Ministering to Families with Special Needs Children

At the recent Florida roundtable discussions during the Florida Region Prayer Conference, Dr. John Sweet with the Heart of Florida Youth Ranch, was asked by Church of God Florida Administrative Bishop Keith Ivester to pray for families during the days of the virtual prayer meeting. The following is his testimony of the event.

As I waited my turn to pray, I heard Doug Small ask Executive Committee member Bishop Tommy Propes and his wife, Laquita, to pray for families with special needs children. I was touched deeply by Bro. Propes prayer and then Sister Propes prayed as only a mother can pray. I found myself on my knees agreeing with the several prayers prayed for these dear families that night. One phrase stood out, “I pray for the families that have had to endure ‘the look.”

Bishop Ivester, had asked me to lead a round table discussion on the subject of ministering to families with special needs children at five different locations as the Prayer Conference convened for five weeks at five different locations: Pensacola, Jacksonville, Plant City, Port St. Lucie and Miami. Pastors and ministry leaders from across the state came together to wrestle with the challenges of how our churches can effectively care for these hurting families.

One family with a child diagnosed with ADHD stated regarding church attendance, “People in the church feel they can judge when disability ends and bad parenting begins.” The families of children with emotional and/or behavioral problems often simply stop going to church. One pastor related how a single mother visited his church with her two boys. The boys had behavioral issues and soon the young mother and boys were gone. I wonder if it was “the look” that caused them to feel uncomfortable. Pastors sat in small groups challenged to respond to the question, “How can my church effectively minister to families of special needs children?

Below is a compilation of the ideas presented as we continue to look for ways to touch the hurting families in our community:

• Educate and equip leadership and ministry workers in the church to the needs of these families. Church workers often fail to respond or respond inappropriately because they misunderstand or are not aware of these children’s behavioral issues.

• Ministry leaders should become aware that many children may not fit well in a group environment initially. How can ministry leaders come up with creative ways to disciple these children?

• The church can reach out to the family by embracing the family and child through mentoring and support relationships. Possibly having a mentor be trained to shadow the child during children or youth events. Or, by designating a worker to assist the family while at church.

• Churches can train children and youth workers to assist families in the event of a behavior episode. Debrief with family after a behavior episode to reassure them of your commitment to them.

• Churches can provide respite nights for families by providing care for their child to enable them a time of relief.

• Reach out to these families by hosting community events that support families with special needs children, such as parent training, ADHD and Autism spectrum Disorder.

• Churches can work together within the community to serve these families. If a church is not equipped to handle the particular needs of a family, the pastor or mentor can work with the family to find a church in the area that can help.

• Advertise your ministry to these families on website and other media.

We have only begun to scratch the surface of this ministry opportunity and It was clear that these families represent a sizeable population in our communities. Ministering to these families requires a commitment from the church in preparing to receive and minister to them. The following is a link to the original paper that was presented at the roundtable discussions that is on the Heart of Florida Youth Ranch blog ( I invite those interested to continue the dialogue.

(Source: Serving Orphans Worldwide)

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