The Benedict Option


I’ve been a follower of Rod Dreher’s blog for a long time. Rod’s a journalist who writes extensively about religion in the public square. He has written and served as an editor for the New York Post, the National Review, the Dallas Morning News, and other publications. I’ve found him to be an astute observer of cultural trends, especially the rapidly evolving threats to religious freedom and increasing hostility toward Christians who maintain traditional views regarding sexuality and gender. Dreher’s new book, The Benedict Option is the featured story in this month’s Christianity Today.

I had the pleasure of meeting Rod last month when he was in Northeast Ohio to lecture at Malone College.  I came away from his talk with the impression that disability ministry is likely to become a defining feature of churches and communities of Christians who choose to pursue his recommendations for growing in faith while faithfully witnessing to an increasingly hostile culture.

I’m not surprised that Rod has received lots of blowback about his book. He’s been very pointed in his criticism of churches and church leaders who have failed to communicate the essentials of the faith to a “lost generation” who fail to think and act differently than non-Christians in the surrounding culture, claiming that the church “no longer forms souls but caters to selves.”  He’s been skewered by progressive Christians including Rachel Held Evans, and criticized by evangelicals (unfairly, in my opinion) who claim he is advocating a withdrawal from culture.

Here’s an excerpt from Rod’s feature in this month’s Christianity Today that introduces the overarching themes addressed in his book…

I brought up the work of philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, who said that Western civilization had lost its moorings. MacIntyre said that the time is coming when men and women of virtue will understand that continued full participation in mainstream society was not possible for those who want to live a life of traditional virtue. These people would find new ways to live in community, he said, just as St. Benedict, the sixth-century father of Western monasticism, responded to the collapse of Roman civilization by founding a monastic order.

I called the strategic withdrawal prophesied by MacIntyre “the Benedict Option.” The idea is that serious Christian conservatives could no longer live business-as-usual lives in America, that we have to develop creative, communal solutions to help us hold on to our faith and our values in a world growing ever more hostile to them. We would have to choose to make a decisive leap into a truly countercultural way of living Christianity, or we would doom our children and our children’s children to assimilation.

Today, Christians who hold to the biblical teaching about sex and marriage have the same status in culture and, increasingly, in law, as racists. The culture war that began with the sexual revolution in the 1960s has now ended in defeat for Christian conservatives. The cultural left—which is to say, the American mainstream—has no intention of living in postwar peace. It is pressing forward with a harsh, relentless occupation, one that is aided by the cluelessness of Christians who don’t understand what’s happening.

I have written The Benedict Option to wake up the church, and to encourage it to act to strengthen itself, while there is still time. If we want to survive, we have to return to the roots of our faith, both in thought and in deed. We are going to have to learn habits of the heart forgotten by believers in the West. We are going to have to change our lives, and our approach to life, in radical ways. In short, we are going to have to be the church, without compromise, no matter what it costs.

There’s a great deal of misunderstanding about his writing. His message is a difficult one for us to hear. He’s not calling for Christians to isolate themselves from society. He is calling us to become far more intentional and serious about cultivating spiritual maturity in the context of Christian community. He is encouraging Christians to embrace our “exile in place” and to form a vibrant counterculture.

Rod does encourage and promote…

  • Pursuit of a spiritually disciplined life.
  • Intentionality in building Christian community.
  • Abandoning hopes of changing the culture through political power while focusing on the preservation of religious liberty.
  • Making the church the center of your life.
  • Special efforts for racial reconciliation.
  • The creation of a Christian academic counterculture.
  • The centrality of sexual integrity to Christian life.
  • The importance of protecting ourselves (and especially, our children) from the dangers of technology.

Why do I see disability ministry as central to the Benedict Option? Quoting Rod…

The state will not be able to care for all human needs in the future, especially if the current projections of growing economic inequality prove accurate. The sheer humanity of Christian compassion, and the image of human dignity it honors, will be an extraordinarily attractive alternative-not unlike the evangelical witness of the early church amid the declining paganism of an exhausted Roman Empire.

Ministry to persons with disabilities fits perfectly within the Benedict Option. We put our faith into action by doing. Doing ministry forces us to train ourselves to face the inevitable adversity associated with efforts to restore Jesus’ Kingdom on Earth and compels us to seek one another out for encouragement and support.

With every passing day, we’re likely to encounter more and more victims of a spiritually impoverished culture…

  • The children who need someone to care for them because of drug-addicted (or dead) parents.
  • Victims of sex trafficking and sexual abuse
  • Children with disabilities from families lacking the means to escape underperforming schools
  • Kids and adults who struggle with gender discordance who continue to experience hopelessness and suicidal ideation after hormonal treatment or surgery.

