On Ashley Madison, Christians, and sloppy statistics

Statistic GraphicEarlier this week, Ed Stetzer wrote a post worth reading titled ‘My Pastor is on the Ashley Madison List.’ In it, he wrote, “Based on my conversations with leaders from several denominations in the U.S. and Canada, I estimate that at least 400 church leaders (pastors, elders, staff, deacons, etc.) will be resigning Sunday.” In the article, he is clear that this is a guess, though given his research background, it’s definitely an educated one.

Yet in the past two days since, I’ve lost count of the number of blogs and social media posts that have shared that 400 pastors are definitely resigning this weekend, as if these are confirmed figures rather than an estimate and as if the original number was just pastors instead of a wider net of church leaders.

Should we be talking about how to respond when church leaders (and members) are caught exploring or engaging in adultery? Certainly. Christian leaders presenting themselves as biblically qualified to lead while persisting in secret sin is a problem we need to address.

But should we also be concerned with whether or not we’re holding ourselves to a high standard of excellence in the figures we use when we talk about this issue? Definitely. When we present numbers as facts without even checking to see if they’re legit, we’re saying that making a point matters more to us than telling the truth.

I’ve seen this happen before, especially among Christians. We skim an article or half-listen to a speaker. Then we repeat a slightly different version of the facts. Then we do it again and again and again. Occasionally a prominent Christian speaker or pastor repeats the rumored yet inaccurate statistic, and then it spreads even more quickly. It’s like the childhood game Telephone. Then we laugh at how the message changes as little ones whisper it from ear to ear, but this adult version isn’t funny at all.

This is not a game. As Christians, we are the people of the Message. We follow the one who calls himself the Truth. Yet we are prone to repeat half truths (that is, lies) without checking them out.

I see it in disability ministry often. We say 80% of special needs parents divorce. (Not true.) We say somewhere between 80 and 90% of families affected by disability are unchurched. (Nope, though research does show they are slightly less churched than other families.) We say 90% of babies with Down syndrome are aborted. (Not quite.)

I’ll be writing some posts about the real figures we can use – ones based in research and backed up with citations – but for now, let’s just commit to do better. Let’s stop repeating “400 pastors” and 80% divorce rates and other incorrect numbers. We claim to stand in truth and we worship the one who embodies excellence, so let’s start holding ourselves to a standard of truth and excellence in the statistics we use.

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

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© 2014 Rebecca Keller PhotographyCheck 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.

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5 Practical Tips for Young Adults with Autism Seeking Employment…Ron Sandison

Autism world-workAfter I graduated from Oral Roberts University with a Master of Divinity, I was employed four years as a youth pastor and helps minister. When Metro Detroit experienced harsh economic conditions due to the automotive industry I found myself unemployed. For the next two years I struggled for steady employment and sank into a finical sinkhole. Unable to pay my bills, I was forced to live with my parents.

My Asperger’s added to the burden and stress I experienced in seeking gainful employment. My dad would yell, “You have a masters degree, why are you working only part-time at Corky’s Skate Shop making $5.50?”

During this season I emailed over 400 churches who were hiring only to experience further frustration. I traveled twice to Indiana and to New York for pastoral candidate interviews. I can’t complain about the New York interview; I received an expense paid trip and saw Niagara Falls.

Finally, I received gainful employment in the medical field where I currently been employed for 7 ½ years. Through my occupational struggles I learned five valuable lessons helpful for people with disabilities seeking employment.

Twenty-six million Americans with disabilities are of working age. Every year an additional 50,000 young adults with autism diligently search and struggle for employment. Many of these young adults experience chronic under-employment and unemployment. These practical tips can empower your child for employment and independence.

  1. Most people find employment by personal connections.

While working part-time for Comfort Keepers I overheard one of the staff at the nursing home state, “I work at Havenwyck Hospital.” I told this staff, “I submitted my résumé to Havenwyck four months ago and never heard back!” She advised me, “Tomorrow go and ask for my supervisor and he will hire you. I’ll call him tonight.” The next day, I went to the hospital and asked to meet with her supervisor—he hired me.

  1. Employment comes through experience.

I can guess what you’re thinking how can my child ever gain experience—if no company will hire him? Kerry Magro, a young adult with autism states, “Getting experience as a volunteer or an intern may open the door to entry-level employment within organizations or companies.”[i] I volunteered at Oakland Christian Church for a year before they hired me.

  1. An employer hires based on their company’s needs.

In job interviews focus on your strengths and gifts not your disabilities. A couple positive traits many individuals with autism and Asperger’s possess are faithfulness and attention to details. When I am interview by a potential employer if he or she asks about my having autism, I use humor and state, “I am like Superman, only my kryptonite is electronic noises and bleach. I have a few super powers. I can quote over 10,000 Scriptures and run the mile in 4 minutes and 25 seconds. I also have never missed a day of work.”

  1. Employment comes to those who diligently seek.

Encourage your child to never quit or become discouraged in his or her quest for employment. As the old proverb advices, “The only difference between a successful person and a failure is a successful person rises one more time then he falls.” Charles Spurgeon said, “By perseverance, the snail made it on the ark.”

  1. When all else fails create your own job.

As an entrepreneur declared, “It’s not work when you love what you’re doing.” I learned this final principle from my interview with Rhonda Gelstein whose son (Tyler) is diagnosed with cerebral palsy and autism. [ii] Rhonda was determined to help her son gain independence. After high school, Tyler searched three years unsuccessfully for employment.

Rhonda contemplated what things were of interest to him that he could develop into a business offering gainful employment. The idea that kept coming to her mind was Tyler’s love of returning cans. Rhonda helped Tyler start his own business, Tyler’s Bottle Service. She helped him access resources from Community Living Supports, including a driver who provides transportation when he collects or returns cans. Tyler’s business has enabled him to fulfill his dream of becoming self-employed and living on his own.              

[i] Magro, Kerry. “5 Tips for People with Autism Finding Employment.” Autism Speaks, 14 Oct. 2013.

[ii] 8/4/14 interview with Rhonda Gelstein.

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105C 1 1Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is a task force member for the Autism Society’s Faith Initiative. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and Charisma House is publishing his book on 4/5/16, A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with their pet rabbit, Babs, and cat, Frishma. You can contact Ron on Facebook or email him at sandison456@hotmail.com

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Becoming emotionally healthy…

shutterstock_147253073Many of our readers are aware that I took 2 ½ weeks off last month to work on a book for church leaders on outreach/inclusion of families impacted by mental illness. Seventeen days represented my longest time away from my day job as a physician since 1986 (when I graduated from med school). During the time away, I time to think and rest and to find myself being challenged by God in ways I hadn’t planned.

The emotionally unhealthy leader is someone who operates in a continuous state of emotional and spiritual deficit, lacking emotional maturity and a “being with God” sufficient to sustain their “doing for God.”

