If every teen you ministered to were the same, life would be easy.  But, each person that walks in through the door is different.  They are different by things in and out of their control and when you can embrace what makes them unique it will lead to some dynamic and powerful ministry.

Chances are there is at least one family in your church with a child who has special needs.  It can be an intimidating situation to approach because it’s something you’ve never prepared for facing.  You are conflicted because you want people to know that you are loving and open; however, you also don’t want to disrupt the flow of how you do ministry.

I’ve been blessed to have ministers and a coworker with a special needs educational background who have shown and challenged me in creating capacity for special needs in ministry.  Three pieces of advice that they have shared with me is to:

Find People With Passion – You care for special needs teens just as you care for any teen that walks in through your door; however, there are people in your community who are passionate for them.  What you want to do is plug these adults into your ministry as small group leaders or mentors.  Have them bridge the gap and kill any stereotypes or suspicions that the teens or other adults might have.  Pick their brains and learn from them so that you can be more educated on the subject.

Be Inclusive – Certain special needs provide certain limits; however, that should not prevent you from inviting them to be a part of your ministry.  If they are high functioning you really won’t notice much of a difference.  If they do require assistance ask their parent or another minister to give them direct support.  Either way don’t close them out because it’s complicated, embrace the relationship and allow God to lead.

Communicate With Parents – Every parent (whether of special needs or not) wants their child to fit in.  When you talk to the parent of a special needs child, chances are they will want to work with you because they want what is best for their kid.  Allow them to give you wisdom on their situation and insight on how to handle other teens.  Learn what might trigger their teen to be more comfortable or distracted.  Get to know their individual child so that you know how to best serve and guide them.

How you minister to that child and their family will depend on what the need is, who the parents are and what resources you have available.  But, if you truly want to be a ministry for Christ you need to make sure it’s filled with God’s unconditional and accepting love.  It might be a challenge to have special needs in your ministry; however, it’ll only make you better.

How are you approaching special needs in your ministry?  If you aren’t why?

Chris Wesley is the Director of Student Ministry at Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD. You can read more about his ministry and life on his excellent blog Marathon Youth Ministry.