Special Needs Ministry & The Raging Issue of Bullying

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4, NIV)

Bullying.  Few of us emerge from our school years untouched by it.  And over the past 13 years the movement to prevent or stop it has been propelled forward by the 1999 Columbine High School shootings.  Over that time, schools have adopted anti-bullying programs and policies, while students hear the message preached to them ad infinitum.  Another recent massacre of high school students in Chardon, Ohio bears witness to the fact that we haven’t made significant progress in improving the issue.

To an average, suburban mom trying to raise godly, productive, well-adjusted children, the problem only seems to grow.  The message of tolerance and moral equivalency only seems to breed angrier, more-clever bullies.  It leaves a parent wondering if what schools are doing is actually making the problem worse rather than better.

Add to this concern the fact that those with special needs are far more likely to be victims of bullying, and you have a far larger dilemma.  Admittedly, all three of my children have been subjected to the targeted nastiness of others.  But the two who have special needs are far more vulnerable, deeply wounded and have a remarkably tougher time bouncing back than my typical child.  Challenges like trying to teach a child who already has troubles processing what appropriate social skills should look like make it more difficult to develop the habit of prompt reporting of problems to adults in charge.  And the wounded self-esteem that can often accompany a lifetime diagnosis in a child may also require additional work to build a child to a point where they are able to use techniques to resist or overcome bullying.

In light of all of this, what should this look like within our special needs ministry in the church?  The answer to that, in my humble opinion, is found in a great little anecdote.  My sister, the principal of a private grade school in California was recently asked by one of the parents, “What is your program for bullying?”  Her answer?  “The Gospel.”  In my estimation, this answer, although overly simplistic to some, is the answer we in the church should be focused upon.  We are uniquely positioned to get at children’s hearts rather than present a cookie cutter approach to dealing with mere symptoms of a larger sin problem.  Even in children with various cognitive and social abilities, we in the church have the blessed opportunity to help grow a child’s character, whereas most secular schools do not.

What are some Scriptures we can focus on in curriculum with these children?  Here are just a few to prime the pump:

  • A fool is quick-tempered, but a wise person stays calm when insulted.~ Proverbs 12:16, NLT
  • Gossip is no good!  It causes hard feelings and comes between friends. ~ Proverbs 16:28, CEV
  • Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.~ Proverbs 26:20, NIV
  • You can trust a friend who corrects you, but kisses from an enemy are nothing but lies. ~ Proverbs 27:6, CEV
  • “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” ~ Matthew 7:12, NLT
  • One of the teachers of the Law of Moses came up while Jesus and the Sadducees were arguing. When he heard Jesus give a good answer, he asked him, “What is the most important commandment?”  Jesus answered, “The most important one says: `People of Israel, you have only one Lord and God. You must love him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.’  The second most important commandment says: `Love others as much as you love yourself.’ No other commandment is more important than these.” ~ Mark 12:28-31, CEV
  • “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’  Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink?  And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You?  When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’  The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’” ~ Matthew 25:33-40, NASB

Now, to be certain, the same kids that bully at school also attend our churches, so we must be ever-vigilant in keeping our eyes open to it within our inclusion programs. But approaching it with the knowledge that “hurt people hurt people” can help soften our response and deal with it as Christ would have us on all sides.

I invite your responses and would love to hear what you are doing within your ministry to address this prominent social issue.

*For additional tools for dealing with the behavior of bullying see THE BIG BOOK OF PARENTING SOLUTIONS by Michele Borba, Ed.D.

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