Peter Scazzero

IMG_1070Near the beginning of my break, I ran up to my office to grab some paper and printer ink only to find a big package sitting on my desk chair. Someone had arranged for me to receive an advance copy of The Emotionally Healthy Leader by Peter Scazzero along with the accompanying workbook. Since one of the promises I’d made to myself for the break was to take time every day over my break to be available to listen to God, I thought the arrival of these books “out of the blue” with no indication of how they got to me wasn’t a coincidence. I put aside my other reading plans to focus on the books that arrived mysteriously.

While neither of our daughters has any condition resulting in significant disability, I concluded that my personal experiences may give me me some insight into the experiences of the families served by our practice and the families impacted by disability our ministry seeks to serve through resourcing local churches. It’s very easy for a physician/ministry leader to become spiritually unhealthy and I share lots of risk factors for poor spiritual health with the parents we serve. Here are three…

Chronic hopelessness/discouragement: One evening last winter, a father of a kid who was being seen by another of our clinicians was berating a member of our support staff for not doing enough to get their insurance company to agree to pay for their child’s medication when I stepped in to intervene. His comeback to me was “You signed up for this!”

His comment just about put me over the edge. I never signed up for this! My life (and the lives of many of my fellow physicians are very different than what we envisioned during the weeks and months of studying 18-20 hours/day and working for 36 hours at a time as residents. We didn’t sign up to mindlessly enter lots of useless data into computers to fulfill the tens of thousands of pages of regulations governing how bills should be sent to insurance companies , or to pay a member of our office staff to spend thirty minutes on the phone with a high-school educated clerk to get a family’s insurance company to pay for a prescription selling for $3.99/month at the drug store up the street. When I started out, 80% of my time was spent with patients…it’s now under 50% and the majority of my time spent at work isn’t compensated financially. For me, the most draining issue with practice has been the lack of hope that things will ever get better. It’s a month to month struggle to keep the doors open. Three of our best people have left in the last five years for other opportunities that offered better compensation.

At the same time, with a cursory glance at our ministry’s Facebook page you’ll be introduced to dozens of parents who never signed up for their current lives either! Having a child with a disability is a 24/7/365 proposition all too often lived without the ability to see a light at the end of the tunnel. They’re working as hard as they can to find the money to provide the basic necessities of life to their kids and pay for the treatments their kids require with nothing left over to provide for retirement or to enjoy the fabulous experiences their friends and neighbors routinely share through social media.

shutterstock_202204480Mental/physical fatigue: At one point a year or two ago, I calculated that I’d gone at least two years since taking an entire day off for either my practice or Key Ministry. I’ve discovered it’s very easy for folks in ministry to justify working all the time because of the eternal significance of the mission. In my case, pursuing the mission was one factor that drove me. I also recognize that I threw myself into the ministry work as a coping strategy for my sense of frustration and hopelessness with my day job. As anyone with a disability (or a child with a disability) can attest, the healthcare delivery system is in the midst of a radical transformation. We have so much paperwork to complete during our visits that I’ve caught myself (or had parents catch me) making mistakes on prescriptions or in writing down the correct time for an upcoming appointment. The end result is that I’m spending far more mental energy and effort to treat the same number of kids and families compared to five years ago. Burnout has become a big-time problem. I’ve found myself turning down patients I would’ve accepted a few years ago when too much time would be required outside of office appointments.

My fatigue is very similar to the fatigue I see in many parents by the time they arrive at our practice. They’re always “on call” for any and all emergencies. They’re carrying out their ministry at home in many/most instances after a full day at work. They may recognize the importance of addressing their own spiritual growth and development, but they’re too tired to do anything about it when they have time to read the Bible or attend a small group, and they’re frequently too tired by Sunday to face the prospect of getting themselves (and their kids) out the door to a worship service.

Withdrawing from God and the people around us: In my situation, my wife and I typically reserve Saturday night as our “date night” when we either go out to dinner by ourselves or get together with other couples. Saturday is also our busiest day of the week in the office. Over the last year or two, we’ve had more and more Saturdays when I’d come home from the office too tired to talk. As a result, we find ourselves doing less and less with other couples. I’d been part of several men’s Bible studies over the years, but stopped attending a few years ago because I was too tired to get up in the morning. I’ve always gotten to church on Sunday morning, but there have been more and more mornings over the last year or two when I’ve gone because I needed to without the anticipation or enthusiasm I used to experience on Sundays. And I know I’m not alone in that sentiment.

While I’m wrestling with what it means to become a more emotionally healthy leader, I know lots of my colleagues in ministry and lots of parents and family members who follow this blog are wrestling with becoming emotionally healthy in the face of challenges that grow by the day. I thought we might wrestle with some of these issues together this coming fall. We’ll look at some topics out of The Emotionally Healthy Leader to explore how we might become more healthy for our respective ministries…regardless of whether your ministry takes place in a church, an office or in your home.

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shutterstock_118324816Key Ministry has put together a resource page for pastors, church staff, volunteers and parents with interest in the subject of depression and teens. Available on the resource page are…

  • Links to all the posts from our recent blog series on depression
  • Links to other outstanding blog posts on the topic from leaders in the disability ministry community
  • Links to educational resources on the web, including excellent resources from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), a parent medication guide, and excellent information from Mental Health Grace Alliance.
Posted in Key Ministry, Mental Health, Parents, Resources | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t judge us by our “professional” Christians…

Ashley Madison

We haven’t even begun to experience the fallout from the publication of data from Ashley Madison, promoted as “the world’s leading married dating service for discreet encounters.” Josh Duggar is the most prominent “celebrity” identified in the data dump at the time of this post, but I have no doubt that many pastors, church leaders and prominent volunteers will be experiencing very painful conversations at home and at work during the days and weeks ahead. I fear that most of us will be praying for at least one friend or family impacted by the website’s security breach.

You Lost MeMy current workout reading (on a stationary bike) is You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman from the Barna Group. As sad as I am about the impact disclosures of infidelity will have on millions of American families, I’m equally sad about the hit to the reputation of Christianity likely to occur among those outside the church as the hypocrisy and moral failures of those in positions of leadership and influence are exposed. The teens and college-age students I spend much of my day with at work aren’t very impressed by a faith that doesn’t make any difference in the lives of the people who profess it. The folks who dislike Christians and Christianity will have ample opportunity to revel in the fall of those who have publicly assumed responsibility for advancing the Gospel.

If you’ve managed to read this far, you may be wondering what Christian leaders being outed for subscribing to a website that facilitates marital infidelity, young people turning away from Christianity and disability ministry have in common.

Allow me to preface what I’m about to say by noting in the course of my work with Key Ministry I encounter church leaders every single day who truly walk the walk in addition to talking the talk…people who indisputably demonstrate the presence of the Holy Spirit at work within them and have an immeasurable impact upon the world. But Christianity… and the church have a very big problem with people who make their livelihood by representing Christian culture (in the case of Josh Duggar), leading churches or ministries (fill in the blank with the name of a church leader whose dirty laundry has been exposed in recent years) or serving in church leadership with spiritual struggles or a lack of giftedness that render them unfit for the positions in which they serve.