There’s something remarkably countercultural about the willingness of a couple to volunteer their time offering respite care to parents in crisis when everyone else around you expects someone else to help. It’s just the church being the church.


KM_ForFamilies_Logo_Color_RGBKey Ministry helps connect churches and families of kids with disabilities for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. In order to provide the free training, consultation, resources and support we offer every day to church leaders and family members, we depend upon the prayers and generous financial support of readers like you. Please pray for the work of our ministry and consider, if able, to support us financially!

Posted in Book Reviews, Controversies, Key Ministry, Spiritual Development, Strategies | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Is past experience of church a barrier for persons with mental illness and their families?


I’ve been wrestling with the idea of revising a chapter in the book I’ve been writing on how churches can welcome and include individuals and families affected by mental illness.

In the book, we explore seven barriers to church attendance and participation for children, teens, adults and families impacted by mental illness.

  • Social isolation
  • Anxiety
  • Social communication
  • Self-control
  • Sensory processing
  • Stigma
  • Family members with mental illness

I suspect that past experiences of church may be a major barrier to current church involvement for many adults with a history of mental illness or parents of children or teens with significant mental health conditions. There’s not an enormous amount of research to support or refute that hypothesis. Matthew Stanford’s group at Baylor reported a sizable number for adults who approach their churches for help as a result of a mental health condition have such negative experiences that they report either a weakening of faith or an end to their church involvement. When we offered our Inclusion Fusion Disability Ministry Web Summit in 2014, a survey of conference participants reported that 61% of our attendees with a disability or a family member were unable to attend church at some point as a result of that disability.

I have three questions for readers of our blog with personal experience of a mental health condition, or a loved one with a mental health condition. Please post your responses below in the “Comments” section, especially if they might serve as an encouragement to others or might be helpful to churches seeking to offer more effective ministry to persons impacted by mental illness.

Have you (or someone you know) had an experience related to a mental health condition impacting either yourself, a family member or a friend that led you (or them) to stop attending church?

What happened that was so hurtful? 

What would a congregation have to say or do to get someone who drifted away because of their experience with a mental health condition (or with a loved one with a mental health condition) to consider giving church another try?


KM_ForFamilies_Logo_Color_RGBKey Ministry helps connect churches and families of kids with disabilities for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. In order to provide the free training, consultation, resources and support we offer every day to church leaders and family members, we depend upon the prayers and generous financial support of readers like you. Please pray for the work of our ministry and consider, if able, to support us financially!


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What the church can learn from a basketball game

Photo credit: Canton Repository

Photo credit: Canton Repository

A couple of years ago, I introduced our readers to “Downtown Nate” Manko. Nate is a young man who plays the drums in the praise band at Martindale Christian Fellowship in Canton, OH, where his father (Steve) serves as Senior Pastor. Because of brain trauma at the time of his birth, Nate experiences significant spasticity in his left arm and leg. When he was younger, he experienced very frequent seizures that were poorly controlled by medication. Dr. Ben Carson ultimately performed surgery on Nate, removing a portion of his brain in order to stop the seizures. Despite the residual impairment Nate experiences from his neurologic condition, he has followed in his family’s tradition of athletic excellence through playing a key role for the Royal Knights, one of Stark County’s Special Olympics basketball teams. The Royal Knights practice in the church’s gymnasium and are perennial contenders for the state championship.

When Nate was a student at Louisville High School, he was an active participant in the school’s marching band and the pep band that performs during varsity basketball games. Nate was befriended by the varsity basketball coach who followed his play with the Royal Knights closely. During Nate’s final year of high school (two years ago) the varsity coach  and the school administration thought Nate deserved a “senior night” where he would be honored in a similar fashion to other varsity athletes. The administration approached Nate’s parents and the Royal Knights with the idea of hosting one of their regular season games in which the varsity cheerleaders and pep band would perform and Nate and a teammate attending the high school would be recognized. The Louisville community rallied around the idea, and Nate’s “senior night” was a bigger draw than any home varsity basketball game that season.

img_2135The game was such a success that the school and the Royal Knights decided to make it an annual event. This year, my schedule finally allowed me to attend Nate’s “home” game at Louisville High School. Nate’s older brother flew in from Minneapolis to attend his first “senior night” game, and I had the pleasure of meeting Nate’s neurologist for the first time and joining him and many of Nate’s family members in seats behind the Royal Knights’ bench. I’m glad I arrived early…the gym was packed! Nate raised his game in response to the crowd and the presence of local media. He scored a career-high 23 points, including three three-pointers, and went 6 of 8 at the line, setting a standard for free throw shooting that we hope will be matched by a certain member of the Cleveland Cavaliers who wears Nate’s number! That’s the two of us on the right, with the final score in the background.


