Leadership continues to be of the hot topics in the church today. Now more than ever before we are seeing books, seminars and coaching sessions revolving around leadership. My hope of writing this series of blog posts isn’t to bring anything new to the table; rather I want to share with you what in my opinion are four non-negotiable aspects of Christian leadership. Have you ever had to give so much it hurt? Did you give your time, your money, and your left kidney?

My most memorable sacrifice during ministry was to break down the barrier with a kid at camp. We had a student with some mobility issues who just refused to open up. They were angry about their disabilities and would not hear about anything that anyone had to say. Our camp had a huge zip-line that students would love to ride. I noticed that this student with the disabilities really wanted to go on the zip-line. After a long period of “encouraging” the student to actually do it despite their fear, I strapped the student to my back and carried them up a 50 foot tower and then set them up on a zip-line. The sacrifice wasn’t much but by giving up my break and carrying that student’s weight, I was able to help break down their defenses and they went on to engage in a lot of spiritual conversations with their counselor.

I’m sure it won’t take much convincing but Christian leaders need to lead by giving sacrificially. Obviously our greatest example is Christ himself. Two of the greatest examples from Jesus’ life are when we got down on his knees and washed his disciples dirty feet. Then he asked us to follow him when He said, “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13: 13-17) Clearly, if Christ tells us that if we should follow him by making a simple sacrifice such as humbling ourselves, we need to do so. The second example is the obvious example of his death. While we may never be called to lay down our own lives as leaders, we can expect to have to make sacrifices regularly for the cause we are directing people towards. Jesus makes it clear that we will need to deny ourselves daily. (Luke 9:23)

I think that if someone really wants to be an excellent leader they need to be willing to sacrifice for their cause.

Do you have any great stories of sacrificing for the people you lead?

Kyle Corbin has been serving youth as a volunteer or pastor for over 10 years. He is currently the youth pastor at the Bridge Church in North Vancouver B.C. You can follow his blog at: kylecorbin.blogspot.com or Twitter: @CorbinKyle

Over the past two years, I’ve had the honor of working with parents and practitioners who minister to children and adults with disabilities.  Time and time again, main themes emerge as potential roadblocks to working with those who require something a little different than your average presentation of the faith. Three themes follow, along with some wisdom I’ve gained along the way

Creating a Welcoming Environment
One common roadblock is a congregation or a class that doesn’t fully welcome an individual with special needs. Sadly, individuals or families may sometimes be turned away from attending services or classes or receiving sacraments. Here are a few tips that might help change minds and hearts so all of God’s children are welcomed in community:

  • Invite experts in the field of disability to speak to your audience about the importance of welcoming those with special needs. Invite speakers to emphasize that an individual with special needs does indeed have a spiritual life and should be invited to participate.
  • Help others use “people first” language in which words place the person before the disability, such as she has autism versus she is autistic. A simple Internet search can provide many positive examples.
  • Adapt spaces and seating arrangements so everyone can feel included.
  • Provide adaptive faith-related materials, such as The Adaptive First Eucharist Preparation Kit or The Adaptive Reconciliation Kit by Loyola Press.

Teaching to Strengths
Teaching individuals with disabilities requires us to look at each person uniquely, to identify his or her strengths, and to differentiate our approach. Try these ideas to help teach to a person’s strengths:

  • Talk with family members. Find out what works and what doesn’t in school and social settings. What motivates this person? What calms him or her? What causes anxiety or discomfort? What assistive materials might help this person?
  • Watch for feedback, facial, physical, or verbal. Being a careful observer can help you assess a person’s level of comfort or understanding.
  • Modify and adapt your approach. For example, if a person has a physical disability, consider presenting ideas visually or verbally. If a person has difficulty maintaining attention, make the learning hands-on and active.

Recognizing Signs of a Disability
Take some time to learn about the disabilities of those you serve. Pay attention to characteristics that might be misinterpreted as irreverence or inappropriate behavior. Chances are, these behaviors are signs of a disability. These characteristics are often signs of a disability that should be received with tolerance and compassion:

  • involuntary movements such as tics, tremors, or vocalizations
  • lack of eye contact
  • inability to give a verbal response or a confusion in providing a gestural response (such as shaking head no when the individual means yes)
  • difficulty swallowing
  • holding ears, pacing, or other gesture that signals sensory issues

So let’s remove the roadblocks and work together to help those with special needs experience the richness of a relationship with Jesus and with those who share their faith. We all have different abilities. We are all needed. We are all valued.

