Why Special Needs Ministry Matters in Children’s Ministry

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Pat Verbal is a keynote speaker at Group’s KidMin Conference 2014 and the manager of curriculum development for Joni and Friends.

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Children’s Ministry Magazine asked Pat Verbal:
What transformation would you like to see in children’s ministry in the future?

While the topic of disability has become more newsworthy, the social stigma these families face is still huge. Children with special needs are bullied, neglected, and abused. They’re pawns in political ping-pong matches such as a recent report that the Belgium Parliament may soon legalize euthanasia for children with disabilities. On the other hand, there are miraculous reports of how total strangers have taken heroic actions to protect children with disabilities.

Through it all, one can’t help but wonder: Where is God? Where is the Church? Are Christians scared to jump in because we fear that we can’t answer the hard questions?

Parents ask: “Why does God allow disabilities?” “Why doesn’t God heal these children?” “Why does this have to be so hard?”

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These children ask: “Does Jesus know when I’m scared?” “Is Jesus disappointed in me when I’m not brave?” “If I can’t do much, does Jesus still want me?” “Does Jesus know I’m going to die?”

Friends, these aren’t questions the Red Cross or FEMA can answer. These are questions for Jesus’ followers in the world. We may not be disaster specialists, medical doctors, social workers, or speech therapists. We may not have all the answers to the mysteries of God, but we hold the key to unlocking the hurt, fear, and pain we all face in our “disabled” society.

What if we could plant God’s truth and peace so deep into the hearts of our children that they would stand for justice in their generation? What if Christian homes and churches hosted great dinners and sent Facebook invitations to the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame, urging them to come to God’s table to meet Jesus? Jesus’ promise in Luke 14 was that God would reward us for inviting those who couldn’t repay. Later in the chapter, he cautioned us about the cost of being his disciple, “And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27).

Discipleship isn’t cheap. It cost Jesus everything.

Joni likes to say, “Ministry is messy. God plops people with disabilities in the midst of a congregation—a hand grenade that blows apart the picture-perfectness of the church. But these disenfranchised folks are the indispensable part of the body of Christ.”

For more insight from Pat about special needs ministry, subscribe to Children’s Ministry Magazine and read Ministry in the Deep End (interview with Pat Verbal) in July/August 2014 issue.

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