Jolene Philo…A series of very fortunate events

Every Child Welcome

Do you remember the Lemony Snicket books that took the children’s literature world by storm in the early 2000s? They were called A Series of Unfortunate Events. My own version of that title comes to mind every time I think of how Katie Wetherbee and I eventually came to write Every Child Welcome. Because the book truly is the result of a series of very fortunate events.

Though I believe they were God-ordained events, not merely fortunate ones.

The series of events began with at a special needs ministry inclusion conference in Des Moines, Iowa. Key Ministry sent a team, which included Katie, to conduct workshops at the conference. My first book had recently been published, and the conference coordinators invited me to host a book table and attend some of the workshops. Can you guess which ones I signed up to attend?

If you guessed the Key Ministry workshops, give yourself a pat on the back!

But before the first workshop started, a petite dark-haired woman with a smile as big as Iowa stopped by to introduce herself. “I’m Katie Wetherbee,” she said. “And I love your book.” We chatted for a few moments and an almost instant friendship formed. We both had kids who had overcome medical special needs. We both were former public school teachers with special education backgrounds. We were both interested in special needs ministry. We both blogged about special needs. And when I attended her workshops, I discovered that our teaching philosophies and styles were much the same.

In fact, if we had ever had the opportunity to team teach in the public schools, we would have been a dangerous combination.

Jolene-and-Katie

We stayed in touch via email over the next few months. We read each others’ blogs and left comments. One day Katie asked if she could call and pick my brain about a book she wanted to write. I assumed she was contemplating a book filled with the special needs inclusion ideas she wrote about so eloquently on her blog. But her idea was something quite different. When I responded with surprise and explained what I had expected to hear, she replied, “But I wouldn’t know how to write a book like special needs inclusion.”

“Then let’s write it together,” I suggested.

So we did. We wrote a book with untrained children’s ministry volunteers, not children’s ministry leaders, in mind. We wrote it for Sunday school teachers and mid-week program volunteers who work in churches too small to offer a full-blown special needs ministry. We wrote it to equip children’s ministry volunteers who want to welcome every child into classrooms and clubs and programs, but aren’t equipped to do so. We wrote it to fulfill Jesus command in the gospel of Matthew. “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” We wrote Every Child Welcome because this command is not limited to children who will sit quietly at His feet and listen, who color between the lines, who raise their hands and wait to be called upon, and who work at grade level.

We wrote the book because we want every child to learn about Jesus.

We wrote Every Child Welcome because in the fall of 2009, Key Ministry sent a team that included Katie Wetherbee to conduct workshops at a special needs inclusion ministry conference in Des Moines, Iowa. Thank you, Key Ministry, for being the first in a very fortunate, God-ordained series of events, which Katie and I believe the Father is using to introduce many children to His Son.

To keep up with Katie, check out her blog, Diving for Pearls. To keep track of Jolene, visit her blog at Different Dream.

Posted in Announcements, Hidden Disabilities, Inclusion, Key Ministry, Resources | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mental health inclusion…Preaching it from the pulpit

Rick WarrenIn the third installment of our series, Ten Strategies for Promoting Mental Health Inclusion at Church, Steve looks at the importance of the words that pastors use from the pulpit as a key component of a mental health inclusion strategy.

Because of some very deep-seeded attitudes held by many leaders, the stigma associated with mental illness in the church may be far greater than in other institutions of society. In order to pursue an intentional process of outreach and inclusion toward families impacted by mental illness church members and attendees need to be reassured that it’s OK in the culture of your local church to talk about it.

In most churches, the preponderance of communication will be handled by the lead/senior pastor or teaching pastors. For a first-time visitor, impressions of the church will likely be shaped by your church’s web presence, what they’ve been told by a member or attender who invited them to attend, information posted on signs, kiosks, video monitors, brochures and the church bulletin, and their interactions with others, but most importantly,  the words communicated from the pulpit or stage.

One indication in church culture of the importance of a program or event is the amount of “platform time” that event receives during weekend worship services. Within a church staff or volunteer base, competition for the opportunity to feature a ministry activity or event during worship services is intense because that’s when the most potential attendees or volunteers are listening. If mental health inclusion is important at your church, your team will want to engage your pastoral team to talk about it on Sunday mornings.

One way some pastors broach the issue of mental illness is through publicly sharing from their own experience. Perry Noble is the pastor of NewSpring Church, a wildly successful multi-site church based in South Carolina. Perry preached about his personal experiences with mental illness and published a book, Overwhelmed on the topic of coping with anxiety. Here’s a brief interview in which he discusses how he experienced panic attacks while preaching and shares a time when he contemplated suicide…

Here’s a link to a fabulous message that Perry gave last May on the topic of anxiety, depression and suicide.

