Recently I had lunch with a sweet volunteer and mom, Lee, who has been volunteering in Little Village for over a decade. Her length of service is impressive but so is the fact that she’s always been with the same age group. I’m not sure if you’ve ever found yourself in a classroom of 3-year-olds at The Village, but it’s a mixed bag of potty training, defiance, humor, gospel talk and love…times 18.
For all its chaos, there’s no classroom Lee would rather be in and for very good reason: Lee’s son, Misha, though chronologically 14, is functionally 3. Misha is autistic. Lee’s commitment to serve 3-year-olds is motivated out of the gospel and a desire to keep up on the latest and greatest in toddler-dom. She is pouring herself out so that she can both serve our little ones and serve her son to the fullest.
Serving Children, Serving Parents
My original agenda for having lunch with Lee was to find out how we, as a church, could better serve children with special needs. After all, Lee’s family was our first at The Village to have a child with special needs. We have learned so much from them through the years, and I wanted to learn more. By the end of lunch, my agenda was satisfied—but in a much different way than I had anticipated. I imagined we would talk about curriculum, physical space, long-term dreams and the like. Instead, Lee offered a broader perspective: a chance to consider the needs of the parents.
Lee challenged me to think about how parents of children with special needs could be cared for in a way that allowed the family to thrive within the life of the church. As I listened to her heart and her own experience, my new question was, “How can we as a church better serve, disciple and minister to our parents of children with special needs?”
Make Corporate Worship Possible
We want to be a church that creates an environment for the gospel to be heard, whether in the worship center or in the classrooms of Little Village and Kids Village. For the family of children with special needs, simply attending a worship service can be difficult. Their considerations include: Is care provided or do I need to stay with my child? Do I have to call ahead for care? Is the church equipped to handle my child’s needs? Will my child be included or simply sent to a room with no other children?
For Lee, this is a challenge she remembers well. She used to sit in the cry room caring for Misha, while her husband attended service alone because there was no one to care for their son. The church they attended didn’t have the capacity to care for Misha, so Lee and her husband had no opportunity to worship together. The Village has the resources to help families like Lee’s participate in the corporate gathering. This is a blessing and a responsibility we cherish.
Support in Gospel-Centered Community
Home Groups are meant to be microcosms of the larger church body. As such, they should be anything but homogenous. Rather, they should teem with a variety of color, gender, age, life stage and need. They should provide ample opportunity to bear one another’s unique burdens. If you have a family in your group who has a child with special needs, rejoice! Shepherd them. Serve them. Love them. Consider them as better than yourselves. Make reasonable accommodations for them and others in your community.
Groups provide the ability to hold up one another’s arms when we are weak and tired. There is great beauty in diversity. For Lee, who needs to think 10-100 steps ahead of time, community is a gift. Lee’s Home Group gives encouragement and support to her family, and her family teaches the group about perseverance and the joy of parenting a child with special needs.
I love that on the Mission page of our website we note that gospel-centered community “takes time, prayer, effort, patience, love, trust and hope.” Oh, yes, it does. What a worthy endeavor.
Serve From Our Overflow
As a part of our mission, we also affirm that “gospel-centered service is the overflow of discipleship.” We must first be filled in order to overflow. Lee is fueled by worship and loved by community, so she serves out of the overflow. Consider how many families of children with special needs are running dry. They pour themselves out in unique ways as they advocate daily for their children. Their days are often long, while their rests are short. While there are beautifully unique joys in raising a child with special needs, it is also difficult.
If you could see Lee in her 3-year-old classroom, you would see poetry in motion. She sings, dances and interacts in a way that expresses love from the Father. She demonstrates a heart that is filled to overflowing. Meanwhile, while she pours out in service, Misha is down the hall being cared for by other members who are serving out of an overflow. As each serves, they are being filled up again.
So, then, as our times and places have been determined, let us interact with those in our body in intentional ways, particularly those caring for someone with special needs. At The Village, we want to strengthen and push forward our special needs ministry. We want to provide an environment where people of all needs can hear the gospel and be healthy church members.
Let us be people who are fueled by worship, involved in community, overflowing with service and living intentionally to multiply the gospel—for the glory of God. Let us be a church where every member of a special needs family finds acceptance, the ability to participate, the support of community and the gift of service from those who overflow with the joy of the gospel.