Photo Credit: Canton Repository

Nate shared the spotlight that night with Rocco, a teammate with great flair and charisma who clearly captured the love and admiration of the home crowd. During the player introductions, with all the lights in the gym off except for a single spotlight, Rocco whipped the student section into a frenzy and rewarded them by tossing t-shirts into the crowd after his name was announced. After the Royal Knights came from behind in the second half and took control of the game in the fourth quarter, Rocco was given an opportunity to score in front of his hometown fans and classmates. When he nailed an arching jumper from behind the three point line in the final minute of the game, the crowd, student section and bench exploded as if they had just won the seventh game of the NBA finals!

The event has been such a big success that other school districts in the county represented on the Royal Knights are making plans to host “home games” celebrating their current students and graduates who play on the team. The idea is so simple that I’m surprised that other school districts haven’t embraced it.

What was most remarkable about the game was the radical demonstration of how Nate and Rocco are valued by the community in which they’ve grown up. The expressions of the fans and players in the pictures from the featured story in the local newspaper capture the authenticity of the love and support experienced by all in attendance that night. What would our churches look like if we valued the gifts and talents of all of our members and celebrated the work accomplished by the Holy Spirit through them in the way that Louisville High School demonstrated to two of their athletes?


KM greenKey Ministry helps connect churches and families of kids with disabilities for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. In order to provide the free training, consultation, resources and support we offer every day to church leaders and family members, we depend upon the prayers and generous financial support of readers like you. Please pray for the work of our ministry and consider, if able, to support us financially!

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Jeff McNair: Eight Questions to Guide the Next Steps for Your Disability Ministry

shutterstock_516724222-copyWhen someone thinks about “next steps” in ministry they have come to recognize that where they are is no longer where they want to be. Perhaps they have visualized a different place they would prefer to be. They desire to move in the direction of their new vision.

Leaders are often unsure of exactly where they are because they have not fully fleshed out their vision. They may not know what questions to ask as they think about taking next steps. In order to see where one is and where one might go, some form of evaluative criteria is needed. Answering the right questions often provides the vision for what is next.

The answers to questions about next steps in growing disability ministry will be different for every church. Some churches have not sought to include persons with disabilities. Some churches serve only a few persons with intellectual disabilities. Others have developed what might be referred to as “silo” ministries…stand-alone disability ministries that operate independently of other vital ministries of the church.

Here are eight questions leaders might use as a guide for determining the next steps in the development of their church’s disability ministry:

  • Is our church welcoming persons with disabilities and their families?
  • Who are we welcoming and what specifically are we doing to offer welcome?
  • Are persons who attend our church integrated into all aspects of church life?
  • What is the evidence they are fully integrated?
  • Is the gifting of all people, independent of their personal characteristics, being used?
  • How are we providing a platform for the expression of everyone’s gifting?
  • What expectations are we placing on regular church members to love their neighbors with disabilities?
  • What is the evidence that each of us within the body are doing the difficult work of loving our neighbor?

These eight questions will help you to determine the next steps in inclusion of persons affected by disability in the local church. A more extensive list of questions is presented in an article I published with Dr. Marc Tumeinski, (available here for download)  “What Would be Better?” The self-examination questions and criteria were designed to help ministry leaders to reflect upon the current state of the disability ministries they lead. With that understanding in mind, the article simply asks readers to consider the question, “what would be better?”

What does our shared vision of Christian community look like? Who is present in our biblical vision of community? How can the inclusion of vulnerable people better reflect the Gospel vision and therefore strengthen our church community? How can we more closely approach this vision here and now within our church? Given the actual makeup of our membership, might we unintentionally or unconsciously be putting some groups of people outside of this vision? What would be better?  (p. 18)

I would invite readers considering the next steps for their ministry to use the questions posed in the paper as a guide for advancing disability ministry in their local church. I would like to leave you with one final thought.