Some pastors speak from family experiences. Rick Warren has received the most notice for his preaching on topics related to mental illness in the aftermath of his son’s suicide in 2013. How We’re Getting Through is the first message from the series Rick preached at Saddleback Church upon return from the sabbatical he took following Matthew’s death. Click on the picture below to watch the entire message from Saddleback’s website…

Rick Warren 2013

Here are links to the remaining messages to Rick’s series… How to Get Through What You’re Going Through

Shock: When Your World Collapses – Rick Warren
Sorrow: Getting Through Life’s Losses – Rick Warren
Struggle: When Life Makes No Sense – Rick Warren
Surrender: The Path to Peace – Rick Warren and Kay Warren
Sanctification: Transformed by Trouble – Rick Warren
Sanctification: Finding Treasure in Darkness – Kay Warren
Service: Never Waste Your Pain – Rick Warren

Here’s a message on depression from Ryan Rasmussen of First Christian Church in Canton, Ohio. Ryan’s church has a fabulous disability ministry…he shares from his experiences in ministry in a great example of a sermon that grants attendees permission to talk about mental illness and addresses very specifically the sources of stigma in the church…

Before we close, I’d like to share a brief word on what not to say from the platform. In our “politically correct” culture, one segment of the population we still make fun of are folks with mental illness. We may want to avoid being flippant about common, derogatory terms like “crazy,” “insane,” “psycho” or using diagnostic terms as adjectives describing behavior patterns in others…”bipolar,” “manic,” “hyper” or “OCD.” People-first language is important when referring to mental health disabilities too! We don’t define others by their mental health condition…use “my friend with depression” as opposed to “my depressed friend.”

Some other things not to say from the pulpit or the stage…

  • Don’t minimize the severity of mental illness
  • Don’t question the validity of specific diagnoses
  • Don’t question the legitimacy of treatments dispensed by licensed professionals
  • Don’t attribute all mental illness to sin or to a lack of faith
  • Don’t assume that spiritual remedies alone will be the only way in which God chooses to heal persons with mental illness

When the leader of your church talks about mental illness from the pulpit or the stage during weekend worship services, they communicate to the body that people with mental illness are valued and grant permission for members and attendees to talk with others in the church about their experiences.

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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 Key Ministry, Strategies, Stories, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Every Child Welcome…the most complete special needs ministry resource I’ve ever come across

Every Child Welcome graphic

Book Review: Every Child Welcome: A Ministry Handbook for Including Kids with Special Needs. Authored by Katie Wetherbee and Jolene Philo. Published by Kregel Publications.

Every Child Welcome is not simply the most complete special needs ministry resource I’ve ever come across…it’s also the best resource I’ve ever seen for Sunday School teachers, children’s ministry staff and volunteers.

Katie Wetherbee and Jolene Philo have distilled a lifetime of experience as educators, ministry leaders and parents of children with disabilities into a concise guide for anyone involved with sharing the love of Christ with kids…especially kids with disabilities.

Every Child Welcome is STUFFED with hundreds of practical ideas and strategies for including kids of all levels of intellectual, physical, developmental and emotional disability into the environments and activities in which we help them to grow to know and love God.

In this book, Katie and Jolene are very methodical in helping church staff and volunteers implement best practices for every aspect of a child’s experience at church. They cover EVERYTHING.

Jolene-and-Katie-300x275What sets this book apart when compared to other excellent special needs ministry resources is the practical wisdom Katie and Jolene share from their years of classroom experience in general and special education. They offer a plethora of ideas and strategies for teaching kids with extraordinarily diverse learning styles and ability. Many books and websites (including Every Child Welcome) have helpful information for managing problematic behaviors. Two complete chapters in the heart of the book discuss strategies for teaching Biblical concepts when kids struggle with reading, the ability to grasp abstract concepts or learning in group situations.

Two other attributes of the book that will be of great value to all who serve in children’s ministry or disability ministry are the practical strategies Katie and Jolene share for effective and sensitive communication with parents of kids with special needs and the emphasis they place on offering all children…including kids with disabilities opportunities to use their unique gifts, talents and abilities in service to others. An entire chapter is devoted to teaching children to serve at church.

This is not a book that will be read once and stuck on a shelf…well-worn copies will be found on the desks and in the workspaces of those serving in children’s ministry, family ministry and special needs ministry because it is destined to become the “go-to” reference when leaders look for answers in seeking to minister with kids with disabilities and their families. The book is also a fabulous resource for parents seeking useful ideas for helping their kids to grow spiritually.

In the medical field, there are standard reference texts that occupy a place of prominence in every clinic or physician’s office. Every Child Welcome should be in the hands of every children’s ministry director or special needs ministry director in every church in the English-speaking world.

Congratulations to Katie and Jolene! The two of them raised the bar for disability ministry resources very high.

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Every Child WelcomeJesus set a high standard when He said “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” The call is not limited to children who will sit quietly at His feet and listen, who color between the lines, who raise their hands and wait to be called upon, and who work at grade level. Children’s ministries are responsible to be ready to bring children with disabilities to Jesus’ feet too. Every Child Welcome is the guide for leaders and volunteers to assist in purposeful planning and skill development for a ministry inclusive of children with unique needs. Available at Amazon and Kregel.

Posted in Book Reviews, Resources | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The barriers to getting newcomers with mental illness connected at church…

AssimilationIn the second installment of our series, Ten Strategies for Promoting Mental Health Inclusion at Church, Steve looks at the challenges faced by families when visiting a church for the first time when one or more members of a family struggle with mental illness.

