Special Needs and the Church

The weekly service that most churches spend a lot of time and effort creating is both a blessing and a curse at times. “Church” is not a service, church is people. The service is a time of celebration, remembering, mourning, encouragement or teaching. But the service isn’t church.

And I love the service but church is bigger than the service. I want the service to be meaningful and well thought out. I want the service to be deep and stretching. But ultimately the service is about connecting with God, not making sure the “show” is run well. So when something interupts the service, like this, how the leaders deal with it will be driven by their understanding of the service. For this particular church, a “special needs” child (he has cerebral palsy) was asked to leave a service because he was making noise. They offered an overflow room for the family.

Then it appears a bad situation got worse because the mom ended up asking for a meeting with pastor, asked to start a new ministry at the church, AND talked to media about it all before she got any answers. The pastor refused to meet with her once he found out that she contacted the local news media. And the church said “no thank you” to her starting a new ministry at their church.

I understand both sides. I’d be upset if asked to leave a service. It’d be embarrassing. But I completely understand the church saying no to a lady they didn’t know to starting a new ministry with kids. I also understand not meeting someone who calls a TV station before talking to me about a problem they have with the church.

And who knows how loud or distracting the kid was. But I’ve got a little experience in this arena. In Parker, we had a family with a kid with cerebral palsy. He loved sitting in the service. Every now and then, he’d get a little talkative. And yes, he was loud. But we just dealt with it. We loved him and his family. It’s okay. It happens. It’s his opportunity to worship in his way as well. We smile, we laugh. We pause. We care. We love. We move on. In many ways, that kid made us better worshipers of Jesus because of his “interruptions.”

Currently, we’ve got a student at our church that has autism. I love this kid. Everyone loves this kid. He is a constant source of joy and wonder to us. If I ask a question during my message — I now know that I need to be ready for him to answer back. Out loud. He’s following me. He’s listening. He’s in dialog with God and the scriptures…in his way. It’s happened on an occasion. I’ll ask a question — not expecting an answer — and he’ll just blurt it out. And he’s right. It’s an awesome, holy interruption. He’s modeling for us how to be engaged with God during worship.

What was my reaction to him? I high-fived him.

This student keeps us – all of us – honest… and humble. I want that guy in our services, around our kids. I want this guy serving and hanging with us. Not because he is some project that we can brag about. Because…we like him. Because through his actions and service to others (he volunteers in a couple of ministries at the church), he is modeling what Love God, Live Connected, and Serve All means and that following Jesus is for EVERYONE. Because I’m pretty certain that he is teaching us much more than we are teaching him.

And I believe that the interruptions are part of the lesson plan of God.


3 thoughts on “Special Needs and the Church

  1. I remember a conversation I had with a mom with a special needs child who was in our youth group. She said, “I don’t want my son to be tolerated – I want him to be loved!” That slayed me and changed my perspective forever. We had great conversations on how to LOVE rather than just occupy him or keep him from distracting us – which was where my mindset had started. Love is way more powerful than tolerance….


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