As with anything else in culture, disability ministry can be prone to trends in best practices. Often those trends reflect what is going on in education or in therapeutic environments. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but can be a challenging prospect.
One such trend recently surfaced in our discussion groups. The participants were talking about school and inclusion. There have been great strides in recent years towards including children with unique needs in the typical classroom rather than segregating these kids in a special ed class. As one parent discussed frustrations with educators, another revealed the fact that her child actually does better in a dedicated special education classroom rather than a fully inclusive class.
At the risk of irritating colleagues (I seem to be gifted at that these days), I have long been frustrated that we seem to have the attitude in the church that our approach to disability ministry has to be either one way or another. The are ministries operating with tremendous effectiveness that have dedicated programs to serve those with a diff-ability or that have a unique special needs Sunday school. There are other ministries that are truly excellent at inclusion and training churches how to be effective in reaching those with a diagnosis without creating a new program or adding staff. Obviously, each believes their approach to be an important one or they wouldn’t be dedicating an entire ministry to using that approach.
I would challenge us all to think much broader. My personal belief is that ministry doesn’t have to be either or, but rather both and. Take for example typical church ministries. Within my own church, there are families who like the children’s ministry options, while there are others whose children prefer to attend church services right alongside their parents. We have an incredible youth ministry where many, many teens and young adults are involved. Yet, there are others who don’t find that appealing. If this is true of typical church ministries, wouldn’t it be equally true for disability ministries?
Whether we like it or not, one size does not fit all. What I believe this should mean to those of us leading is this: Continue to work passionately at the core competency God has called us to, but have an awareness that our way is not the only way. In the “sweet spot” of the organization I lead, this might look like continuing to relentlessly pursue service to, for and with parents, but realizing some parents may prefer a “whole family” approach or no special recognition at all. In realizing that there are different strokes for different folks, we as leaders may all come to a better place of supporting one another and the endeavors God has each of us pursuing.