One challenge that my friends serving in staff positions at churches wrestle with on an ongoing basis is assimilation… helping newcomers and visitors to quickly become comfortable with and find their place in a local church. Helping people to get connected and to stay connected is vital if the church is to grow and, more importantly, is critical if the church is to serve as a catalyst to discipleship and spiritual growth.

For persons experiencing the effects of mental illness, the processes in place to facilitate assimilation may become insurmountable obstacles to church attendance, depending upon the nature or severity of their condition.

In an earlier post, we identified seven obstacles to church attendance when kids have mental illness. Those reasons are…

  • Social isolation
  • Capacity for social communication
  • Capacity for impulse control/emotional self-regulation
  • Sensory processing
  • Stigma
  • The fear of being singled out
  • Parents with mental illness

Let’s keep these challenges at the forefront of our minds as we start to consider all of the potential obstacles kids or their parents might experience at different points in your church’s assimilation process if they suffer from common mental health conditions.

I came across a great post from my Google search on assimilation in which David Zimmerman argued that the most pressing concern for a first time church visitor is that they do nothing to embarrass themselves during the service. How much more true would that be for an anxious parent? After all, people with anxiety are wired to overestimate the level of risk when entering a new situation. What concerns might a parent have if their child struggles with self-control or lacks good social skills?

Adults or kids with mental illness are more likely to experience distress from any component of your assimilation process that calls attention to them being different than everyone else in attendance. If members have name tags, do visitors have name tags? Are visitors singled out during the service?

Here’s an excellent resource on reaching and keeping church visitors from the folks at Fellowship One. They emphasize the role of greeters and the importance of making “real connections” with people. But what if a significant number of potential visitors have a condition resulting in intense distress at the prospect of interacting with unfamiliar people?

shutterstock_172332593Let’s say a single mom with social anxiety disorder wants to come to your church with her two school-age children. How many interactions will be required between the time she pulls into the church parking lot and when she sits down in her seat in your sanctuary or worship center? Depending upon the size of your church, she may encounter…

  • A parking lot attendant
  • A greeter (or greeters) upon entering the building
  • Someone at a kiosk or help center to find the children’s programming
  • A volunteer (or volunteers) at the children’s ministry registration/check-in area
  • A member of the children’s ministry staff
  • The ministry volunteer/leader responsible for each child’s class or breakout activity
  • The usher when she arrives at the sanctuary/worship center

None of this is bad…after all, many people come to church longing for relationship and human interaction and the model may work well for the vast majority of visitors. But what about the people for whom the prospect of running a social gauntlet is akin to pounding a square peg into a round hole? Is there a way of making available an alternative path…an accommodation available to those who need it?

shutterstock_118324816Let’s say that the single mom’s daughter struggles with separation anxiety, becoming very clingy and emotional during transitions when the child is required to leave her mother behind. Families in our practice have shared experiences of visiting churches where the pastor had a strong preference for school-age children to attend programming outside the worship center. How are your greeters, ushers and volunteers trained to respond when a parent seeks to enter the worship service with a visibly anxious child? When the child experiences acute distress at the prospect of leaving Mom behind for kids’ worship or Sunday school?

What about the family of a child who struggles with sensory processing? Is there a readily identifiable way to enter your church where they won’t be overwhelmed with sensory input? What will the child experience in terms of bright lights, loud music or visual stimulation in the environments in which you do children’s ministry. Persons with ADHD often experience distress in environments where multiple conversations are taking place in close proximity with lots of background noise…like church foyers or lobbies. We’ll talk more about sensory processing and ministry environments in a future post.

I threw out the examples above to illustrate a few of the challenges families face. What’s the next step for your church’s mental health inclusion team?

Each member of the team should review the seven obstacles to church attendance listed above and consider how key obstacles to engagement can be minimized or overcome for families of kids with common mental health concerns.

Could an anxious mother meet with ONE person prior to her initial visit who could handle children’s ministry registration and accompany her from the front door to a seat in the worship center?

f77fc902f0ffff8a9dc080bff842bdddHow can the children’s ministry team or student ministry team modify the environments in which they do ministry to be more sensory-friendly for a neurodiverse population? How do you include kids who have difficulty sitting still or controlling their temper?

What service activities might be a good fit for people who are uncomfortable in social situations? What’s the easiest way for them to register?

How do you include teens and adults who are shy or socially awkward into small groups if small groups are central to your church’s discipleship strategy?

How can your church introduce itself to people in your community more likely to be socially isolated and less likely to be connected to those who already attend your church?

As a help to your team, Key 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.

Next: Assessing your church’s web presence
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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 Anxiety Disorders, Hidden Disabilities, Inclusion, Key Ministry, Mental Health, Resources | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Are antidepressants safe for kids?

shutterstock_75695695Few topics in child and adolescent mental health have generated as much controversy over the last decade as the debate about the safety of antidepressant medication given to kids. In 2004, the FDA issued a “black box” warning claiming that antidepressant use in children and teenagers is associated with increases in suicidal thinking and behavior, which was expanded in 2007 to include adults between the ages of 18 and 24. In my opinion, the larger controversy about antidepressant use in children and teens is not “are they safe?” but “do they work?” and if they work, what do they work for? Some of those questions were addressed here.