They’re killing the “brand” of Christianity with those outside the church.

Life’s tougher for people who occupy positions of prominence in the church. They essentially walk through life with targets on their backs for the enemy. The enemy recognizes the impact if those with the greatest capacity for influence can be incapacitated.  Scripture is clear in setting out a higher standard of personal conduct, self-discipline and spiritual maturity for those who seek to be leaders out of recognition for the challenges and temptations facing those in leadership. We often fail to demonstrate grace and compassion when leaders fall short, overlooking the reality that we all fall short of God’s standard (absolute perfection) and all are sinners in need of a savior…Jesus Christ. At the same time, we all too often enable leaders and church staff by turning the other way when we observe unhealthy patterns of behavior or a lack of giftedness for their current behavior. Note: My definition of enabling is keeping someone sick through “love” and “understanding.”

Josh DuggarIn the case of the Duggar’s, where else are they going to make the kind of money they made through their TV show if they don’t maintain the charade? Where is Josh going to find a job with the potential for influence (and salary) he received through the Family Research Council? And what do we do with clergy and church staff who are ineffective in their ministry but lack the necessary training or skills to support their families in some other occupation? Where does the pastor turn when they have a wife and kids to feed but struggle with moral failure or relationship issues that should disqualify them for their present positions? They cover things up as best they can and pretend.

I can’t begin to tell you how many people I’ve encountered in the last few years with a heart for disability ministry and a high capacity for service who have been discouraged or turned away from local churches where they sought to use their gifts and talents because they represented a threat to the people currently serving on staff. Most churches operate on very tight budgets. High capacity volunteers are very threatening to underperforming staff  in churches that operate from week to week on the money from the Sunday offering.

When I think of the team members I’ve met at churches having a great impact for the Kingdom, I’ve been struck by how many are serving after having achieved success in other vocations or are making a fraction of what their talent and ability would bring in the work world. Looking to the future, the church will bear lots of fruit in those places where everyone is encouraged to contribute their gifts and talents to the mission Jesus has called us to.

Before my dad went home to be with the Lord, he occasionally observed that Jesus should sue some of the more prominent people serving in his name for defamation of character. It greatly bothers me that people are rejecting Jesus in all too many instances based upon a misrepresentation of who he is.

I’ve personally been very reluctant to take money for doing ministry because of my own fear that mixing livelihood with ministry holds great potential for doing the right thing for the wrong motives. Many people in ministry handle it well. Lots of “professional Christians” don’t.

We are all ministers. Those of us who profess to be Christians need to assume the responsibility for representing Jesus to a broken and hurting world, even if we lack a seminary degree or professional credentials.

The first leader of the church (handpicked by Jesus) put it like this…

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

1 Peter 2:9-12 (ESV)

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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!

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How kids with disabilities are challenged when a new program year begins…

shutterstock_305145821As a new school year is beginning here in Northeast Ohio, many kids and families will face a daunting challenge at church.

Transitions are highly anticipated by most kids and families. At the church we attend, preschoolers entering kindergarten start to attend elementary school large group worship next Sunday. Kids entering sixth grade begin middle school programming and small groups. Ninth graders have their own Sunday evening worship and start “house groups” the following week.

Kids with “hidden disabilities” and their families may not look forward to these transitions with the same anticipation as their peers at church. Transitions from one ministry environment to another all too often result in kids and families falling away from church programming. With a little understanding of how transitions may impact kids with specific disabilities and some advance planning, church staff, volunteers and parents can help most to have positive experiences as they progress into their age-appropriate ministry environments at the start of the new program year.

shutterstock_173700593Some kids may have more difficulty transitioning into environments with more sensory stimulation than they’ve been accustomed to. Kids with sensory processing difficulties (common in kids with autism and ADHD) may experience distress when exposed to very bright lights, loud music and more noise than they’re accustomed to. Ministry leaders aware of kids with sensory issues may consider adjusting lighting and sound amplification in advance of the child’s transition to a new ministry environment. If such adjustments aren’t practical, alternative arrangements can be made for kids during times of excessive sensory stimulation…offering opportunities to serve elsewhere in the church, use of videos or prerecorded worship music or other alternative worship activities.

Kids with anxiety may have more difficulty transitioning into large groups when many older kids with established peer groups and friendships are present. Imagine being a shy, reserved sixth grader walking into a room with lots of older (and more physically mature) kids hanging out with friends in pre-existing groups, or a high school freshman walking in on a group of 16 and 17 year-olds who drove to church. Designating leaders to personally welcome kids who appear to be alone can be helpful. Planning in advance for friends or acquaintances to join kids who are more shy or withdrawn until they’ve made solid connections with peers and group leaders is another useful strategy. Another approach involves having trusted group leaders “loop” for two year commitments…following kids through the transition from elementary to middle school or middle school to high school ministry.

shutterstock_47556007Kids of middle and high school age with less well developed social skills may have difficulty transitioning into small group environments with more sophisticated peers. Transitions become easier when ministry leaders and parents can create a peer culture accepting of kids with differences.

Be on the lookout during transitions between age-appropriate ministries at the beginning of the program year for kids who have regularly participated in your church’s programming for children and youth but are suddenly missing from ministry activities. They may be kids with “hidden disabilities” struggling outside of their familiar (and comfortable) ministry environments.

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shutterstock_118324816Key Ministry has put together a resource page for pastors, church staff, volunteers and parents with interest in the subject of depression and teens. Available on the resource page are…

  • Links to all the posts from our recent blog series on depression
  • Links to other outstanding blog posts on the topic from leaders in the disability ministry community
  • Links to educational resources on the web, including excellent resources from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), a parent medication guide, and excellent information from Mental Health Grace Alliance.

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

The mental health needs of kids in foster care

shutterstock_100485745Churches planning ministry initiatives to serve kids in foster care need first to develop competency at serving kids with serious mental health issues and their families.

That’s the conclusion I’d draw in checking out this press release from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Here’s an excerpt:

Studies indicate that 60-85% of the children being served by the child welfare system meet criteria for a psychiatric diagnosis. Many of these children have had difficult early life experiences, including exposure to violence, abuse, trauma or neglect. Early detection and assessment of the mental health needs of these children is critical in order for them to receive necessary mental health interventions. However, despite their disproportionate mental health needs, most do not receive psychiatric care until their situation reaches a crisis point.

The context for the press release was to express the Academy’s support for efforts by the GAO (Government Accountability Office) to issue guidelines for monitoring the frequency with which kids in foster care (nearly all of whom are covered by Medicaid) are receiving psychiatric medication, especially antipsychotic medications that are frequently used “off-label” to treat severely aggressive behavior. In a nutshell, concerns have been raised about very expensive medication with potentially very serious short and long-term  side effects serving as a substitute for nonexistent mental health services in many parts of the country.

