The Importance of Small

Have you ever noticed how here in the United States we’re fascinated by everything big? Stores don’t just offer sales anymore; they’re COLOSSAL sales—GIGANTIC deals with HUGE savings. Sodas are sold in BIG GULP cups. Beanbag chairs are now called BIG JOE CHAIRS. We shop at BIG LOTS. (But then, who would want to go to a Little Lots store?) Boys dream of playing in the BIG LEAGUES.

Even in the church we get carried away with the concept of BIG. Ministries are prized for the breadth of their impact. Pastors seem to be ranked by the size of their congregations. Outreaches are rated by the numbers of people who come to Christ. Church vitality is measured by the number of baptisms and new converts. But is big always better—is this what God values?

Recently I was reading in the gospels, pondering Jesus’ ministry focus. In Luke 8, I was struck by how He purposefully left a thriving outreach to large crowds and crossed the Sea of Galilee to change the life of one—a demon-possessed man. Why leave a highly impactful ministry for one crazed person? Why choose the small over the big? It makes no sense until you look at the heart of God.

Jesus demonstrates in this story how God loves and values every single person. Everyone He’s created is made in His image and deemed worthy of receiving His provision of salvation. While sizeable numbers may matter to us, each heart is what matters to God. Jesus chose to abandon the bigger ministry we read about in Luke 8 to impact the life of just one man, which tells us that He values “small.”

One of the smallest ministries in our church—caring for those with special needs—is one of the nearest and dearest to my heart. We provide one-on-one buddies, who come alongside children with special abilities. In doing so, we also give their parents a much-needed break to find spiritual refreshment.

We don’t serve a lot of children, but what we do is impactful. As we lovingly care for each child, we are also blessing their parents, siblings, and the extended family. We are also sending a message that God loves and values each person, regardless of ability.

Some of our families have been unable to attend church for years due to their child’s health demands. But this small but faithful ministry is creating a safe place for these families to minister and be ministered to.

Some day in heaven I would love to hear the stories of the lives changed by the testimony of that former demoniac. My guess is that small ministries are not so small after all.

Getting and Keeping Volunteers

THE PERENNIAL PROBLEM AND A SURPRISING SOLUTION

I feel like I’ve read a million articles on the topic of “getting and keeping volunteers.” If you’re like me, working in a ministry that relies on a small army of volunteers, you’re probably interested in this topic, too.

I’m an analytical, task-driven person, so I’d love to give you a formula you can follow to guarantee you a steady stream of competent, enthusiastic volunteer ministry partners.

There’s so much great advice out there on creating a good culture, leading with vision, communicating gratitude and encouragement, and providing excellent equipping opportunities.

But I’ve learned that although strategies are great—relationships are more important. (That’s a hard pill to swallow, since so much of my job involves completing a ridiculous number of tasks.)
I also wish I could say that I arrived at this discovery quickly and have adopted it perfectly!

Reality is, this is a truth I’ve come to realize slowly. And I still have so much to learn. Here is some of the evidence I’ve seen to lead me to the conclusion about relationship importance:

• A college math major gave the most successful “ask” from the church stage for our kids’ ministry volunteers. He described how he hadn’t thought kids’ ministry would be for him, before turning to a section of the sanctuary where college students were sitting and challenged them to invest in kids.

• The volunteers who offer the most hours outside of Sunday and have served the longest are the ones I regularly check in on, take to coffee, and consider my friends.

• A mother and daughter were serving together, and the mother was concerned about her daughter’s resistance to church attendance and spiritual conversations. Much to her surprise and delight, her daughter asked her grandmother to serve with her the weeks she did. Now three generations of women are serving a future generation and are strengthening their relationships with one another.

• We hired a young man to our team who has invested in some neighborhood teens; without prompting, these youth signed up to serve in kids’ ministry.

• One of our volunteers now has almost everyone in her small-group Bible study working with her in our kids’ ministry.

It may seem obvious, but the common denominator in these examples is relationships.
When people say “yes” to serving kids and families, they aren’t just saying “yes” to the ministry, but to relationships with the others serving!
High school boys aren’t necessarily signing up because they’re passionate about serving kids, but because they love and respect a young man who is modeling that for them. Grandmas, mothers, and daughters are serving together as a means of bonding, but not because each of them is equally passionate about holding babies.

When I ask a stay-at-home mom to help me once a week in the office, she is saying “yes” to relationship with me more than to cutting out craft materials.

RELATIONSHIP VS. MINISTRY, OR RELATIONSHIP = MINISTRY?
But shouldn’t every volunteer be passionate about serving kids and families? Shouldn’t they do it simply because they have spiritual gifts that need to be put to work? I believe the answers to these questions relate to our relational God, who created us to be in relationship with Himself—and with others.

Genesis 1:1–2 and John 1:1 tell us how God has been in relationship from the beginning of time. In these passages we have a picture of perfect unity between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

When God creates Adam, He stated “It is not good for the man to be alone,” before creating a companion for him in Eve.

In the Garden, God is in perfect relationship with Adam and Eve; their rebellion is fractured that intimate communion.

But, in Exodus we see a God who decides to provide a way for Himself to tabernacle—or dwell—with His chosen people.

Then Jesus came to dwell—to tabernacle—with us and to give up His life to reconcile us to the Father. After His ascension, God promised reconciliation through the intimate presence of the Holy Spirit.

As much as our ministries are about the relationships to the kids we’re ministering to, they are also a ministry to those with whom we’re serving!