In an effort to help parents make sense of what they read and hear, we’ll examine the findings of two large studies.

The first study (funded by the National Institute of Mental Health) was conducted by Dr. Jeff Bridge and his team at the University of Pittsburgh, analyzing results of 27 clinical trials of antidepressants…fifteen studies involved kids with depression, six with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and six with non-OCD anxiety…encompassing 5,310 patients under the age of 19.

Important take-home points…

No child or adolescent patient to date in any trial of antidepressant medication submitted to the FDA or included in Dr. Bridge’s analysis actually committed suicide.

The number of patients who must receive a specific treatment for one to benefit (Number Needed to Treat-NNT) or for one patient to be harmed (Number Needed to Harm-NNH) varied for antidepressants depending upon the condition the child or teen was receiving treatment for in the study.

Major Depression: Number Needed to Treat=10     Number Needed to Harm=112

OCD: Number Needed to Treat=6     Number Needed to Harm=200

Non-OCD Anxiety: Number Needed to Treat=4     Number Needed to Harm=143

To clarify, patients with depression were eleven times more likely to experience significant benefit from antidepressant medication than to experience medication-related suicidal thinking or behavior, patients with OCD were thirty-four times more likely to experience benefit and patients with non-OCD anxiety were thirty-six times more likely to experience benefit.

shutterstock_69175456The second study (also funded by the National Institute of Mental Health) was conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago examined suicidal thoughts and behaviors in 9,165 patients (including 708 youth) treated with fluoxetine or venlafaxine for depression (all of the youth were treated with fluoxetine). In the four studies of youth on fluoxetine, the medication was effective in treating symptoms of depression, and no evidence of increased suicide risk was seen. At the same time, there was no evidence that a reduction in depressive symptoms produced a decrease in suicide risk in youth, as is the case with adults. The author of the study has speculated that other factors beyond depressed mood likely contribute to suicidal thinking and behavior in kids.

So…what advice do I give to parents around use of antidepressant medication when they ask “What would you do if this was your kid?”

First, I’d point out that the potential benefits of medication appear to outweigh the potential risks, especially for kids with anxiety, but in my experience the risk of an increase in suicidal thoughts/behavior associated with antidepressant medication appears to be greater than zero. I would be most concerned about an increased risk in  kids with some other condition (in addition to depression or anxiety) that interferes with emotional self-regulation and/or impulse control (ADHD, trauma, kids with behaviors similar to those seen in Borderline Personality Disorder). One hypothesis put forth to explain a possible increase in risk involves the suggestion that antidepressants might cause disinhibition n a subset of patients…the pathways in the prefrontal cortex of the brain don’t fully mature for most people until their early to mid-20s, coinciding with the time after which antidepressants are no longer associated with increased suicidal risk.

Second, since cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) appears to be an effective alternative to medication for kids with anxiety and depression, kids with mild to moderate symptoms should probably receive a trial of CBT prior to a trial of medication.

Finally, I remind parents that antidepressants have been shown to be of significant benefit in kids with anxiety, moderately effective in kids with OCD and of modest benefit in kids with depression. It’s also important that parents understand the limitations of medication and the evidence suggesting medication use offers no guarantee that a child won’t make a serious suicide attempt.

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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 Anxiety Disorders, Controversies, Depression, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Vangie Rodenbeck’s interview with Dr. G on Mental Illness and the Church…

VangieEditor’s note: We’re pleased to make available the link to the interview Vangie Rodenbeck conducted with Steve this past Tuesday for Vangie’s Shaping Special Hearts podcast hosted by CM Connect and sponsored by Standard Publishing.

In honor of May having been designated as Mental Health Month, Vangie interviewed Steve on the topic of Mental Health and the Church. Some of the areas Vangie covered during the interview include…

  • The biggest obstacles children and adults with mental illness face in attending church
  • Why family ministry approaches make sense in implementing intentional mental health inclusion in your church
  • The available research on how churches are doing in supporting families impacted by mental illness
  • Helpful resources for those involved in children’s ministry, youth ministry and family ministry in better serving families in your church and your surrounding community impacted by mental illness.

mhm-facebook-coverIf you’d like to download the podcast and listen at your convenience, that’s also possible after clicking this link to CMConnect’s Blog Talk Radio page.

Updated May 22, 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 Families, Hidden Disabilities, Inclusion, Key Ministry, Mental Health, Strategies, Training Events | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mental health inclusion…The importance of getting the right people around the table

ID-100218762In the first segment of our series, Ten Strategies for Promoting Mental Health Inclusion at Church, Steve looks at the importance of involving the right people when developing a church-wide strategy for including families impacted by mental illness.

In our introduction to this series, we discussed the importance of involving leaders from all ministry areas of the church in developing a mental health inclusion strategy. Today, we’ll explore the unique importance of senior leadership to mental health inclusion along with the desirability of involving lay members of the congregation in the process who are not involved in day to day operations of the church.

