Today I have been catching up on the D6 podcasts that I’m behind on listening to. The title of the one podcast was “How to Minister to Families with Special Needs Children”. First, if you know me you know that I have a HUGE heart for those families that have children who have special needs. In my previous church, we had a number of children that had special needs all over the scale. Having been a teacher in my previous life, I love working with kids that have special needs because no matter what the situation, they are so full of joy!
During the podcast, Marie Kuck who founded Nathaniel’s Hope, spoke with host Jeremy Lee. Marie talked about being tolerant vs. being intentional. So many churches and children’s ministries are just that, tolerant. They tolerate children who have needs, but they don’t 100% welcome them with open arms. The more I think about that, the more it hurts my heart.
I attended a workshop at KidMin in 2014, where I learned that the majority of families who have kids that have specia needs don’t attend church because they don’t feel welcome. They feel judged, especially when their child does something that’s out of the “norm”. We, the church, are the body of Christ. We are called to be warm and welcoming of all – including those that have special needs.
As I continue to think about intention vs. tolerance, I think of churches in general. I was reading a blog from a friend of mine where it was shares that sometimes even the disciples weren’t so welcoming. In Matthew 19:13-15 we read about how the disciples tried to keep the children from approaching Jesus, but Jesus responded with “Let the little children come to me”.
In our modern culture, church has become a social club – sometimes an exclusive social club. Visiting families try a church one Sunday, but no one wants to welcome them or greet them outside of the “Greet your Neighbor” time at the beginning of the service. Those families will not return. There was no one intentionally greeting them to get to know them. We live in a culture that is dictating the church. It’s every man for himself. I think this makes Jesus sad. We need to be intentional in our relationships with others.
I try to be relational. I’m not perfect at this. I classify as an extrovert, but honestly I’m just over the middle line on the extroverted side. I still have a large introvert piece to my personality. I am also in the process of being evaluated for ADD. I know I can be socially awkward at times. I also know when I feel like I’m intruding on someone’s exclusive club.
Recently, while on vacation I decided to attend a church in the town we were staying. The church I visited was intentional about welcoming visitors. They made me feel like I wanted to always be part of their congregation, even though I was only visiting. It started with their website and their web presence. They had a line on their website about having a place for your fishing pole and also feeling comfortable to come in your shorts and flip flops (this was a beach town). I was greeted at the door and immediately embraced by this church. I was even able to chat with the senior pastor after the service. After the service, almost every single person that was in attendance made sure to come up and greet me. The next morning I had an email from the pastor saying how nice it was to meet another Methodist visitor. This church (St. Paul’s UMC at Carolina Beach, NC) was intentional about their actions as the body of Christ.
It is my prayer for you, my friends, that you will work with your churches to be intentional in being welcoming of all who enter your doors. If there’s an attitude that your church is an exclusive social club, I pray that you will seek God’s help to change that attitude.