When I became the parent of a child with special needs, I learned many things that I never knew before, even as a pediatrician!
- Being a parent of a child with special needs is an exhausting, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year job without a break
- No wonder the current divorce rate for families with special needs is extremely high, and rises even higher if you add medical issues like seizures on top of this
- The stress of having a child with a disability is unfathomable
- You do not know what the future holds
- You do not know whether you’re making the right choices
- You often don’t know how you’re going to pay for all the special services your child now needs
- You have chronic exhaustion from sleepless nights
- Parents feel that they lack competence in dealing with their child with special needs
- It can be strange, alienating, and depressing to feel like your instincts are wrong when it comes to interacting with your own child because they don’t respond or interact like other children
- Going into the community can be a source of stress for parents
- People may stare, make comments or fail to understand any mishaps or behaviors that may occur
- Feeling like they cannot socialize or relate to others, parents of children with special needs may experience a sense of isolation from their friends, relatives and community
- This includes church!
- The very place that many families try to come to fill their spiritual tank, is the same place that tells families that they need to go somewhere else because they aren’t equipped to handle special needs in their facility.
- Some families that I have met have been asked to leave 4-5 churches before they found one that welcomed them. Some just give up!
Here is a very interesting piece of trivia: approximately 75% of Jesus’ miracles in the Bible impacted people affected by disabilities. Jesus ran the very first special needs ministry. Jesus was the first Special Needs Pastor! I firmly believe that every individual with special needs is created in the image and likeness of God and is NOT a mistake!
An exceptionally high percentage of families with special needs don’t attend any church. Why?
- Families fear that the staff and volunteers at the church will not be able to adequately care for the needs of their child
- Families just don’t feel accepted
- Families are afraid of being a burden to the church
- Or sadly, the family has been asked to leave a church one too many times!
The reasons special needs ministry exists are:
- To impart the Word of God to the hearts of all individuals in an engaging and understandable manner and to teach them to love, know, and honor God
- The church needs to be a place of refuge for families with special needs where the parents know that their child is loved
- To provide a place for children affected by disability to worship and learn about God; this allows the parents to relax and get their spiritual gas tank filled as well
- This, in turn, gives families the tools and strength that they need to handle their daily stressors!
The current statistics for 2014 show that 1 out of every 6 children in the US have special needs. If you have a church with more than six children, you more likely than not have a child with special needs in your church. According to the newly released numbers from the November 2015, National Health Interview Survey, autism affects 1 out of every 45 children born in the US. These numbers continue to grow at alarming rates, and the church needs to embrace these families and be prepared to serve them.
The primary goal for a special needs ministry is to allow families to be able to worship together and know that their family member with special needs will be included and learn about Jesus. This can be done in a variety of ways from providing buddies for individuals with special needs during every service to offering respite nights for the family. Every church could become more like Jesus by accepting and welcoming individuals with special needs in their church! What can you and your church do to better minister to these families?
Dr. Stephen “Doc” Hunsley is the Special Needs and People Care Pastor for Grace Church in Overland Park, Kansas. Doc started Grace Church’s special needs ministry in 2011, it has since grown to serve over 430 individuals with special needs through weekend church programming, family support groups, and regular respite events. Doc founded and leads the Kansas City Special Needs Ministries Network, for area church leaders. He is currently assisting over 120 churches locally and nationally to start a Special Needs Ministry. Prior to serving as a special needs pastor, Doc was a children’s pastor. Doc and his wife, Kay are proud parents to three beautiful children: Luke, Mark and Sarah. The Hunsley’s middle child, Mark, is presently running the halls of heaven. During Mark’s five-year earthly stay, he gave his family the opportunity to learn from and love a child with autism. You can follow SOAR on Facebook or Connect with Doc on Twitter: @DocHunsley.