Archive for category Leadership
by Anjie Kokan
In my personal experience, nothing fills a leader’s cup like experiencing God’s grace in nature. Today, I am on the way to my annual retreat to do just that. Since I can’t bring you with me, I thought I would share this lovely poem by one of the amazing mothers we have the privilege of serving. God bless!
If there’s anything that has made me crazy over the years of leading a “disability” ministry, it has been hearing time and time again, “Oh, I would help, but I’m just so busy.” There’s no way to say this without seeming like a total jerk, so here goes. Find someone in this day and age who isn’t busy! Try to hold down the average responsibilities of a life with the added challenges of special needs piled on top of them! If anyone would have an excuse to opt out, it would be the person who is always at doctor or therapy appointments, the one whose hands, feet or voice may not work properly, or the one who faces serious financial difficulties. Yet, we all seem to find time for that which we deem a priority. The excuse-maker’s “I’m too busy,” comes across to me as, “Your mission is not important to me.” As I am crying out, “Lord of the harvest, send more workers,” these types of individuals are on yet another fluffy retreat, or at another relaxing party, or playing Candy Crush Saga online.
Whew! Now that my nasty rant is over with, let me share with you what it looks like as I watch those families who are suffering, yet still serve. Let me explain how God is using them powerfully as they make time for His priorities, rather than their own. Allow me to describe for you how their service actually is a blessing to them, rather than an increased burden:
- Suffering servants are on the cutting edge of current issues because they are in the thick of it. Nothing can match the intense relief that comes from one who is walking the same journey as you are. When people are willing to volunteer their time as they are going through intense situations in their own life, they know what current treatments are for different health issues, what the latest challenges are in the schools, how insurance companies are currently treating payment for given therapies, and so forth. While there is definitely great value to having some space between our time of deepest suffering and our service to those undergoing the same, the further we move away from it, the more we seem to forget what that suffering was like.
- Suffering servants find purpose in their pain by offering compassion to others. If there’s one question we all tend to ask when we suffer, it is the circular question “Why?”. As we reach out to another, despite our challenges, we discover the real-life, here-and-now truth of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (NIV) We are blessed to be a blessing to another.
- Suffering servants shrink their own problems by focusing on the troubles of another. We have all heard the phrase, “It could always be worse.” That truth becomes reality when we reach out to another person in trouble while we are in the midst of our own storms. While we can get a chip on our shoulder sometimes, thinking, “I wish I had it as easy as them!”, the truth remains that few of us would exchange our crises or trials for our neighbor’s. The size of our own troubles can suddenly diminish in size when we hold them up against the challenges of those who need our help.
- Suffering servants live out the Christ-life as an example to all those around them. When others see those who have a disability, illness or difficulty serving in spite of those things, they suddenly are without excuse. Not that the goal is to shame others, but rather to show them what practical, relentless, Christ-like love looks like. Our children learn the beauty of volunteerism when they watch us serve in spite of our own issues. Neighbors, fellow church members, friends and others around us are inspired by watching our simple acts of kindness. The ripple effect is quite transformational, especially in today’s self-absorbed culture.
Who wouldn’t want to be used by God in such ways! I am so very grateful to say that the majority of our ministry’s most effective volunteers are those who are undergoing all sorts of challenges. When we started this organization, I lived under the false impression that those were the ones that should only be served and not allowed to serve. Over a decade of transformation, I incrementally learned how erroneous that thinking can be. These volunteers inspire me, and are my encouragement to press on in faith every single day.
I spoke with my sister, a Catholic grade school principal in California, and a former assistant Archdiocese superintendent.
“Is this just something that evangelical churches are really bad at?”, I queried.
I was sharing with her the story of one of the families we serve who had a child hospitalized, yet again. This family had had contact with 3 people from their church, 2 of whom were on staff, as they rushed their daughter for another serious inpatient stay. Despite these key people knowing of their dilemma, no one from their congregation came to be with them in the hospital or pray with them. The family never made the church prayer chain or even received a card from their church home. The family was understandably upset, feeling abandoned in one of their darkest hours.
“No,” my sister assured me, “It’s NOT just an evangelical church problem. It really depends on the pastor. Some pastors are great at remembering to make hospital visits, and some avoid it at all costs. I worked with a pastor who saw the serious need, and was dedicated to making sure his parishioners were seen, but that came to a halt when he retired. His replacement, who worked side-by-side with him in the years he was there, was horrible. I often had to do visits or people would be neglected.”
