The CDC just announced an almost 15% increase in the prevalence of autism at 1 in 59 kids. With a staggering number like that it’s likely that you know someone affected by ASD. As churches grow and seek to increase the kingdom of God, hopefully that will mean your church’s special needs population will grow as well. I currently attend a small church plan in New Caney, TX and right now we do not have a special needs ministry as there is not a need yet. However, one day there will be, God willing, and I know that our church family will welcome these individuals with open arms. Your church may already have a special needs ministry and especially because the need will likely grow, I want to encourage you to serve those with special needs.
Working with individuals with special needs can be challenging to say the least. To say anything else just simply wouldn’t be true. One of my son’s therapist once told me that she could only work part-time because the job was so emotionally demanding of her. She’s very passionate about working with individuals on the autism spectrum and has a very upbeat personality. But being “on” all the time is hard. I don’t know about the demands of all special needs and disabilities, but I know with autism there are times of extreme joy and then times where things aren’t so great. There are intense lows and with communication barriers, those lows are hard to navigate. So why, knowing this, would anyone willingly offer to volunteer in a special needs ministry if they don’t have friends or family affected by disability?
The Bible offers several reasons. In Luke 14:12-14 Jesus says, “when you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
Jesus is describing the type of loving kindness that truly requires nothing in return. Serving individuals with special needs may not bring instant gratification. You may not get to hear about the children you serve turning their life over to Lord or singing praise songs just like other kids. Serving individuals that may not be able to care for themselves in even the simplest ways may not be the most admired or prestigious form of service and you may not see the fruit of your efforts immediately, but I believe that this form of service is an essential part of being the hands and feet of Christ. Believers are to demonstrate this radical love for people with disabilities and the poor and to any of those that cannot repay them because Jesus shows us that self-denying and self-sacrificial service is God honoring. Jesus says that those are the times you will store blessings in Heaven. Matthew 25:40 says, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me'. Remember as you share the Gospel with the child that can’t sit still, or a child that is flapping and swaying, that you are loving them as you would Jesus. It may be more difficult to serve in an area that can be challenging physically and emotionally, but its in those times that you serve when it is messy and ugly and hard that you will be blessed.
Typically, special needs families are coming in to a church longing for a sense of welcome and belonging. They want a place that they can worship and feel that their children are safe and not a burden. I urge you to see and serve these families as though you are viewing them through the lens of Christ and not man. While the world says they are less-than or second rate, the Lord, in His sovereignty, has created them in His image and exactly how he wanted them. I love when the Lord speaks to Moses and says in Exodus 4:11, "Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?" WOW. God has a plan for each and every member of the body. He has a special plan for His people, both you and I and the individuals with special needs in our church body. If you are looking for a meaningful way to serve the Lord, won’t you consider helping in the special needs ministry?
“12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts,yet one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” 1 Corinthians 12:12-16