The first time I heard someone mention special needs children in church, it was accompanied by a long list of “Don’t ever do XXXX again!” The commandments to the church were accompanied by a list of things to instruct parents of other kids to never do at church and to make sure their children never did. In short, it made ministry with special needs children sound like a lugging a burden through a minefield, where “survival” was the only hope.
As a pastor, that’s not the approach that seemed best to me at the time. It still seems like a terrible approach. After all, God’s people are not all of one shape, size, and ability group. If we cannot flourish as the church by welcoming all people, then we have something wrong. Then I was offered Every Child Welcome through Kregel Academic and Ministry for review. Given how hard it was to pick one book to start with, I viewed this as a godsend for learning better first steps.
I was right. Katie Wetherbee and Jolene Philo, both long-term educators, present a concise look at how all children can be welcomed and celebrated in church. Rather than presenting a burdensome batch of “do/don’ts,” they give strategies to try out.
Some of these strategies are generic—after all, Wetherbee and Philo don’t know who you’re ministering to—which is fine. Given that many readers of Every Child Welcome are, like me, not qualified to make highly specific diagnoses, we should be looking at broadly usable ideas. From there, the more specific strategies recommended come into play.
The most valuable information here is what should be the most obvious. The authors give some clear guidelines about how to communicate about children’s behavior which helps keep it edifying and private as appropriate. If your church leadership hasn’t learned yet to keep behavior challenges off of social media, you need to teach that lesson right quick. For all ages. (And yes, I must admit to having failed at that in younger dumber years.)
Further, Every Child Welcome provides resources for further study. It’s a great intro work, and ideal for a pastor who wants to launch a church in the right direction, not just making a separate space for special needs kids but enfolding all of God’s people in the church.
Free book from Kregel Academic in exchange for the review.