Rick WarrenFirst…It’s highly likely that any mental health inclusion initiative is doomed to failure without the unequivocal support of the senior pastor/leader of the church. A cultural reality in most churches is that the ministries and initiatives that receive sufficient commitment of time, money and volunteer resources to thrive are those that matter most to senior leadership. For example, Saddleback Church is a nationwide leader in mental health ministry because the ministry is important to Rick and Kay Warren.

I anticipate that many (if not most) people reading this blog post are church members or lay leaders seeking to serve as catalysts to mental health inclusion ministry within their congregations. If you’re seeking to start such an initiative and your job title is something other that Senior Pastor, Job #1 is to get buy-in from the most senior leader in your church. Here’s why…

Change…even the most minor change-presents large challenges to church staff. If you’re not a pastor or a church staff member, ask someone on staff about the number of complaints they get on a regular basis about little details or minor inconveniences at church that most people wouldn’t notice. If leadership isn’t fully bought in to this type of inclusion ministry, they won’t be willing to work through the pushback that inevitably comes when making even minor modifications to ministry practices or environments.

shutterstock_156304973Communication…we’ll have an entire post on communication later in the series, but most families who newly arrive at church make judgments about the extent to which they’ll be welcomed by what they hear during the worship service. How do you help families who all too often come with baggage from past church experiences without the ongoing support of the guy with the microphone on Sunday morning?

Calling…The senior pastor/leader is in a position to use their influence to engage others in the church-staff and volunteers-to commit their time and talent to important ministry projects. I know I’m far more likely to help with something around the church if my senior pastor asks me to get involved than if I get a call from a more junior staff member or see a general call for volunteers in the bulletin or an online communication. You need the senior leader to call the right people to the table.

With that said, if we were to add to the skill set of church staff in planning an inclusion initiative for families impacted by mental illness, what types of experience, gifts and talents might we want to seek out in considering people for our team? This list is by no means inclusive and in no way implies that your team needs all of these resources for a successful inclusion ministry, but here are a few thoughts…some obvious, some not-about people with gift sets and experiences that could be very helpful to your team…

  • Mental health professionals…and people who serve in support positions in clinics where mental health services are provided. Having one or more people who can help church staff and volunteers to better anticipate the challenges that the people they serve experience when attending church and the needs they experience in navigating day to day demands of life is of great benefit. At the same time, don’t forget the staff, receptionists, billing clerks and case managers working in mental health clinics who have lots of day to day contact with families impacted by mental illness who may be positioned to help families connect, even if the mental health practitioners they serve aren’t inclined to encourage families to turn to the church for spiritual comfort or practical support.
  • Mental health advocates…Someone in the church with an ongoing experience of mental illness or the parent of a child with mental illness can offer a vital perspective if that perspective is otherwise missing from the planning team. Someone may be actively involved with NAMI or another advocacy group that may be helpful in getting the word out to families in need of a church and providing practical supports to the families in your church.
  • An occupational therapist…Sensory processing differences are commonly seen among people experiencing many mental health conditions. While children and adults with atypical sensory processing come in contact with a broad range of medical and mental health professionals, occupational therapists probably have more experience than any other discipline in understanding how to overcome the challenges presented by our ministry environments to children and adults with sensory processing disorder.
  • SUopenhouse068An interior designer…We’ll talk at some length in a future post about ministry environments, but the physical design of the spaces in which we do church serves to support and promote desired communication, social engagement and patterns of activity. Details that many people would never notice at church (seating, lighting, signage, fixtures, furniture, use of color) may impact the experience of families affected by mental illness in ways that might not be obvious to others. Someone with an experience in design may be able to offer lots of useful suggestions to your ministry team.
  • Someone with a social work background and familiarity with local agencies and resources…Persons with mental illness-or parents of kids with mental illness struggle on a daily basis with a range of challenges…finding good mental health care, needs for housing assistance, job training, employment services, case management and help in navigating educational or insurance bureaucracies. Someone who can help your team to identify unmet needs in your local community through which your church can share the love of Christ with people currently outside your walls is a valuable asset.

Any other people or gift sets we missed who could be invaluable to a mental health inclusion ministry? Add your suggestions in the comments section below.

I believe God intended for the entire body of Christ to come together to share his love with families experiencing the unique sense of brokenness that often accompanies mental illness. Everyone’s gifts are needed! I suspect the Apostle Paul might agree…

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Romans 12:4-8 (ESV)

Photo courtesy of of suphakit73 at freedigitalphotos.net.

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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, Families, Inclusion, Key Ministry, Mental Health, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Does adoption Christianese sometimes feel like a sucker punch?

IMG_6957Editor’s note: Today we present the final post in a miniseries from Shannon on the words we use in the church when talking about adoption.

“It’s not a fist bump if the other person isn’t participating.”

I remember using those words to teach my daughter Jocelyn, then age five, a lesson. She had been punching her brother a few times a day for a week or so when I asked in frustration, “What are you doing, girl?!?”