We wrestled with why such an obvious, basic need of the local church would be so recklessly abandoned by Christian churches of every denomination. After all, Jesus made this one of his main ministries. Here is what we came up with:
- When a family has a member with a disability or special need, their hospitalization and medical crises are chronic. They face challenges over a long period of time. Pastors can develop “compassion fatigue” like any other human. In other words, every human, even those in typical ministry, can tire of dealing with another person’s endless health issues.
- People assume the hospital chaplain will handle ministering to the family. What local churches may not realize is that there has been a movement away from faith intimacy in hospital chaplains, instead emphasizing a “ministry of presence” with families. This is done so that a Christian chaplain can minister to a Muslim family or a Jewish rabbi can serve a Christian patient. While the “ministry of presence” is vitally important, these types of visits from strangers are not as faithfully intimate as those from our own church family.
- Sick people scare others, including pastors. People who don’t have the stomach for needles, blood or other bodily fluids, hospital smells, or even psychological institutions have an extremely hard time overcoming those aversions. They may never be able to handle such things. This amounts to rendering these particular individuals unavailable for meeting this critical need.
- Attempts at educating pastors in this area of service are rare and moving at a painfully slow rate. We, leading in special needs ministry, know of the great void in seminary training for pastoral care. Yet, there are simply not enough of us to ramp up or execute this part of these would-be church leaders’ education at this time. This leaves the void unfilled while the need continues to grow.
These are likely only a few of the main reasons this type of neglect occurs in the darkest hours of those living with disability or special needs. Nevertheless, with what we have identified here as obstacles, we can create an action plan to deal with this deficit in pastoral care. See if you might add to these suggestions:
- Put a recommended protocol in place for churches of every kind to replicate when a member is hospitalized. This should include having a pastoral care team, not just dumping the task on one pastor or staff member. It should also include the practice of having people contact the church office if they know of a member or attendee who is hospitalized. It should not be assumed that a family member has called, because they may likely be too taxed with dealing with the family member in need to make such a call. Training church members to merely ask, “Can I contact the church for you?”, can be such a tender act of kindness.
- Identify church members who have that gift of tenderness, empathy, caring and prayer, who might be willing to make such visits. A congregation should never stop recruiting or training in this area. The American Association of Christian Counselors is just one source for solid training of lay leaders in pastoral care. Many denominations also have their own training programs in place. These classes are something that should routinely be on the calendar of local congregations, so that pastoral care is never neglected, regardless of who is moving in or out of leadership.
- Teach pastors and staff to regularly ask families with a member who has special needs, “How are you all doing?” or “Is there anything we can be doing for you?”. This acknowledges the chronic struggle of dealing with disability, and renders a great sense of caring to those who are living with such challenges. While many pastors may not be inclined to ask such questions for fear that they may not be able to meet such needs, they should rest assured that it is not nearly as complicated or demanding as they might think.
- Pray. This work can seem futile if we rely on our own power to accomplish it. But when we pray, God works. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send more workers. Implore the Holy Spirit to soften hearts, open minds, and impart wisdom to local churches. Pray that no family would feel abandoned or walk away from the church because they were not ministered to in their time of greatest need. Cry out for a Body of Christ that would be motivated to face their fears head on, get dirty doing the difficult work that Jesus did, and make lasting change in His name.
What would you add to this list? Please add to this discussion, because families in need of pastoral care amidst a life of unique challenges are desperate for this to change. Their hope is hanging on evidence that Someone truly cares!
I tell people now, and I will til I’m dead, I am just a dumb, obedient servant of God. When the Lord tapped on my shoulder and called me to serve parents raising children with special needs a decade ago, I felt like more of a follower than a leader. But, I will maintain, I think He chose me so that He wouldn’t have a leader that would get in the way. In other words, I am a leader that is perpetually aware that I cannot direct, guide, develop, envision and inspire of my own ability, but only by God’s.
The past 10 years clinging to Christ, I have found my way as a leader by being a learner. There are 2 main ways this has been effective for me:
- The Listening Leader — My hope is that I always come across to others as a leader who listens. Since I know I have much to learn, I always want to hear and weigh the viewpoints of other people. That means that I listen to those who are on my teams doing the work, esteemed colleagues, and supportive outsiders who have something to contribute to our ministry. Because I am ready to hear what others have to share, I have quickly picked up critical information on how to locate grants, ascertained who the best local vendors are for events, discovered how to fashion and execute a vision, identified where our teams need shoring up, and determined what we are doing that is most impactful with the parents we serve. The high yield of listening in leadership cannot be overstated.
