As the mother of a special needs son, I appreciate help from whatever source it comes. Eespecially when it brings positive situations or input into my special son’s life. And it is phenomenal if it gives me some relief, too. Raising special treasures is hard. It’s do-able. It’s rewarding. It’s a privilege. But, it’s very hard. And the level of disability (or “other ability”) often determine how difficult it is.

So, when we can find situations to help, we are grateful. And that’s where churches come in. At our church there is a ministry to special people – young and old. And I’d like to share some about it, perhaps giving ideas on the background details which need to be thought through, and the blessing it is to so many.

The most important, foundational infrastructure is to have support for this ministry from the top down. For a disability ministry to thrive, the support must come from the pulpit to the pews. From accommodations to funding to volunteers – the church must encompass the importance of this ministry, grasp the concept of the vital ministry and outreach that it is, and fully support the vision of the leaders.  

To set up a ministry, you need people who can be flexible and adaptable. That’s the one concept that’s a constant with disabled people – there usually is no consistency in life. What worked yesterday, might not work today. What they understood before, they might not remember now. What appealed to them last week might bore them this week. So, having workers who are flexible and adaptable is of utmost importance.

Furthermore, the spiritual needs of the individuals will vary from person to person. Each situation is different. Each background unique. And the levels of understanding won’t be duplicated in all of the attendees. So, the ministry can’t be rigid in its approach like other ministries in the church might need to be.

Each individual who comes into the ministry brings their own personality, unique abilities, and possible challenges to the group and ministry. It is imperative that the leaders be adjustable in their approach to the individuals while being steadfast to the spiritual needs of that person – and to the group, as a whole.

Greg McDougall, the one at our church who conceived the vision for a ministry for special needs, has a divine burden for each individual to know Jesus. To be introduced to Him in a way they can understand and accept. So he trains the leaders and helpers to watch the class members for signs of spiritual readiness or awakening and be ready to lead them to Christ or to the next level of understanding. Greg’s passion is contagious; his love, evident.

One housekeeping thought might be "How many helpers are needed?" The number of teachers in the class depends on the makeup of the group. In our church, we have many volunteers who help with various levels of commitment. Some people drive to a home to pick students up for church. Others are their “buddy,” helping them from the car, to the building, and sticking with them the entire time they are at church. Still other volunteers help for the Sunday class hour. Whatever the commitment level, the help is always greatly appreciated.

Family members can be involved if they want to. But, sometimes the ministry to the disabled allows other ministry to take place: it gives the caregivers time to be refreshed. To attend church and hear God’s word preached. To go to classes and fellowship with others their own age. And to have some much-needed time off – a break from the constancy of care disabled people sometimes require.

One elderly couple, who brings their grandson to class each week, began involvement in this ministry with trepidation. The grandfather sat with his grandson throughout the entire first Sunday. Playing. Talking him through everything that was taking place. The young one grew more comfortable, but the older was concerned. The grandfather was still protective.