Joellyn Cicciarelli is a national workshop presenter and the director of curricula development at Loyola Press, who oversaw and helped develop the Adaptive First Eucharist Preparation Kit and the Adaptive Reconciliation Kit.



A few years ago, my wife Jennifer and I were asked to organize and lead a one-day children’s and youth ministry training for churches in our state that were part of our denomination. We invited a few speakers to lead different seminars throughout the day for both volunteers and staff members from local churches. My wife–who has a degree in human development and extensive experience working with kids and adults with developmental disabilities–led a seminar at the end of the day on how to minister to kids with special needs. During the break before that last seminar, a group from a church that had traveled a few hours for the training packed up to get a jump on their trip home. They explained that they didn’t need to attend the last seminar anyways, because they didn’t have any kids in their church who were developmentally disabled.

My wife handled the conversation very graciously, even though she can be quite passionate about caring for people with special needs. On the inside, however, she was thinking, maybe there’s a REASON you don’t have any kids with special needs! It’s very possible that a family may have visited their church, but left after one Sunday (or even before church was over!) because it was very clear that church would not be a good environment for their autistic or developmentally disabled child or teenager. In fact, it may be that a family has visited your church, but did not stay because they didn’t feel like it wouldn’t be a good place for their special needs teenager.

Not every church or youth ministry of any size is able to perfectly accommodate and minister to any special need teenager that walks through their doors. However, there are a few things every church can–and should–do to be ready to love and serve students with special needs. Here’s a quick list:

Be ready to serve. A teenager with special needs and her family will be able to tell right off the bat if your church and youth ministry is willing to serve them or not. While you and I both know that a teenager with special needs matters just as much to God as anyone else, most special needs kids are treated as an outcast in one or more areas of their lives. And what did Jesus do with people that the world mistreated? He loved them with open arms. You may not be a doctor or have a degree in human development, but anyone can serve by welcoming someone with open arms.

Educate yourself about different kinds of disabilities. Thankfully, my wife is a walking library of how to serve kids with autism, Down syndrome, and other special needs, and she answers a ton of my questions. Find a good book on the topic, or better yet, get to know a special education teacher in your church. You don’t have to be an expert, but a little understanding can help you be a better youth worker to kids with special needs.

Show a little grace to parents. Before they found their way to your church, chances are that the parents of a special needs teenager have had less-than-ideal experiences in how schools, churches, or other organizations have treated their son or daughter. So, if a parent has a few more questions than you’re used to, or if they seem to be checking up on you a lot, that’s okay. They’re just trying to make sure their son or daughter is being taken care of.

Help them know Jesus. If the Bible is to believed, then God wants every human being to be reconciled to him through a relationship with Jesus (1 Timothy 2:4). The last time I checked, an IQ test was not a biblical requirement for learning about Jesus. If you take the extra time to help someone who might have a developmental delay or cognitive disability to know Jesus, you’re being faithful as a youth worker. One of the highlights of career as a youth pastor has been baptizing a special needs student who was more excited than anyone I’ve ever known to be baptized.

Integrate them into the ministry wherever possible. The answer to helping a group of special needs teenagers is not to give them their own small group. Help them be a part of your family by actually making them a part of your family. Get them in a small group. Let them lead in some way. Pair them up with another student to help them have a great time during your large group gathering.

Be flexible. Be willing to go out of your way to help a special needs teenager attend a retreat or be a part of a small group. You might even need to make an exception to one of your rules. Parents of special needs kids are used to being told “no” when it comes to things their kids can do. Go out of your way to find a way to able to tell them “yes.”

Remember, you don’t have to be an expert on working with teenagers with special needs to be able to make your youth ministry a welcoming place for them. You just need to be willing to serve and go the extra mile.

Benjer McVeigh serves as a pastor to students at Washington Heights Church in Ogden, Utah. He resides in Ogden with his wife, Jennifer, and his two daughters, Bethany and Samantha. He blogs at www.BenjerMcVeigh.com.