If your church is planning an initiative to serve kids in foster care, have you considered the following questions:

  • If 60-85% of kids in foster care have significant mental health conditions, is your church prepared to welcome those kids and teens into your existing children’s and youth ministry programming?
  • Are you prepared to provide for the child care needs of the families serving in foster care ministry so that those families can maintain their current level of participation and involvement in your church?
  • Can you help the parents serving in foster care to identify and obtain competent and effective mental health treatment for the kids they’re serving, as well as the care and support the parents will need in managing the stressors to their marriages and family relationships resulting from their involvement in foster care ministry? Note: For more on this topic, see 20/20, Foster Kids and Medication.
  • Is this an area in which Key Ministry can be of support to your church? If so, what types of training or supports would be most helpful?

Updated August 15th, 2015

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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, Foster Care, Key Ministry, Mental Health, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What about us? A sibling to kids with disabilities shares her needs

Marchenko Girls

I met Elaina Marchenko last fall when my family had the opportunity to worship at the church where her father was serving as pastor and her mom (Gillan Marchenko) was leading the special needs ministry. Elaina is now 15 and following in her mother’s footsteps as a gifted writer. Elaina and Gillian gave their permission for me to share this well-written article originally posted on Gillian’s blog on the experience of siblings in a family impacted by special needs. Here’s Elaina…

Today, my sister Zoya and I watched Polly and Evie, our two little sisters with disabilities, while my mom went out for a haircut. It being summer we do watch our sisters more often, but we don’t really mind. Usually we pop in a movie, go outside, or just have fun playing Barbies together. But, today Evie threw a tantrum, stressing us out, pushing Polly’s attention more out of the way, and resulting in bickering. After mom came home, we talked about what happened and how everybody was. It warmed my heart when my mom asked me if I was okay! I wasn’t the one throwing a tantrum or having trouble communicating, yet my mom took a minute to check in with me. Little things like that help remind me that my parents do care about me and don’t forget about their other kids. In light of my experience today and others like it, I came up with a list of three things parents can do to make sure their kids without special needs feel just as important as their siblings with special needs. Keep reading to see what my three tips are…

1. Take time to do fun stuff

Now, this may be an ‘aha’ moment or just a good reminder but it is very important to take one on one time to do things with your child. By planning fun activities to do with your kid it makes them feel like you care about their happiness and that you aren’t forgetting that they are in tough boat too. I understand that parents to kids with special needs have a lot of obstacles and struggles, but sometimes the kids who are typical share some of those struggles. So plan a day of shopping, see a movie, or even just talk! Just make sure it is one on one and something you both want to do.

2. Ask us simple questions that might have slipped your mind otherwise

I know I appreciate it when my family is having a hard day and my parents ask how my day at school was. It shows you not only care about big struggles with your kids with special needs but you also care about your typical kid’s homework or what their are planning to do on the weekend. This is a simple way to show you care.

3. Ask us our opinions on things regarding your kid(s) with special needs

By asking us our opinions it makes us feel like we are in the loop and we get to know about what things have been taking up a lot of our parent’s energy or time. We better understand it instead of being outside of it all and feeling neglected. Even if we don’t really get a say, it’s nice to feel like our opinions are heard.

I hope this helped! Remember that siblings of kids with special needs are usually pretty flexible and understanding. Yes, we all have our moments, but we love our family members with disabilities as much as our parents do, just maybe in a different way.

Thanks for reading and I hope this helped!
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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 Families, Inclusion, Intellectual Disabilities, Stories, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fall training events from Key Ministry

shutterstock_302536130In our part of the country, parents and families are quite busy with back to school shopping and finalizing plans for the year ahead. Our Key Ministry crew is preparing to hit the road for a number of live training events. While we hope this list will grow longer, we wanted to give our followers a sneak preview of events planned for Ohio, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky this coming Fall…

Saturday, September 12, 2015, Bay Presbyterian Church, Bay Village, OH:

Every Child Welcome Conference

The Every Child Welcome Workshop is a networking and training event for church staff, volunteers, parents, and professionals in the special needs ministry community. Serving as Keynote Speaker is former Key Ministry staff member Katie Wetherbee, co-author of Every Child Welcome: A Ministry Handbook for Including Kids with Special Needs. The workshop will also feature an “Ask the Doctor” interactive segment with Dr. Steve Grcevich from Key Ministry.

The workshop is free. Online registration (available here) is encouraged, although walk-ins will be accommodated as space permits. This workshop is sponsored by Bay Presbyterian Church and Key Ministry and is a follow up to the Northeast Ohio Special Needs Conference hosted by Bay Pres this past February.

September 18-19, 2015, Christ Covenant Church, Matthews, NC

Irresistable Church

Join Joni and Friends Charlotte for our second Southeast Disability Ministry Summit. Be inspired by Keynote Speakers John Stonestreet, national radio host of The Point, and Emily Colson, author of award-winning book Dancing with Max.

Shannon Dingle will be presenting from Key Ministry on the topic Special Needs of Adoptive and Foster Care Families.

Research shows that children who are or have been in foster care or an institutional setting like an orphanage have higher rates of disability, mental illness and neurological changes due to early childhood trauma than the general population. Is your church ready to welcome them while offering hope and help to their families? In this workshop, Shannon will share five specific ways your church can make itself a safe place for these children and teens. She will draw from her experience as a special educator, a disability ministry leader, a church consultant for Key Ministry, and a mom of six children, four of whom joined her family through special needs adoption.

Cost: $85 per person; $65 per person (group of 4 or more); $45 per student* Click here to register…Contact: Kate Brueck, Church Relations Manager, Joni and Friends Charlotte; kbrueck@joniandfriends.org or 704-841-1177

 October 19-21, 2015, Music City Center, Nashville TN

Lifeway Kids Ministry Conference

Shannon Dingle will be leading two sessions at Lifeway’s Kids Ministry Conference, to be held October 19-21, 2015 at Music City Center, Nashville, TN. Her sessions will include Recruiting, Training and Supporting Volunteers in Disability Ministry and Common Misperceptions About Special Needs Ministry. For more information or to register, click here.

November 5-7, 2015, Summit Church, Durham, NC

Together for Adoption

Shannon Dingle will be serving as a presenter at this year’s Together for Adoption conference. More information to follow on the specifics of Shannon’s presentations. Click here for registration.

November 7, 2015, Louisville, Kentucky

More to come on this shortly, but Dr. Steve Grcevich is tentatively scheduled to serve as Keynote presenter at a regional training event planned in Louisville. Save the date…more to come by the end of August.

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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, Foster Care, Key Ministry, Mental Health, Shannon Dingle, Training Events | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Expert tips on teaching kids with ADHD…

KarensPictureKaren Sunderhaft is a nationally recognized teacher, author and ADHD expert. We had the opportunity to pick her brain for ideas on teaching kids with ADHD a little while back and thought “back to school” time would be the perfect time to share her tips with a new audience.

Karen has been a teacher for 21 years. She has been spending time learning, writing and speaking about ADHD since 1999. After completing an undergraduate degree in Elementary Education and Philosophy at Boston College and receiving two awards upon graduation. Karen earned a special education degree with a concentration in learning disabilities at Northern Michigan University.

Over the years, Karen has taught at prominent private schools such as Laurel School and University School in Shaker Heights, Ohio and Tower Hill School in Wilmington, Delaware. Karen currently teaches at Kenston Middle School in Ohio.

For three years, Karen ran the academic learning center for the Cleveland Clinic’s 8 week summer treatment program for children whose primary diagnosis was ADHD.  She has been educated by some of the most important people connected to the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD and learning disabilities. Some of these people have included Dr. William Pelham, Ned Hallowell and Mel Levine.

For four years, Karen was also one of only two teachers asked to be part of the ADHD Experts on Call, a national call-in campaign to provide general advice and referrals regarding ADHD, where she and I had the opportunity to serve together.   She has been a regular contributor for ADDitude Magazine, a national magazine for and about families with ADHD, since 2003.

In addition to Karen’s professional contributions to the field of ADHD, she volunteers as the coordinator of the respite outreach offered through her home church in Chagrin Falls, Ohio that Key Ministry was honored to lend a hand in developing. Here’s our interview with Karen…

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C4EC: Any ideas for the volunteer Sunday School teacher or small group teacher who has a couple of kids who can’t seem to sit still, keep their hands to themselves or stop talking during the lesson/group?

Karen: What seems to work for some teachers in our Sunday School classes is what I call “front end loading” your efforts. You need to take the time at the beginning of the year to set up some classroom rules and expectations so the rest of the year just flows peacefully and successfully….at least most of the time.

I believe in always beginning the year with a group conversation to create some simple, but clear rules. As the teacher you should have a few rules that are most important for you to keep order, but allow the class to generate the main list. Try to reword any comments so they stay positive. For example, instead of writing down John’s suggestion of, “don’t shout out answers”, you could agree and write down, “raise your hand to speak”. Create this list and then have everyone in the room sign it….including the teacher.

Our church classes are usually held on Wednesday or Thursday afternoons from 4:45 – 5:45 and from 6:00 – 7:00, so you can imagine how hard it is for my ADHD friends, who are just coming off of their medicine, to keep interested, engaged and focused. It becomes even more important for this time together to be fun. In the spirit of keeping it fun, try to set up some type of simple reward system to give positive, consistent feedback for when you see your students following the rules. This will allow the kids who really want to follow the rules, but sometimes can’t, to know exactly which behaviors get rewarded.

One of my favorite teachers had a stop sign with the big green circle, yellow circle and red circle on a poster board. She had each child’s name on a clothespin. Every one started the class on the green circle. If someone started to break some of the pre-established rules, then they may get a gentle reminder from the assistant, but if that didn’t work, then their clothespin name may move to the yellow circle. Now…there are two ways for this student to go…if they can get it together, then their clothespin can move back to green, but if things get worse it moves to the red circle.

This system only makes sense to the kids if they know the consequences for when the clothespins move. At the end of class, everyone on the green circle gets a small piece of candy, but those on yellow may get a sticker and those on red may have to have a talk with the teacher and parent. Do what will work for your students and families…but try to keep it fun and positive.

I forgot to mention the most important part, my favorite teacher had a secret weapon…..an ASSISTANT. If your church classes can be taught by two people…..then I highly recommend it. Having one person to teach a lesson and one person to go around and assist students, by helping them with a kind word or a gentle redirection, keeps the whole class moving in the right direction.

As noted before, keep the same general routine that works for everyone. Perhaps the time together begins with a quiet, settling coloring activity. Native Americans believe that by coloring from the outside in, it can bring focus and clarity. By coloring from the inside out, it can bring creativity and openness.

  • Change in location is the easiest way to get attention
  • Teachers can move to the back or side of the room
  • Go outside when possible
  • Switch classrooms
  • Mini Field trips….even around your church grounds or to see the inner workings of the building
  • Surprise the group with a piece of music or artifacts
  • Have students present learning to one another
  • Guest speaker
  • Switch it up
  • Overall – provide a rich balance of novelty and ritual. Novelty ensures attention getting, ritual ensures predictable structures for low stress

The most important thing to remember, that if you or a student has a not so successful day, then remind yourself (and them) that next week is another time and a new chance to try again.

C4EC: What are some helpful hints you’d share with children’s pastors or youth pastors for effectively communicating to kids who have ADHD when they’re teaching in a large group setting?

shutterstock_112057619Karen: My first suggestion is to involve children in the teaching and learning process. No one really learns something just by listening. As a teacher, I often remind myself that to be more effective I need to NOT be “The Sage on the Stage, but rather the Guide on the Side”. Standing up and lecturing to a group is not as effective as talking a little and then giving a task to the group to help them engage in the learning process.

Perhaps setting up a play about a passage or a story and allowing members of the group to play a part or to offer feedback, such as a picture or a discussion allows the message to penetrate more effectively. Even the latest brain research has a formula for how much time should be spent listening and how much time should be spent processing information. By processing information I mean “using it” in a way that allows a learner to move from just listening to something to truly understanding it.

First, much of what is learned cannot be processed consciously; it happens too fast. Second, in order to create new meaning, we need internal time. Meaning is always generated from within, not externally. Third, after each new learning experience, we need time for the learning to “imprint”. Harvard studies suggest that cramming more content per minute virtually guarantees that little will be learned or retained. In fact it leads to more time re-teaching.

  • Change the activity to allow movement if possible. 12-15 minutes is how long a teenager can pay attention to a single activity. (Adults are 30 minutes)
  • 5-7 minutes of direct instruction for grades K-2
  • 8-12 minutes for grades 3-7
  • 12-15 minutes for grades 8-12

Some ideas for processing include the following…

  • Group work – Make a poster or build something together
  • Reflection – verbally to a peer or in a journal
  • Individual work or project
  • Drawing
  • Summarize and review

C4EC: What suggestions would you share with pastors or church leaders who want to design ministry environments where kids with ADHD will have great experiences? Lighting, sound, use of color, room decorations? What’s the right balance between fun and engaging vs. too much stimulation for kids with ADHD?

SUopenhouse067Karen: I love the church I belong to. Holy Angels in Bainbridge, Ohio has plenty of windows and natural light. The pews are comfortable, without the kneelers and the room is large with four big seating sections. There is a small water feature in the center that is soothing, but otherwise there are simple decorations year round and only a few extra plants and decorations for holidays. The homilies, which takes the Bible teachings and relate it to everyday experiences is beautifully done week after week. Father Dan always seems to start with a witty or profound story that allows each one of us to see how it relates to our own lives. In the middle of his homily he refers back to the Bible teachings and clearly states the message that we need to take away with us for the following week. Finally he ends with another story or pertinent joke, or an example of God’s words working in our church.

