If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. ~ James 4:17, NIV
I came across a USA TODAY article yesterday morning as I did my usual scan of information to share with parents. I was shocked to read that the journal PEDIATRICS had released a study authored by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) citing that 15% of all children, that’s 1 in 6, have a developmental disability. Instantly, I thought, there’s got to be a blog post in this! If there are that many children with just this one category of disability, what are churches doing to minister to them? It wasn’t long before I saw fellow workers in the area of special needs ministry, Shannon Dingle and Steve Grcevich having the same strong reaction. I think this study has HUGE implications for the church on two different levels.
First, I think it should absolutely help people like Shannon, Steve and myself keep the fire in our belly for serving this population. With every one of these children noted in the study comes parents, often siblings and even extended family. They all need the life-giving hope of the gospel! Are they getting it if our churches or even para-church ministries aren’t reaching the affected child?
Also notable in the USA TODAY article is one of the final paragraphs, “The study also underscores the need to help parents and teachers of disabled students, says pediatrician Nancy Murphy of the University of Utah School of Medicine, who wasn’t involved in the study.” What this means to those of us to serve is that our work with special needs children only comprises part of the picture. People often love to help little children with difficulties because it makes them feel good. However, there is also the less-attractive work of supporting the older siblings and adults around them. These are heartbroken, weary people who desperately need to experience the love of Jesus in practical ways. They need to see the truth of what the Bible says in daily action from the church, not merely platitudes on Sunday.
All of this being said, we in special needs ministry have our work cut out for us! And we each have our area of expertise. If we can each be diligent and focused in the area which we excel, together we can start making headway in this overwhelming mission field.
The second implication this study has for the church, in my opinion, is that it irrefutably charges pastors everywhere to get with the program, stop being so fearful or avoidant, and start rolling their sleeves up to minister to this population. Uncomfortable? Absolutely! But frame it thusly… If we found out 1 in 6 of a population were not receiving clean water, we’d be raising funds for an overseas missions trip to build wells. If we discovered that 1 in 6 were going to be hungry at night, we’d organize a huge food drive. Why should we not exhibit the same passion for human beings who hunger and thirst so longingly for God’s word right here in our midst?
Should pastors continue to turn a blind eye to these children with special needs and the families that come along with them, the verdict is clear. It is out-and-out sin! James 2:10-16 convicts us when we pick and choose which part of God’s mandate we will obey.
Surely, we all know that is our high calling and privilege to stand out from the world in positive ways that glorify God! Why wouldn’t we do so as the Body of Christ wrapping these families in hopeful, loving care?
In fairness to pastors, this should also motivate our seminaries to get on board with training to minister in this under-served area. Those leading the flock are poorly equipped for dealing with this issue. And much of their fear comes out of simple ignorance, not malice. Classes addressing resources, liability and simply what God’s word says about those afflicted with a diagnosis should be offered.
Where do we go from here? Consider this to be your marching orders, my friends! Cite this study again and again to all you know. These are hard facts that those who have been avoiding this population within the church cannot refute. Use these numbers to motivate those around you. Knock on doors and spread the word in every way possible. Extol and encourage one another in this work. And show people that our God stands apart in that He can truly use all things for the good of those who love Him!