THE STRATEGY IS PRESENCE AND PROXIMITY
When we lead with relationships rather than tasks, we reflect our God who did everything to remove barriers to our relationship with Him. The most strategic thing we can do to staff our teams is to simply create spaces for relationships to flourish and be willing to enter into them sacrificially as well.

As Jesus is recorded as saying in Matthew 22:37–40: “‘. . . Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Everything we do—including, our work in ministry—is to be done in the context of love toward God and toward each other.

So, the soundest strategy for “getting and keeping volunteers” isn’t to create a flowchart of wonderfully organized tasks (as much joy as that may bring someone like me), but to build loving relationship with every opportunity we have. I’m praying that as we minister to children, we’re filled with the presence and love of the Holy Spirit to offer it to everyone around us!

Is this a theme in your ministry or sphere of influence as well? I’d love to hear stories of how relationships have impacted your life and ministry.

Appreciating Holland

I would like to share with you “Welcome to Holland,” an essay by Emily Perl Kingsley, the mother of a child with special needs.

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability—to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this . . .

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

“Holland?!” you [ask]. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a . . . place full of pestilence, famine, and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guidebooks. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around . . . and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills . . . and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy . . . and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away . . . because the loss of that dream is a very, very, significant loss.

But . . . if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things . . . about Holland.

c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved.

The past year-and-a-half, I have had the privilege of “appreciating Holland” on my journey as a personal care attendant. The individual I take care of is nonverbal. God has used her life to bring people in the community to Christ and bless families with a center for respite.

She has a great sense of humor, holds no grudges, and she is a woman of strength and perseverance. God is glorified through her, and I learn from her daily. When I earned my degree in special education, I knew that anything related to the field would be challenging, but I was quickly awakened to a reality I had never experienced.

The American Community Survey noted that in 2015 there were 39,996, 900 individuals—of all ages— reported to have a disability in the United States. Also, “. . . nearly 50% (46.6%) of parents with children that have special needs said they refrained from participating in a religious activity because their child was not included or welcomed.”

If churches are not equipped or willing to welcome and support families and individuals with disabilities, who will come alongside them to show them the love of Christ and point them to God? There is a need.

Please prayerfully join me in considering what each of us can do in our local churches to reach out and show God’s love. Appreciating Holland is not hard; let’s not miss what Holland has to offer!

References

Grcevich, Stephen. “What Are the Stats on Disability and the Church?” (Feb. 9,2016)
What are the stats on disability and church?

Kingsley, Emily. “Welcome to Holland.” (1987) http://www.our-kids.org/Archives/Holland.html
Accessed Nov. 16, 2017.

Erickson, W., Lee, C., and von Schrader, S. “2015 Disability Status Report: United
States.” Ithaca, NY: Yang-Tan Institute on Employment and Disability at the Cornell University ILR
School (YTI). http://www.disabilitystatistics.org/StatusReports/2015-PDF/2015-StatusReport_US.pdf

Hearts of Acceptance

Hearts of Acceptance

hearts of acceptance

When it comes to disability in the church, it’s really about having hearts of acceptance. It is estimated that 20% of Americans have disabilities. That is about 1 of every 5, but how many of our churches are an accurate representation of this ratio? Not many!

My family is impacted by disability. My husband is a senior pastor, and we have three girls, two with special needs. Naturally, many of the families we connect with also have children with disabilities, and we often end up talking about church and their past experiences.

When it comes to special needs families, sadly, a majority of them do not attend church. The reasons vary, but for many, they don’t feel like they belong. They have felt pushed away, or they don’t have the energy to even try it.

One question I often hear from church leaders is, “How can our church be inviting to families dealing with disability?” And I have good news!  It is not really about having a “disability ministry.” That’s great if your church is ready for that, but the most important thing is to have a church culture with hearts of acceptance.

So, how can you reach out to special needs families walking through your church doors?

Welcome them to church and ask about their family.

Hopefully, welcoming visitors is something you do at your church.  When it is obvious there is a child or adult with a disability, make sure you take some time to talk to the new family. I know the presence of a disability can be uncomfortable, especially if you don’t have any experience, but people turning away is what many special needs families experience.  Don’t let that happen at church!

Sit with them.

If a special needs parent has to walk out of the service because the environment is overwhelming for their child with special needs, go sit with them in the foyer. Really, just go sit with them or walk around the building with them. What I hear from special needs parents who leave church is, “I was sitting on my own in the foyer every Sunday.  I figured why bother if I’m going to be alone.”

Invite them to church activities.

Even if you think the family cannot attend the activity, an invitation goes a long way. And, you never know!  Some family members might still make it because they received a personal invitation.

Ask about their child.

Ask about the child’s needs. Ask about their life.  Ask about the joys and the hardships. Ask if there is anything you can do to make the church experience easier for the family, and if possible, make it happen!

Include the kids with disabilities in your Children’s Ministry.

I understand that some kids with disabilities can be a little more challenging, but keeping them away is not the solution. Be creative. Is there an adult that can volunteer to be with that child? Perhaps a teenager? Just think how much all the kids can learn from each other.

Pick up the phone.

If you notice that a family impacted by disability did not make it to church, give them a call. Tell them you missed seeing them. Send them a card. I often hear from special needs families that leave churches, “Nobody even noticed we stopped going.  Nobody called or sent a card.”

If a special needs family walks into a church building and they feel loved and accepted, it won’t matter if there is a “special needs ministry.”  What they need most is for the church to love and embrace their family. Let’s do this church!  Let’s love on every family walking through our doors.

Go to Disability Matters for more information on welcoming those with disabilities into your church community.