The best part of course is the rockin’ music that goes along with the terrific, meaningful homilies. There are three masses to choose from….8:00, 10:00 and 12:00 on Sunday. We always have music, but at the 10:00 mass, the little children leave during the main homily and are taken downstairs to the nursery, for their own special homily or story. Before they leave the room, they are encouraged to run up the aisle to the priest so that he can bless them and their teachers during this short time. It allows their little legs (kids as young as 3 and as old as 1st grade) to move and for them to either draw or color while listening to a story downstairs, where they can be a bit louder. Sitting still for an hour is very hard for a child with ADHD, but knowing that there is a break during that whole time, for both parents and children, helps to make the mass more enjoyable for everyone. If your child is too young or afraid to leave you, then I would come with a bag of tricks.

C4EC: Your family is active in a Roman Catholic church. In most Catholic churches, kids with ADHD would be expected to attend Mass (worship services) with their families. What suggestions would you have for parents of a child with ADHD who want to have a meaningful experience at church, but have kids who struggle with self-control when they’re bored in worship services designed for adults?

shutterstock_304063100Karen: Parents can put together a “Bag of Tricks.” This is the same type of bag I bring on airplane rides. Remember what they say there…..give yourself the oxygen first before administering to your child. Think of this bag as being filled with little trinkets of oxygen and dispense one at a time as needed.

The bag, and its contents, will change over the years, but either way it should be filled with some items that don’t make noise, are new and engaging and include something to hold your child’s attention for bursts of time. The bag should only come out during these special times. In fact you can use puffy paint to have your child decorate their special bag. This makes it more meaningful for them.

Everyone’s magic bag may be different, but mine includes paper and pencil for drawing, silly putty, stickers, small figurines, small books (some churches have their own basket of children’s church books). My favorite books are those with open the flaps. They are great for younger kids. Basically I fill this bag with anything that I can find at the dollar store that fits the criteria for “quiet and engaging” items. Depending upon your church a mini bag of cheerios or gold fish might be good too.

There may be some of you out there who believe that your child should sit still and listen attentively to the homily or sermon, but I would set the goal of asking your child to try to find one thing that they either heard or saw at church that they really liked. Set this expectation up ahead of time, so the child knows what will be happening. I am a big believer in helping the children establish and expect a routine from experiences, so there are no surprises. Then have them share that with you on the ride home one thing they learned. I believe that even though they may be drawing…..they are still taking in the sights and sounds around them.

C4EC: Many churches expect kids with ADHD to memorize Bible verses, prayers or worship songs. Since kids with ADHD frequently struggle with memory and recall, do you have any pointers for parents or Sunday School teachers to help?

Karen: Set it to music. There is so much research out there about the benefits of using pneumonic devices to remember something.

C4EC: There’s a growing “family ministry” movement, in which church leaders see their role as a support, not a substitute for parents in teaching kids about matters of faith. What advice do you have for moms and dads who want to instruct their child in the family’s faith, but are worn down from the struggles to complete schoolwork common among kids with ADHD?

Karen: PRAY: When my first child was born I went to a mom’s group through my church. I will never forget the one comment the speaker shared. She said that she prays for her kids’ safety and guidance from God, but she also prays even more for the people who will come in contact with her child throughout their life. What an interesting concept, to pray for my daughter’s best friend, or my son’s future wife. How many times can I tell my son to wear a jacket when it is cold, but as soon as his best friend’s mom suggests he wear a jacket, he responds as if it is the first time he heard this brilliant idea. This is one piece of advice I always like to pass on.

The other thought I have is something you have heard before. You are your child’s first teacher and your actions speak louder than words. You are a role model in your faith.

Try to do one activity a month that gives back to others and talk about that at home. Whenever I make a meal for a sick friend or someone that had a baby we talk about it or deliver it together. I am grateful for the BREATHE events I help run four times a year at my church. My entire family (ages 9, 13 and 14) joins me to help out wherever they can.

shutterstock_70300438PRAY. We pray before meals, even when out in public, or when friends come over for dinner. We pray when we see an ambulance speed by or we pray together when someone is sick. We pray for strength and guidance as we struggle with school work, jobs or friends. We pray to give thanks for a great day, a great friend or a special event.

Family conversations about God will eventually happen on their own, but only when the parents start the praying and doing in God’s name.

C4EC: So why should parents of kids with ADHD bother going through all the hard work and effort to make it to church each week and to worship with others?

Karen: Check out this great quote that was passed through me by email:

A churchgoer wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper and complained that it made no sense to go to church every Sunday. ‘I’ve gone for 30 years now,’ he wrote, ‘and in that time I have heard something like 3,000 sermons. But for the life of me, I can’t remember a single one of them. So, I think I’m wasting my time and the pastors are wasting theirs by giving sermons at all.”

This started a great controversy in the “Letters to the Editor’ column, much to the delight of the editor. It went on for weeks until someone wrote this clincher:

“I’ve been married for 30 years now. In that time, my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. But, for the life of me, I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals. But I do know this…they all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me these meals, I would be physically dead today. Likewise, if I had not gone to church for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead today! When you are DOWN to nothing…..God is UP to something! Faith sees the invisible, believes the incredible and receives the impossible! Thank God for our physical AND our spiritual nourishment!

It is the same with everything…you may not remember the exact words of this blog, but I hope that you will come away with a firm feeling of commitment or resolve to do one thing differently. Be a warrior for God and your family…..both your family at home and your family at church.

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shutterstock_302633579We encourage you to check out Key Ministry’s resource page on ADHD. You’ll find links to Dr. Grcevich’s blog series on ADHD and Spiritual Development, a very helpful lecture explaining differences in brain functioning in persons with ADHD and links to resources from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Share with a friend!

Posted in ADHD, Families, Hidden Disabilities, Key Ministry, Mental Health, Spiritual Development, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Building Strong Families in a Hostile Culture

IMG_1110Message presented by Dr. Stephen Grcevich at Sunday Worship, Linwood Tabernacle, Linwood Park, Vermilion OH, August 9, 2015

Good morning…I’m honored Hu invited me to share with you today. I’m Steve Grcevich, and in addition to the neat things Hu shared with you about our work at Key Ministry, I’m in my thirtieth year as a physician and my 25th year as a child and adolescent psychiatrist.

I’m aware that Hu has been leading you through a summer-long series on faith, family and friendship. My day job affords me “floor seats” to see the walking wounded among our kids and families up close and personal. We find ourselves in the midst of a culture war…a war for the hearts of men and women that has raged since the beginning of time…a war that will rage until our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ returns to end it once and forever. The Lord’s enemy seeks to lie, steal and destroy and one of his fundamental strategies is to disrupt efforts to prepare the next generation for service in Christ’s Kingdom.