She plainly replied, “I’m just fist bumping him!” Since she was doing so with no warning to Robbie, her intent was lost. The impact – literally – of her punch was all he felt.

Our words can work in the same way. All of us have experienced those “shoot, that’s not what I meant to say!” moments. All of us have also had well-intentioned moments in which we never realized how harshly our words landed on someone else’s ears. Instead of reacting defensively, being humble means we should step back and listen when someone lets us know about a hurtful impact that didn’t match the intent of our words.

In James, we are admonished to be slow to speak and quick to listen, and this topic is one in which that definitely applies. This is the first time I’ve written about language choices for adoption because I’ve been listening long before sharing any of my own words. In fact, many of the words in this post are drawn heavily from others, specifically Melanie Chung-Sherman, Tara Bradford, and Tara Vanderwoude. For me, the most beneficial session of the recent Christian Alliance For Orphans summit in October was theirs, titled Wrestling God: Reconciling Faith Through the Varying Perspective of Adult Adoptees.

Adoption is a product of both beauty and brokenness. Somehow, though, our words in the church about adoption primarily reflect just one half of that: the beauty. Please understand that in this post I am not trying to dismiss the beauty, because I do believe our family’s adoptions were miraculous blessings orchestrated by God. But I know that’s not the only truth about our adoptions, even as it’s the only one regularly recognized by most other Christians.

In their session, Tara Vanderwoude offered some common Christianese sentiments and then offered their possible meanings to an adoptee. For example, when we talk of the miracle or blessing of adoption, adoptees might wonder what kind of blessing requires the loss of their first families, countries, or languages. Kids might feel like they aren’t allowed to express sadness to their parents or church leaders if those adults see their adoption as a completely positive miracle. Children by adoption may be perplexed when they hear “God meant for you to be in this family,” because it sounds like her birth mother was merely an incubator or like God made a mistake in having him born to someone else first. Knowing that children can take figurative phrases literally – especially when those children are young or have cognitive or communicative disabilities – saying that a child was born in the heart of an adoptive mother can be confusing, as kids think “I thought I was born to my birth parents” or “no, I was born in Taiwan” or “babies are born in hearts? I thought they were in mommies’ tummies.”

Why do our words matter? Because our words – especially those couched in Christianese – communicate our theology. In their session, Melanie aptly pointed out that children’s images of God are intertwined with parent-child experiences. For children in adoptive or foster placements, their lived experiences might offer a perceived theology of a God who abandons, a God who watches but is not overly involved, a God who leaves, or several gods who are interchangeable as different caregivers. Then when we take those assumptions about God and layer confusingly positive Christian clichés about adoption, the end result can be dismissiveness instead of discipleship.

Adoption language is tricky. “What not to say…” lists are prolific. While those can be helpful, I think they are often received as jabs rather than friendly fist bumps. I hope this post and the previous two in this series will be received as the latter, aiming to instruct rather than sucker punch.

This post is the final one in a three post series on the words we use about adoption as Christians. Please know that I have been guilty – and sometimes continue to be at times – of every mistake to which I draw our attention. This isn’t about political correctness, self-righteousness, or simple rhetoric; it’s about love. I think we can all agree that words can be received as unloving, whether or not the speaker intended for them to be. Could we all be humble enough to set aside the argument “but I didn’t intend to…” and instead listen to how those words are being received on the other end? As I focus on the impact of our words, I’m hoping my words can be received with the same love with which I’m offering them. And as always, feel free to comment or engage with us if you don’t agree, because that’s one way iron can sharpen iron, to borrow the wording of Proverbs 27:17.

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

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Church, let’s stop equating vertical adoption and horizontal adoption

Editor’s note: Today we present the second in a three post miniseries from Shannon on the words we use in the church when talking about adoption.

IMG_6273 Dingle Family

I’m a child of God. When he drew me in so I might know him, I joined God’s family. The Bible calls this adoption. In fact, the word “adoption” in scripture only refers to this sort of vertical adoption, from God to us.

Six darlings are children of mine. For four, we found out their need for a family and pursued the legal process for them to be added to ours. The earthly term for this is also adoption. But in all the adoption stories in the Bible – Moses, Esther, and Mephibosheth to name a few – the word “adoption” isn’t used. Instead the original Hebrew and Greek words give a sense of being brought in or cared for in these horizontal adoptions, those of parents to child adoptees.

In English, both scenarios are called adoption, but they aren’t the same.

