. Nevertheless, the authors of this study shared a couple of interesting conclusions.

First, they suggested that foster care placement in and of itself may represent a risk factor for mental and physical health problems. Quoting from the authors,

Although some of the mental and physical health differences of children in foster care compared with other children were explained by characteristics of these children and their households, many of the differences in mental health persisted after adjusting for these child and household characteristics, suggesting possible effects of foster care placement on mental health. However, unlike much other research in this area, our primary goal was not to ascertain whether foster care placement has an effect on children. Rather, our goal was to use these large and representative cross-sectional data to provide a descriptive portrait of the health of children in foster care relative to other children.


In Shannon Dingle’s series on adoption and the church, she often wrote of the relationship between adoption and trauma. Might it be fair to hypothesize that foster care placement represents an additional trauma for kids who by definition have already experienced significant trauma or neglect?

Another interesting finding…the mental health and physical health of children adopted from foster care is generally worse than that of kids currently placed in foster care. One explanation: Children in foster care only become available for adoption after parental rights have been terminated. Compared to the foster care population as a whole, they may have experienced more maltreatment. The authors also put forth the hypothesis that subsidies offered in some states to promote adoption of children with more significant special needs may also be a contributing factor.

More and more churches and Christian families are becoming involved in foster care as a missional outreach…and we’re being asked to help. When I was working in residential treatment, I was often very concerned that the foster families available to our patients following discharge weren’t capable of meeting their needs. The infographic below notes that that nearly 40% of foster families have incomes at or below 200% of poverty. They are disproportionately located in urban school systems that often have limited resources to meet the special education needs of the kids they serve.

We need good foster homes…and the church is a great place to find loving parents with the resources to support them. But churches that encourage their families to serve in the foster care system or encourage families to adopt from the foster care system need to be prepared to come alongside them for the long haul. Families may need support to access the medical, mental health and educational services their children will need. And the church needs to be prepared to include children and teens with a broad range of mental health needs and their families into the full range of activities and experiences available for promoting spiritual growth.


OutsideIn_horizontalSAVE THE DATE! Key Ministry is pleased to partner with Outside In Ministries to offer Mental Health Ministry in the Local Churcha one-day conference for pastors, ministry leaders and faithful Christians seeking to take the next steps in helping their churches welcome, serve and disciple children, adults and families impacted by mental illness. The conference will take place on Saturday, November 19th, from 8:30 AM – 1:00 PM at Ironbridge Baptist Church in Chester (suburban Richmond), Virginia. Tickets are currently available here.

Hope to see you on November 19th!

Posted in Adoption, Controversies, Families, Foster Care, Inclusion, Key Ministry, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment