Welcoming Families Affected By Disability Into Your Youth Ministry
Parents of children affected by disability are some of my heroes. Trust me, you want to get to know these parents! These families know what grief is. They have faced hard emotions in the midst of uncertainty, in a diagnosis, and in the ongoing deaths of the dreams they carried for their children. These parents have walked through putting their own plans on hold to be able to lovingly invest so much of themselves into discovering what is best for their child. They never expected this life they are living and know what it is like to lean into the Lord every single day. These families are longing for heaven and will point your eyes toward heaven. Their perspective is so needed in the church!
As you get to know these families, remember how much they go through each and every day. They spend so much of their time advocating for their child affected by disability. Research and filling out paperwork is a constant for them. You will need some of this information from them, but you will also be able to talk with them about what their student is good at. Ask them their strengths. Ask them what their student enjoys. Look for ways to build connections with their student that is outside the box. Does their student enjoy music? Maybe you can find a common band you would enjoy listening to together.
As you learn about a student and what brings them joy, you will be able to find ways to help them move towards others in the youth group. For example, you may know another student who enjoys music, who also enjoys using technology in creative ways. As you bring these two students together you can pray that a friendship grows over a common interest. This can go one step further as you help disciple these students and help them think through how their gifts and interests may build up the church. Continuing with our example: I’m sure technology is used in some way in your church. Maybe these new friends can work together in the sound booth or the music ministry. Pray that these students are able to grow in their relationship with the Lord, grow in their relationships with others, and then contribute meaningfully to their church family.
Think about how much this would mean to a family! Families affected by disability need support to get through each day. Your youth ministry could be one of their many supports, helping their student make connections with the Lord and with others. The student who enjoyed music has now built a relationship with another student, found a meaningful role in the church, and has likely connected with another adult who is in charge of technology in the church.
In seeking to minister to this student, you have actually ministered to the entire family. The parents are probably more comfortable engaging in church activities thanks to your work. The siblings are benefitted by the reduced stress of their parents and by seeing their sibling affected by disability find a place to belong. This is such a picture of hope. Think about the trickle affect that will happen as the church watches this process and the picture of hope that this is for the entire body of Christ.
I have just described a beautiful picture that has probably taken several years of work. It all starts with a conversation over coffee. It’s actually what every parent of a student would love to have! Parents would love to have an hour of your time to talk about their child, their spiritual health, and their gifts and interests that may could serve the church. Then you get to think creatively and pray that the Lord will help people connect and grow.
I challenge you to jump out in faith and make that phone conversation that you are probably intimidated to make. Seek to encourage a family touched by disability by learning more about them. You will be encouraged and pointed toward heaven in the process.
Please also see The Role of Youth Workers Enfolding Youth With Disabilities Into the Life of the Church, Special Needs Parenting: What Does My Child Really Understand About God?