  • In vertical adoption, the adoptive parent – God – is perfect. In horizontal adoption, we’re not. (My husband and I represent that well!)
  • In vertical adoption, the process is perfect with no error, ethical conundrums, or lies. In horizontal adoption, mistakes (or intentional injustice) occur because the process involves multiple flawed and sinful human beings.
  • In vertical adoption, God’s children respond to him in accepting our place at his table. In horizontal adoption, the child’s consent is rarely part of the process.
  • In vertical adoption, everything is gain and good and beneficial as we gain a heavenly Father without the prerequisite of having to be separated from our earthly one. In horizontal adoption, the loss of a first family for whatever reason is always involved (and possibly the loss of a country of origin or language or culture or the experience of childhood without trauma), even when the outcome is beneficial in almost every other way.
  • In vertical adoption, the act is final and irrevocable and forever. In horizontal adoption, that’s the intent but not always the outcome, as disruptions and dissolutions of adoptions occur more often than any of us would like to admit. (It’s helpful to note here that by Roman law, legal earthly adoption was irrevocable, whereas an adoptive parent’s rights can be terminated and custody of the child relinquished to another under our laws now. In other words, this analogy worked better in a biblical cultural context than it does in our own today.)
  • In both kinds of adoption, adoptees should be drawn into a closer, more intimate relationship with the adoptive parent(s), but sometimes that doesn’t actually happen in earthly adoption; even when it does, that doesn’t mean everything else about this flawed analogy works.
  • In vertical adoption, we are rescued by a Savior. In horizontal adoption, circumstances might improve due to adoption but parents like me didn’t save or rescue our sons and daughters. (There’s only one Savior, and it’s not me.)

shutterstock_139126682I can’t deny that our horizontal adoptions sometimes felt like parables of God’s vertical adoption of me. I remember being struck by his pursuit of me to bring me into his family as we did the same for the children we adopted. I remember considering the great cost he gave for us to be his children as my husband and I sacrificed in a much smaller way for our children to become our own. At the point in our horizontal adoptions when our children took our last name legally, I remembered the time when I received the name of Christian. When one of my children who was slower to respond affectionately to us responded “I love you too” and said spontaneously “I love you” for the first time 11 months and 18 months respectively after we took custody, I couldn’t help but consider how God loved me for much longer before I ever reciprocated that attachment. After our adoptions here on earth, verses about God viewing us as co-heirs with Christ took new meaning. I knew how I loved my children by both adoption and conception equally, and the realization brought me to finally believe that God the Father could really view me in the same way he does his Son.

But parables are merely an illustration and not the real thing. Speaking of parables, the ones in scripture about our spiritual adoption are more of a reunion than anything else. The lost sheep is sought and comes back to the flock, the prodigal son leaves and is welcomed back when he returns, and the coin which was missing is searched for until the owner finds it again. Vertical adoption is about us, God’s people, returning to the One who created us in the first place. Those are the sorts of parables Jesus told about spiritual adoption. Earthly adoption, while holding some similarities, is a poor parable by comparison to the ones Christ offered in the first place. One way the comparison is a poor one is that in Jesus’s parables about spiritual adoption, he is talking about redeeming the adopted from the hell they were headed for otherwise, whereas prior to earthly adoption, the realities of adoptees may or may not have been wholly unpleasant.

But “we’re all adopted” in the church, you might argue. Yes and no, I’d reply. All of us who know Christ were adopted in the vertical or spiritual sense of the word. But only some people’s circumstances require an earthly adoption. To make the issue even messier, many of those who have experienced earthly adoption will later experience spiritual adoption (or, in the case of older adoptees, may have experienced that first), but we don’t usually say they are twice adopted or doubly adopted. When kids in adoptive or foster placements hear comments like “we’re all adopted,” confusion can result as they may not be able to grasp the metaphor you’re trying to convey.

As I talk with adult adoptees – who are far too often hurtfully dismissed as “angry” if they dare to challenge the church’s adoption narratives with their own lived experiences – I am learning that the lessons I’ve learned about spiritual adoption through our earthly adoptions are precious but not perfect. I’m learning to choose my words and comparisons with more wisdom, as I listen to other believers I highly respect when ones like Tara Bradford write, “Shouldn’t we be careful in how we relate spiritual adoption to physical adoption through the use of our Adoption Christianese statements?” (I highly recommend clicking the link to read her entire post on this topic.)

I was adopted by God. Four of our children were adopted by me and my husband. While those English words are the same, their meanings are not. Just as you know I don’t mean the same emotion when I say “I love my husband” and “I love coffee,” let’s be mindful that vertical and horizontal adoption aren’t identical either. When we choose our words about adoption, let’s do so carefully so that we don’t add to the trauma and hurt that might already be present in our churches.

This post is the second in a three post series on the words we use about adoption as Christians. While my words might step on some readers’ toes, please know that I have been guilty – and sometimes continue to be at times – of every mistake to which I draw our attention. This isn’t about political correctness, self-righteousness, or simple rhetoric; it’s about love. I think we can all agree that words can be received as unloving, whether or not the speaker intended for them to be. Could we all be humble enough to set aside the argument “but I didn’t intend to…” and instead listen to how those words are being received on the other end? As I focus on the impact of our words, I’m hoping my words can be received with the same love with which I’m offering them. And as always, feel free to comment or engage with us if you don’t agree, because that’s one way iron can sharpen iron, to borrow the wording of Proverbs 27:17.

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Christians, are we being wise with the words orphan and fatherless?

Service member volunteers from the Transit Center at Manas hand out presents to children at the Belovodski Preschool Orphanage in Karabalta, Kyrgyzstan, Dec. 27, 2012. The orphanage houses more than 70 children between the ages of 3 and 7. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Rachel Martinez)

Photo courtesy of Tech. Sat. Rachel Martinez, U.S. Air Force via Wikimedia Commons

Editor’s note: Today’s post is the first in a three-part series from Shannon.

