Over the years I have written everything from the perspective of a parent. Since I am the parent of a child with cerebral palsy, I suppose this is natural. With the numbers of people who have told me horror stories of what churches have said to them, things like “please don’t bring your child back,” I have been critical of “houses of God” in regard to how they treat God’s people. Don’t get me wrong, I love the church, and when my own church didn’t have a special needs program I started one. My goal is to enable all those whom God is calling to have a place to worship.
I don’t think I would say I am critical of the church. I come at it more as a misunderstanding. I believe that if God’s people understand the issues, most churches want to do what is right, including everyone in the service and Sunday school program regardless of disability.
I recently spoke with a pastor who has put their disability program, which had been running for over 25 years, on hold while they figure out what they want to do. His thoughts were that they needed to stop and pray about what God would have them do. While I offered to help them in any way I could, and would gladly work with them to build a business plan and mission statement, the situation made me think about my expectations. What should I, as a parent expect from the church?
From a parents’ perspective, I have a Master’s degree in my kid. Our children are enrolled in the local school or I have moved them out because of problems, and while I might be happy at the moment, I might also be trying to get the services I think my child needs to be as successful as he or she can be. My whole life can be wrapped up in goal setting. I set goals with the school, the therapists, maybe even at home in an attempt to reach my child’s “full potential. ” I know this is important for each family out there, but should a church be expected to work in the same way? What is realistic to expect? I’m not letting the church off the hook, but when I say every church should have a special needs program, what exactly am I expecting?
What if I go to a large church? Personally, I can’t even handle the children’s program at our church sometimes. Loud worship music in an auditorium, transitions to two or more rooms during the program, the whole nine yards. I’m sorry, but that just doesn’t work for every child. If my kid likes the program, but maybe needs help transitioning, that seems reasonable. The church should have someone as a point person to make sure those that need assistance and accommodations are given that assistance. They should make sure that they are available to help make these things happen. What if the program doesn’t work for my child at all? I think it is appropriate to expect the church to have an alternate program. The goal of the program should be to present the Gospel at a level that is right for the children attending, providing activities that stimulate the child to participate. And even though I live in a world of IEP’s (Individualized Education Plans) goals, and therapy, should I expect my church to operate in the same system? I don’t see how I can expect volunteers in a church program to be more than good people with a heart for our children. My church didn’t have a program; my son loved the regular program and just needed help getting around. We started what we called Special Friends for the children who couldn’t be a part of the regular Sunday school program.
What if your church doesn’t even have a plan for accommodations? What if they have no desire to include your child or any other child that “doesn’t fit” into what they already have? What should be our response? As a parent I say, start your own solution! If the church is responsive to your starting a program, go for it! Get together with other parents you know and begin to build a ministry. If they don’t even want to let you do that, move on! I would say this is a church that doesn’t deserve the blessing. See Matt 25: 31-46 and Luke 14: 15-24. Go find a church that has the heart of the One they claim to follow!