- The Discovering Leader — Like a ravenous child, I have devoured a wide variety of information on leadership over the years. Reading books and attending conferences are part of my repertoire. But daily beefing up of skills has been crucial to me as well, using videos, articles, and blogs to grow my skills. Eventually, I have discovered which resources I find most helpful, and have left by the wayside those that aren’t worth my time. Of note is the fact that while there are copious amounts of wonderful resources available on Christian leadership, there is little information by Christian thought leaders on special needs ministry leadership.
I am grateful that when God calls, He equips. Not having the organizational, planning, technical, seminary, medical, or management skills of many other special needs ministry leaders, my experience has proven to demonstrate that the Lord can still do the extraordinary with ordinary hearts who are willing.
Photo Image Courtesy of: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15-17, NKJV)
So be careful how you live. Live as men who are wise and not foolish. Make the best use of your time. These are sinful days. Do not be foolish. Understand what the Lord wants you to do. (Ephesians 5:15-17,NLV)
A couple of weeks back, our colleague, Dr. Steve Grcevich of Key Ministry, wrote an excellent, thought-provoking post on what he perceives to be “Ten priorities for the disability ministry movement…“. While many of his listed priorities focus on best practices and effective models, I find his fifth stated priority to be one that each and every person can improve upon right here and now. That step is best described as perfecting the art of sharing our own story to a point that will compel others to action.
What has quickened my heart to this priority is the latest horror we witness unfolding in the world. By now, most of us have seen the heart-wrenching photos and stories from the confirmed chemical attacks on the citizens of Syria. Given known statistics, we can safely assume that there were children with special needs who died in these assaults, never having had the opportunity to know Christ. That should break our hearts!
Turning back to our local areas of service, our hearts should be no less broken. Every day we can read dark stories in the news of those who are disabled being abused, neglected, dying in tragic bus accidents or losing the battle with their chronic illness. Churches continue to alienate families who don’t fit into their program norms. Our greatest priority should be recalibrating ourselves towards what our essential mission actually is — To make Christ known and facilitate relationship with Him in the disability community (including caregivers) as a whole. All of our other priorities can be summarized in that one mission.
Dr. Grcevich points out that many leaders in the special needs ministry arena are parents of children with some sort of diagnosis. I fall under that category. I often worry that people are sick of hearing our family’s story. Yet, Grcevich is correct in saying that those stories still need to be heard. Leaders like me can easily forget that, while we live 24/7 with the story of how connection to Christ is an essential component to our joy despite severe trials, others need to hear it again and again. Our stories encourage those who need Jesus and open the eyes of a church that doesn’t know what a huge mission field we represent.
While we struggle with best practices and trying to figure out how to get pastors on board with welcoming those who have any number of challenges into the church body, we must not let time slide by without making the most of every opportunity to tell our story to any who will listen. The world sits on the precipice of World War III. Life-saving health care remains a frightening uncertain for so many. And the world’s morals continue to circle the drain. Any chance we have to reach just one more person affected by special needs with the message of eternal hope in Jesus is one we best not slip by. The time is short indeed. Our noble goals do not present an either/or decision or strategy that must be necessarily executed in succession. While we wrestle with the answers, let us keep telling the stories critical to making Christ known to a desperate world.
Photo Image Courtesy of 123RF
I first introduced readers to the Special Needs and Disabilities Ministry Leaders Forum in November of 2012. At that time, I interviewed the group’s creator, Kelli Ra Anderson. She shared her motivation behind establishing this forum, “to sharpen one another just as we might at a conference or seminar when we have those opportunities to learn from those who’ve ‘been there, done that.’” .
Since that time, I would have to say that Kelli’s vision for mutual sharing and development has been more than fulfilled. Daily, the almost 300 nationwide members of this closed Facebook group share articles, discuss leadership difficulties, and spur one another on to greatness. There is debate, encouragement, resource-sharing and networking taking place that can’t be consistently found anywhere else.
I would urge you, if you are a regular reader of this blog, and you are serious about special needs ministry, then please submit a request on Facebook to join this group. It will make you a better leader and connect you to those on the cutting edge of this area of service.
Thank you, Kelli, for bring us together to dialogue, “As iron sharpens iron”.