Words matter. The Bible is clear again and again that our words should be chosen with care. Our Lord is even identified as the Word who became flesh. And I’m concerned about our nonchalance and even carelessness in the church with the words orphan and fatherless.

Since our use of them originates in the Bible, let’s start there. I’m not a biblical scholar, but I am resourceful, so I brushed off some books and checked some proven websites (like Blue Letter Bible) for a word study. The Greek word orphanos and the Hebrew word yathom are the original words used for these biblical terms. Orphanos mean orphaned or without a father or lacking a guide or teacher. Yathom is more simplistic, used to mean a child who is fatherless or who has lost both parents, but Strong’s concordance point out that it comes from an unused root meaning to be lonely. Orphanos is only used twice, in John 14:18 (“I will not leave you as orphans,” also translated as “I will not leave you comfortless”) and James 1:27 (“Pure and undefiled religion is… to visit widows and orphans in their affliction”), while yathom is used 42 times, usually translated as fatherless, though sometimes as orphan, in the context of calling for justice and charity. Meanwhile, another Greek word, huiothesia (meaning to place or adopt as a son, as a combination of two Greek words: huios, meaning son, and tithemi, meaning to place or ordain) is used for adoption five times in Paul’s epistles but never paired with orphanos.

shutterstock_185745920How do those compare to our current day use of the words? For some, it’s close. Nowadays, the words double orphan or true orphan describe a child who had lost both biological parents to death. This kind of orphan is the typical dictionary definition of the word too. Meanwhile, a social orphan is one who loses parents due to poverty or mental illness or some other hard reality with one or both parents are still alive. These fit with the biblical definition, as the word fatherless in scripture – particularly the Old Testament – often meant the vulnerable children whose fathers were dead or absent and whose mothers were limited in their ability to provide for the family because women didn’t traditionally work or own property or have independent wealth then.

Yet another modern day definition comes from U.S. law, as cited on the US Citizenship and Immigration Services website: “Under U.S. immigration law, an orphan is a foreign-born child who: does not have any parents because of the death or disappearance of, abandonment or desertion by, or separation or loss from, both parents OR has a sole or surviving parent who is unable to care for the child, consistent with the local standards of the foreign sending country, and who has, in writing, irrevocably released the child for emigration and adoption.” Once again, this definition overlaps some of the ones we’ve already discussed but doesn’t match perfectly. I’ll expand upon this in more detail later, but it’s worth noting that current U.S. law never defines as child in the U.S. as an orphan, reserving that word for international cases.

Meanwhile, two entire groups of adoptees are rarely orphans by any definition.

  • First, if a parent or parents choose to create an adoption plan – such as at birth in the case of domestic newborn adoption – prospective adoptive parents are often able to be identified so that no gap exists between being in the biological parents’ care and entering the adoptive parents’ care. That child is never an orphan.
  • Second, in foster care, reunification is often the goal, for children to be able to rejoin their family of origin once it is safe and healthy to do so. Even when parental rights are terminated, often a parent or extended family member is still involved through visits or other contact. These kids aren’t orphans either.

Yet we still use orphan or fatherless a lot in the church when we’re talking about adoption and foster care, even when those words don’t fit with our current culture or a specific circumstance. Why?

One reason, mentioned at the beginning of this post, is direct: they’re used in the Bible. That said, the two bulleted examples above don’t fit with biblical use. Furthermore, also found in the Bible are the words cripple and dumb and lame and several other words we don’t use outside of their biblical references nowadays, so that can’t be the only reason.

Another reason is habit. Churches often cling to tradition, and the tradition of using orphan and fatherless to describe vulnerable kids is well established.

But can I be bold enough to step on some toes by offering a possible reason that stings a bit? I think maybe we’re a mixture of lazy and uncompassionate. It’s easy. Everyone else is doing it. As some kids and adult adoptees are saying they prefer other language, we don’t care enough to listen or change for someone else.

Am I advocating that we throw away those words completely? No. I don’t see that happening. In many instances, the words work well. I am, however, advocating that we use these words with wisdom. If a gentler but still accurate term – like at-risk families or vulnerable children – can fit the context, maybe it’s wiser to use those words.

After all, as people of the Word, words should matter to us.

This post is part of a three post series on the words we use about adoption as Christians. While my words might step on some readers’ toes, please know that I have been guilty – and sometimes continue to be at times – of every mistake to which I draw our attention. This isn’t about political correctness, self-righteousness, or simple rhetoric; it’s about love. I think we can all agree that words can be received as unloving, whether or not the speaker intended for them to be. Could we all be humble enough to set aside the argument “but I didn’t intend to…” and instead listen to how those words are being received on the other end? As I focus on the impact of our words, I’m hoping my words can be received with the same love with which I’m offering them. And as always, feel free to comment or engage with us if you don’t agree, because that’s one way iron can sharpen iron, to borrow the wording of Proverbs 27:17.

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

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