I once saw a billboard advertisement that said, “Better has no endpoint.” Whatever stage we are at in our ministry work or our own walk with Christ, we recognize we are on a continuum. Minimally, each of us has the ability to assist others seeking to get to the place where we are. I may be gifted at integration while you are gifted at biblical instruction. We should seek to provide assistance to each other as we work to more fully emulate the vision for the church as the Body of Christ.

fullsizeoutput_237fDr. Jeff McNair serves as Professor of Education and as Director of the M.A. in Disability Studies program at California Baptist University. He also serves as Director of the Policy Center of the Joni and Friends Christian Institute on Disability and volunteers with The Light and Power Company, a group that includes adults with developmental disabilities at Trinity Evangelical Free Church in Redlands, CA. He blogs at Disabled Christianity.

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We’re starting a new group for leaders in mental health inclusion ministry

shutterstock_291556127-copy-2Our crew at Key Ministry is starting a Facebook group for leaders interested in advancing the cause of mental health inclusion ministry.

Modeled after the Special Needs and Disability Ministry Leaders forum, the new group provides a platform for Christians interested in ministry with children and adults with mental illness. We seek to help churches launch intentional mental health inclusion ministries and provide a forum for discussing “best practices” for mental health inclusion, including outreach, education and support.

Membership in the group is limited to individuals serving in a leadership/staff position in a local church or parachurch organization, or volunteers with a demonstrable interest in launching intentional mental health ministry through a local church. Persons interested in joining the group may be invited by an established member or group administrator, or may register (subject to the approval of an administrator) by completing the form available through this link.

We look forward to the group serving as a catalyst for the rapid growth of mental health inclusion ministry. You can help us through sharing this post with anyone you know with interest in joining this rapidly growing ministry movement!

The Mental Health Inclusion Ministry Leaders Group is sponsored by Key Ministry, in partnership with OutsideIn Ministries.



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YOU Want ME to Run the Special Needs Ministry? Cindi Ferrini


His diagnosis was still as fresh as the day we heard it three years earlier. Now, at age 5 I continued in the throngs of potty training for the 3rd year. (Not 3rd week, 3rd year.) So when asked that question from someone at my church, I spared not a breath in saying, “This just isn’t a good time for me to take on this huge, wonderful, and what would be for me overwhelming ministry opportunity.”

I’m a “go-getter” and get a lot done; sort of that “Ever-ready bunny” type. So I suppose it wasn’t a stretch to ask me, but where that rubber band would have snapped is at home. There were so many responsibilities in caring for one with cerebral palsy, seizures, mental challenges, and at the time – no verbal skills. None. Most of my day was a guessing game like trying to get to the end of the board game; I didn’t care if I won, I just wanted to finish. So, for me, while I might have seemed a good fit for the job, it wouldn’t have been good to add something of that magnitude with all we were still adjusting to at home. It simply would have been too much.

BUT, if your church is considering getting a Special Needs Ministry off the ground, here are some things to consider for choosing the right person to get that ministry going:


Having a supportive church staff who’ll support one who can head up this ministry is step one….then……

  • Don’t start by asking a parent caring for one with special needs. They really could use “the break” from caregiving. IF they volunteer, that’s a different story…sign them up!
  • Look for a person who is grace filled, merciful, and having administrative skills would be a plus, but mostly it’s the kind and caring person who has a passion for a caregiving ministry that will fill the bill.
  • Be sure this person can delegate so they’re not doing everything alone. It’s not humanly possible.
  • In delegating, this leader needs a “team” to make things work and work well.
  • Encourage this person, support their ideas, and help them emotionally – also physically and spiritually. They’ll need a well-rounded “way to go” team spirit group of people behind them.

While I would have loved heading up a ministry to special needs families, the timing just didn’t align with other things happening in my life at the time; and that’s OK, because when we have to say no, it allows others to step forward, it allows us to be ministered to, and it gives us the break we desperately need when someone else will take time with our children.

But there are times we can be of great help…stay tuned for Part TWO next month!


newferriniJoe and Cindi Ferrini are authors of Unexpected Journey – When Special Needs Change our Course who enjoy speaking on topics that will encourage men and women to make a difference in their sphere of influence by being all they can be for the Lord, their families, and themselves. They speak nationally for FamilyLife’s Weekend To Remember Get-a-Ways and are on associate staff of CRU. Make sure to check out their blog. Today’s blog was written by Cindi Ferrini.

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Our ministry blueprint for 2017


Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a series of conversations with parents, friends, ministry colleagues and fellow Christians that have deepened my appreciation for the extent to which my family and I have been blessed by the teaching, relationships and opportunities to serve we’ve experienced through our church. Like most readers of this blog, life in 2016 brought far more challenges than I would have liked. My faith provides me with a way to make sense of the daily hurts and frustrations of life and hope that all my troubles are temporary.