Given the recent developments in our culture, I’d be an utter hypocrite if I didn’t disclose I worry more than I should for someone who claims to be a follower of Jesus. I worry for myself about how I’m going to cope with the challenges to come for those of us who seek to publicly exercise our faith, but what I REALLY worry about is whether we’ve done enough to prepare our daughters for the challenges they’ll face as they seek to live out their faith.

I wonder how many of you share the same worries about your kids or grandkids, your nieces and nephews, or the children of your friends. What can we do NOW to build families capable of serving as fortresses…families that honor God and serve as outposts for the reestablishment of Jesus’ Kingdom in the midst of “enemy territory?

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As we explore God’s Word in search of guidance for implementing God’s vision for our families in a culture more overtly hostile to Christianity and Christian virtue than at any point in my lifetime, let’s turn back to a point in God’s story 2,400 plus years ago when another group of God’s people faced strikingly similar challenges. If you brought your Bible or downloaded the Bible app on your tablet or smartphone, turn to Nehemiah 4:7-14.

Before we dive in, a little historical context. Nehemiah was 5 1/2 centuries removed from King David’s reign on the throne of Israel. Despite being “a man after God’s own heart” David began an unfortunate trend of kings who loved and honored God but were universal failures at raising sons to continue their spiritual legacies. David’s son Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem but pursued earthly alliances that led to marriages of political expediency. Through Solomon’s marriages, the influences of the pagan gods and cultures surrounding Israel penetrated the nation’s ruling class. Infighting among Solomon’s heirs led to a spilt between the Northern Kingdom (Israel, later renamed Samaria) and the Southern Kingdom (Judea).

Each kingdom turned to worship of pagan gods…worship that frequently included ritual prostitution and child sacrifice. The cultural decline occurred more quickly in the Northern Kingdom, given over by God to the Assyrians in 722 BC. The Southern Kingdom was conquered in three stages by the Babylonians, with the fall of Jerusalem complete in 586 BC. The best and brightest of Judah were taken captive and sent into exile in Babylon. You might remember Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, along with their friend, Daniel.

The practices of the Assyrians and the Babylonians for populating conquered territory differed, which will come into play later in our passage. The Assyrians repopulated the Northern Kingdom with pagans from other cultures, while Judah largely sat vacant when the Babylonians exiled the people of Judah.

Babylon fell to the Persians in 539 BC, followed by the return of 50,000 Jews the following year. The prophet Ezra led a smaller group back in 458 BC, and Nehemiah led a third group back when he returned in 445 BC.

Nehemiah was a descendant of the exiles who stayed in Babylon. He’d earned a trusted position in the inner circle of Persia as cupbearer to King Artaxerxes. The king’s stepmother was Queen Esther, and she may have influenced the king to view the Jewish people with favor. Nehemiah was likely influenced by Esther’s willingness to risk her life and her position in the palace to save her people from extermination.

shutterstock_97552016God had placed a burden on Nehemiah’s heart for God’s reputation and the state of God’s (and Nehemiah’s) people. In the 90 years since the Jewish people first returned to the Promised Land, the returning exiles struggled with misplaced priorities and appeared headed down the same road as their ancestors. In Ezra 9 we learn that ten years prior to Nehemiah’s arrival in the city, intermarriage with pagan peoples was rampant and involved family members of the High Priest.

The first group that returned to Jerusalem arrived with an order from King Cyrus granting permission to rebuild the temple. The leaders of the people in the land were less than thrilled by God’s people re-emerging as a power in Jerusalem. They undermined construction of the temple for 16 years, abetted by the misplaced priorities of the Jewish people. The prophet Haggai (Haggai 1:4-9) notes the people prioritized their lifestyles over rebuilding the Temple…and endured poverty from a drought resulting from their disobedience. The Temple wasn’t completed until the subsequent Persian king (Darius) issued a decree reaffirming the original decree from Cyrus… including authorization of taxes from the Samaritans and other pagan peoples of the region to pay for it!

A temple in a city without walls wasn’t terribly helpful in the ancient Near East. People couldn’t attend to the study of God’s law when they were exposed to bandits, robbers and others who might want to plunder God’s temple. Nehemiah was called to rebuild the walls of God’s city so that the people might be called back to the study of God’s law and recognition of their sinfulness. He foreshadows the second coming of Jesus, who will provide the ultimate restoration of God’s people in God’s city.

Let’s jump ahead of our text by one verse and look at Nehemiah 4:6

“The people had a mind to work.”

The walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt in 53 days without modern construction equipment… an accomplishment that didn’t seem humanly possible. The people put God’s work first – leaving us with an illustration of God’s power at work when God’s people are faithful.

The Jewish people had been exiled because their ancestors failed to put first things first. They rejected God and his law. Nehemiah and the people attracted the attention of their enemies when they pursued their task from God. We need to recognize that when we prioritize God’s work and God’s plans for our families, we become a threat to the established social and political order. Verse 7:

But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and that the breaches were beginning to be closed, they were very angry.

Sanballat was the Persian governor of the territory…and a Samaritan. The Jews returning to Judah viewed Samaritans as “half-breeds” because of their polytheism. The Samaritans resented the Jews because their taxes supported the reconstruction of a temple where they were excluded from worship. Verse 8:

And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it.

How does the enemy cause confusion?

From where I sit, the enemy’s principal tactic is moral relativism. Moral relativism is a philosophy that asserts there is no global, absolute moral law that applies to all people, for all time, and in all places.

Look back at Genesis 3. The enemy hasn’t made significant changes to the playbook since the Garden of Eden! He uses the same tactics over and over…because they work!

Does your Bible REALLY say that?

God must not want you to be happy!

How could a loving God punish someone for _____?

All religions point to God.

MacLean'sMoral relativism is foundational in the enemy’s plan to kill, steal and destroy. When I criticized a New York Times op-ed piece encouraging parents of teens to host sleepovers for their boyfriend or girlfriend, my radical suggestion led to an interview with Canada’s most prominent news magazine. The rate of suicide attempts among teens increases incrementally with every new sexual partner they experience. The “means justifies the ends” philosophy leads many kids to see nothing wrong with cheating on tests or buying prescription medication off the street to get better grades or a better SAT or ACT score.

Look at the confusion the enemy has caused in the church! We have denominations fighting long-time church attendees for control of church property as some denomination leaders have abandoned the view that Jesus represents our only path to salvation or the view that Scripture is authoritative.

We’re now seeing confusion in the redefinition of marriage, gender roles and the God-ordained and complimentary roles of fathers and mothers. God made man male and female…Facebook came up with 50 more genders.

On to Nehemiah’s response-Verse 9:

And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night… or The Message translation: We countered with prayer to our God and set a round-the-clock guard against them.

“We countered with prayer.” How often do we consider prayer as a strategy to protect our families from the culture? If you’re like me, not often enough. We don’t know from the passage if Nehemiah’s next steps resulted from his prayer, but we see that his prayer is accompanied by concrete actions. He prayed, but also posted a round-the clock guard across the work area to monitor for an imminent attack.

