I’m excited to be participating in the Family Ministry Blog Tour. Many people are receiving the opportunity to answer the question “What is family ministry within the local church? I would encourage you to take the time to read the variety of great posts and insights from the other bloggers! I’m grateful to Matt Norman for organizing this Tour!
The recent Census Data indicated that 30% of all families in the United States—approximately 20.9 million families—have at least one family member who experiences a disability. Many times that family member is a child. No parent wants his or her child to be sick or disabled in any way. It is not an experience anyone expects to have; rather, it is a journey that is unplanned.
Many parents have described the progression—and pendulum—of feelings they experienced upon learning that their child has a disability. Shock, denial, grief, guilt, anger, confusion. The type of emotions these parents experience are intense and often feel overwhelming.
- A father upon learning of his daughter’s disability wrestles with decisions concerning medical finances.
- A sibling struggles to understand why his brother with autism requires so much of his parents’ attention.
- A grandmother feels exhausted from the added responsibilities of caring for a grandchild with traumatic brain injury.
- A mother is frustrated at the negative comments she hears when her son with ADHD has a meltdown.
All of the struggles depicted above cry out for genuine support from a caring congregation. Families should not have to meet the challenges of raising a child with disability without the love, care, encouragement, and tangible support of their church.
When I hear people talk about Deuteronomy 6:4-7, I find that they rarely ever stop and focus on something that I, a father of three boys with special needs, consider to be very important and it’s right at the beginning of the passage:
“Hear, O Israel…”
In the context of this passage, Moses is speaking to all of Israel about the importance of families passing on their faith to the next generation. He was speaking to all of Israel and that included EVERY parent. I imagine myself in the crowd with every other parent of a child with special needs hearing these words:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give all of you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children even if they have autism or Asperger Syndrome. Talk about them when you sit at home, even if your child has ADHD. Talk about them as you push your child with cerebral palsy in his wheelchair along the road. Repeat them when they lie down and when they get up because sometimes kids with learning disabilities learn better through repetition.”
Okay, so maybe I modified this passage a little bit. My bad. However, I did it with pure intentions: to drive home the point that Deuteronomy 6:4-7 provides some incredible insights for every parent about their role to influence their child’s spiritual development. Perhaps this is why this passage is the most frequently quoted to explain the importance of family…every family.
Unfortunately, in our culture, I think there are two primary obstacles that stand in the way of parents of children with special needs taking responsibility for the spiritual development of their children. There are other obstacles that could, and should, be mentioned. But I’d like to briefly identify the two that families of kids with special needs have in common with families who have typical developing children. I’m not going to attempt to identify solutions to these obstacles because that is beyond the scope of this blog post.
The first obstacle is that many parents have developed a “drop off” mentality when it comes to the spiritual discipleship of their children. Families drop off their children at the preschool, children, youth, or special needs ministry and expect the Sunday school teacher and volunteers to be the discipleship makers. Perhaps this is even more true of parents of kids with special needs because they are so exhausted from the day-to-day demands that they cannot even fathom being able to find spare time for faith related matters in their home.
The second obstacle is that most parents did not grow up in a home where their spiritual development was nurtured. Many of todays parents did not experience what it was like for dad and/or mom to have family devotions, prayer time, Bible reading, and faith talks. For this reason, many parents of children with special needs feel ill-equipped to assume the primary role of spiritual leaders in their homes.
I appreciate Rollie Martinson’s insight on both of these obstacles and his solution:
“Presently, parents take their kids to church so the church can do the lion’s share of the faith teaching. We’ve got it backward. The kids should take their parents to church to be equipped to nurture faith and life skills in their children and return home ready to shape their kid’s faith.” (The Family-Friendly Church, p. 75).
Bingo! This insight makes it clear to me what all of us who do family ministry already know: that God is calling the Church to help bring Christ back into the center of every home…and it requires partnering with parents. That’s what makes family ministry special. Church and parents working together to bring Christ back into every home.
My answer to the question, “What is family ministry within the local church?”
It’s when the church partners with every parent to spiritually nurture their unique child who is made in the image of God.
There are 20.9 million families in the US affected by a disability who are in need of the love, care, encouragement, and support of a family-friendly church…
Michael Woods, M.A. BCaBA