As Christians, we believe every single child is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and has unique value simply because of his status as an image-bearer. Every single child is a gift from God, fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), and loved by him.
We also know Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me" (Matthew 19:14). He invited all children he created in his image—including those with disabilities—to come to him. Our Sunday schools need to mirror this, as so many already do, by continuing welcoming all children into children’s classes and sharing the gospel with each one. As much as possible, we need to make sure we include children with disabilities in the class with other typically developing children.
All we need is to have a heart that is as willing to minister to all children.
How can we be more equipped to do this? We don’t need to have an official “disability ministry” for those with disabilities (or families with children with disabilities) to feel welcome. All we need is to have a heart that is as willing to minister to all children.
Most importantly, we need to ensure our thinking matches God’s Word. Here’s the biblical view of children with disabilities:
- Every person is his image-bearer and indispensable to his body.
- Jesus engaged with those with disabilities—the blind, the lame, the deaf. He noticed them. He spent time with them. He neither just passed them by nor viewed them as interruptions to his work. They were his work as he ministered to people and shared his good news with them.
- Everybody should be included in our ministry of the gospel: “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:14).
With that in mind, let’s increasingly make our churches havens for everybody, including young people who have disabilities and their families. Here are some practical ways to practice hospitality to those we’ve been called to serve:
- Start with a friendly greeting; “Welcome! We’re so glad to have you here with us today! Thanks for coming!”
- Be prepared becoming familiar with the major categories of disability. This allows a parent to say, “My child has cognitive disabilities and problems with fine motor skills,” and you know what that means.
- Describe what you plan to do in the class to the parent(s) and ask if that will work for their child. This gives them the opportunity to alert you to anything that may need to be modified or avoided for their child (loud music, thin drawing utensils, etc.).
- Recruit volunteers who are willing to attend to just one child. A child with a disability may benefit from a dedicated volunteer who stays with the child, helping them if they need help. My church has a “buddies” program for children who may have disabilities, sensory issues, or may even just be shy and hesitant to attend Sunday school. These “buddies” are dedicated to an individual child and if he is overwhelmed, the buddy can remove the child from the classroom to a quiet area in view of other adults until the child is ready to join the other children again.
- Ask! If you are having difficulty with a child with disabilities, ask the parents how you can better meet that child’s needs. Say, “We love having him in our class; what do we need to know about him to better meet his needs?”
- Look around. Make sure the main areas of your church are accessible. Provide accessible parking near the entrance. Provide a variety of accommodations so every child feels welcome (i.e., crayons and washable markers, various types of scissors, etc.).
Ask them about their child, learn the child’s likes, dislikes, and abilities, just as you would any other child.
- Get to know them. Parents love talking about their children, and that’s no different for parents with a child with disabilities. Ask them about their child, learn the child’s likes, dislikes, and abilities, just as you would any other child.
- For children with physical disabilities, be willing to ask if they would like assistance before providing it. If they would like your help, ask for specific instructions.
- Be a learner. Your job is not to critique, judge, or advise (unless it’s asked for). You are to love the child and come alongside and help.
- Be flexible. All children learn in different ways (auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and tactile). Provide a variety of ways for children to learn so everyone benefits. Look at how you can modify the curriculum in order to better meet the intellectual abilities of those in your class.
The body of Christ should be known for love and service to all who bear God’s image. But this will likely not happen by accident. We need to be purposeful about making our churches welcoming and ready to serve everyone God graciously brings through our doors.
Discover more about serving those with disabilities at KeyMinistry.org.