What do we expect when we pray for our families? I think many of us ask God to look after our families while we address priorities in our workplace. That begs the question of why God would want us to invest more time and attention at jobs hundreds of other people could do at the expense of fulfilling family responsibilities He’s uniquely positioned us to address?

Were Nehemiah’s problems fixed? Not quite. Verse ten…

In Judah it was said, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.”

God had Nehemiah and the people positioned right where He wanted them! We’re more likely to be doing God’s will when God’s involvement is necessary for success. Libby Peterson is a fellow Board member at Key Ministry who frequently points out that we know we’re pursuing a “God thing” when God’s involvement is essential for success.

God wants us to depend upon him! After all, He gave His son to die on a cross to remove the barrier to relationship with Him resulting from our sin. Relationship is so important to God that we can anticipate He’ll put us in uncomfortable situations if ou discomfort serves to advance the relationship with Him.

Next…we get the threats from the enemy and seeds of doubt planted among the people. Verses 11 and 12:

And our enemies said, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work.” At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, “You must return to us.”

IMG_1108The enemy often works through intimidation and bullying. In 2015, the threat may be “You’re going to bake me that cake or I’ll destroy your business.” It’s the military chaplain or officer threatened with court martial for being too forthright in sharing their faith. It’s the Little Sisters of the Poor threatened with ruinous fines because they refuse to compromise their consciences or regulations crafted to force faith-based organizations out of providing social services.

We’ll all face threats. Getting “unfriended” on Facebook isn’t a real threat. Some in my practice may lose our licenses if we try to help a teen seeking help to refrain from acting upon their same-sex attraction. My older daughter will spend the next fifteen years of her life and $500,000 training to be a physician. When she finishes, she may be threatened with the loss of her license for refusing to help her patients commit suicide. Think that’s far-fetched? Across the lake, the Ontario Medical Society considers refusal to participate in physician-assisted suicide a violation of professional ethics if no other physician is available to help.

How did Nehemiah respond to the threats? He reminded the people of what mattered most! Verses 13-14:

So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”

“Remember the Lord who is great and awesome.” He reminds the people that God comes first. He then positioned men in the lowest spots of the wall alongside their families so that their families were at the forefront of their minds.

Where are our families most vulnerable? I’d like you to ponder that question as a family in the coming week. From where I sit, here are three observations…

We worship the wrong stuff: Similar to the people of ancient Israel, we worship idols. We don’t pray to little bronze statues or hook up with temple prostitutes, but our idols are all of the things held in a higher place in our hearts than God. Career advancement. Money. Status. The boat. The beach house. Control. Security. Our kids’ accomplishments. When God is a secondary priority, our families are vulnerable. I’ve included a link in your handout to an article from Timothy Keller offering four suggestions to help you identify your idols.

BibleOur faith is without foundation: Too many professing Christians lack a deep understanding of what they claim to believe and why they believe it. Without such understanding, we’re vulnerable to the lies and deceptions we encounter on a daily basis. If we don’t know what God said in God’s Word, how do we recognize when God’s Word is being distorted? We’re vulnerable…and our families are vulnerable when we lack a working knowledge of the Bible to apply its’ teaching in our everyday life. You guys are into hymns. Remember “In Christ the solid rock I stand, all other hope is sinking sand”?

1 Peter 3:15, encourages us to “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” Are you prepared to explain why you’re a Christian or why you live and believe as you do? You need to be.

We don’t walk the walk! Teenagers are born with great hypocrisy detectors. While we want our kids to know the Bible, most kids learn far more about Christianity from watching their parents live their faith than they will from their Bibles. How is the faith of our kids impacted by their daily interactions with us?

What can we learn from Nehemiah in building families prepared to thrive in the face of the distortions present in our culture?

  1. Put God first…and prioritize the spiritual growth of our families.

Libby Peterson (mentioned earlier) directed the children’s ministry for many years at BPC while Hu served as senior pastor. Based on research from the Search Institute, Libby encourages parents to:

  • Regularly pray together as a family
  • Regularly study the Bible as a family or participate in family devotions
  • Regularly serve together as a family

The Barna Group found the most important determinant of kids from Christian homes maintaining active, personal ministry in their 20s was the average length of time they spent in conversations with their parents when young.

Pray together. Read the Bible together. Serve together. Talk to your kids. It works.

Parent Child Praying

  1. Model for your families the public exercise of your faith

Imagine the impact upon the wives and children positioned near the low points in the wall from seeing their husbands and fathers working to protect them by day and standing guard to protect them at night? The work on the wall was an act of worship. The way the people of Jerusalem spent their time and money reflected their priorities. How do you reflect your priorities in front of your family?

  1. ALL Christians have a role to play in the effort to build strong families.

Nehemiah reminded the people that they needed one another. Every family owned the fight. And we need the support of other families to sustain the fight. There were far too many low spots in the wall for any one family to guard.

When Hu prepped me for today, he described your screened-in porches, houses clustered closely together, unlocked doors and open windows. Linwood can be a special place where kids and families develop relationships to encourage and sustain one another on the faith journey.

From the time they were young, my wife and I wanted our daughters to have relationships with mature Christian adults outside of our family. As your children get older, you as parents will transition from maintaining control over your kids to exercising influence with them, and your capacity for influence depends upon the quality of your relationship with them. One way to maximize our influence is when we encourage other like-minded adults to invest in relationships with our kids. Allow me to explain.

I knew from my job that as our daughters got older, situations would arise that they wouldn’t want to share with my wife or myself. We make the rules, pay the tuition, provide their transportation and pay their cell phone bills. Trust me, your kids don’t tell you everything! We wanted our girls to have established relationships with adults from outside of our family who share our faith so they would have people to give them wise counsel when the time came that they couldn’t talk to us.

To prepare our kids for the culture they’ll face, they need to know there are other people who believe as they believe. I heard Jessie McMillan taught here on Deuteronomy 6… a great picture of the entire community owning responsibility for the spiritual welfare of the kids.

Here’s a challenge I’d like to offer…Your mission (should you choose to accept it) in your remaining time here at Linwood is to be intentional in building relationships with kids from another family so you might support their parents in preparing them for the challenges of the culture they’ll inherit.

Joshua (in Joshua 24:15) states… But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. How about your family?

Discussion Questions:

  1. If you were to “inspect the walls” of your family, what vulnerabilities would you find? How might you shore up any “low spots” you identify?
  2. Are you an idol worshiper? Does anything (or anyone) hold a higher place in your heart than God? See this link from Timothy Keller to learn more: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/octoberweb-only/142-21.0.html
  3. How would you respond if someone asks why you’re a follower of Jesus?
  4. Who might you seek out at Linwood for the purpose of building relationships to promote the spiritual development of one another’s families?

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