This past week, I had the best time I’ve had in months during a brainstorming day with some fellow Christians interested in caring for kids and families, kicking around ideas for how we might share our wisdom, experience and resources to advance the Gospel. It makes me happy to think about other families having a strong faith foundation when the winds and waves of contemporary life come crashing against the shore.

In that context, I’d like to share the priorities our team has felt called to pursue during the coming year. Our five principal areas of focus in 2017 are to:

  • Expand ministry training
  • Grow Key for Families
  • Offer resources, supports to churches to promote mental health inclusion
  • Increase collaboration with other like-minded ministries and organizations
  • Build a sustainable organization

Training/Education: We’re looking at ways of expanding the availability of ministry training in 2017. We’ll have monthly video trainings, accompanied by opportunities for interactive discussion. We’ll continue to host our disability ministry video roundtable at 12:00 Eastern on the third Wednesday of each month. We’re interested in getting out to more ministry conferences throughout the country. We continue to offer free consultation to churches and church leaders interested in ministry with kids with disabilities and their families, and hope to provide more support to churches in the year ahead.

We’ll be introducing several monthly contributors to this blog, which seeks to resource pastors, church leaders and volunteers for ministry with kids with disabilities and their families.

Barb Dittrich will be sharing practical ideas for churches seeking to provide support to families of children with all types of disabilities.

Colleen Swindoll-Thompson will be speaking into the ways churches can more effectively minister with kids and families affected by mental illness and/or trauma.

Cindi Ferrini will be sharing ideas for how churches might offer support to kids and families through the transition to adulthood.

Growing Key for Families. We launched our private, online communities for families this past spring. We want to help families impacted by disability find churches prepared to embrace and include them in the full range of activities that help kids and adults to come to know Jesus and grow in faith in Jesus. We hope to offer families an opportunity to experience caring and community online.We’ll have members-only book and Bible studies and educational events.

Know a family affected by disability in need of a church or Christian community? Share this link with them.


Mental Health Inclusion: We’re going to offering resources and supports to churches specifically for outreach to and inclusion of families of children and teens with mental illness or trauma. We’ll be putting together a video series on mental health inclusion ministry that will launch in the Fall of 2017. We’ll be organizing an invitation-only Facebook group for mental health ministry leaders that will be launching in the next thirty days. And this author hopes to be out on the road with increasing frequency in anticipation of the scheduled launch of our book on mental health inclusion on February 1, 2018.

Promoting collaboration among like-minded ministries: We can maximize the impact of our efforts through partnering with other organizations called to help the church become more inclusive of persons with disabilities and their families. We’re just beginning to imagine what an online conference in the Fall to promote ministry collaboration might look like. Look for us to do more in 2017 to call attention to great ideas and resources from other like-minded ministries.

Building a sustainable ministry organization: As our small organization grows larger, we need to create the systems and support to sustain our work.

I’d like to extend a big thank you to all the new donors who contributed to our Annual Fund and online campaigns this past Christmas season. While we fell significantly short of covering our operating costs last year, the ministry needs we’re called to meet will require an even larger budget in 2017. Our entire team was very encouraged by the influx of new supporters who recognized the need for the ministry we offer and generously supported us through their prayers, encouragement and financial contributions in 2016. We’ll need to generate a little under $7,000/month in financial support to cover our expenses in 2017. Anything you can do to help is much appreciated!

I have one additional request. I’d appreciate it if you’d take the time to pray for me and the other members of our ministry team.

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted anything new to the blog for the last few weeks. I was working very hard over the holidays to complete the first draft of our book on mental health inclusion to the publishers by the due date in early January.

This year was by far and away the most challenging one I’ve experienced in our practice. I seek to honor God by providing a truly excellent service to the families who seek help through our practice. I’ve found myself needing to expend more mental effort and energy with each passing year to sustain the level of excellence with which I’m comfortable. I’ve never felt as mentally depleted as I’ve felt over the last few months. I’ve been too tired for a couple of years to go to a Bible Study or a small group or to make or maintain friendships.

I’d ask that God would make available a way for me to grow in my own faith this year, providing me with the mental reserves to be available to Him and to my family. That God would make available a way to serve kids and families with excellence and provide sufficient margin so that finances don’t become a distraction. That he’d help me to prioritize my time and provide me with the mental capacity to care for my family and myself. That he’d protect and provide for the members of our ministry team and connect us with like-minded individuals and organizations who might make use of our resources for growing the Kingdom.

Thanks for your prayers and encouragement! Let’s do this.


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