Posted in PURE Ministry

Inviting Them to the Conversation

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I’ve been having the same conversation with parent after parent for ten long years now. Since my son’s diagnosis and the inauguration of my journey as minister to children with special needs, this paralyzing question has been sent to me via email, whispered through tears, and even shouted in anger by many terrified parents. They all want to know the same thing:

Will my child ever really understand the gospel message?

Can they ever grasp the love of God?

Is it possible that they could ever know Jesus?

At some point during their pregnancy, and perhaps even their child’s infancy, these questions may not have frightened them so much. But then the day came when they realized that their child wouldn’t be learning the way others would learn. It doesn’t Accessible-Gospel_webtake long for Christian families to come to the place where they want to access their child’s capacity to learn, know and understand the greatest story ever told – the Gospel message. In her new book, Accessible Gospel, Inclusive Worship, a new resource from Barbara J. Newman and CLC Network answers this question unequivocally with a resounding “Yes!” While her credentials give her a voice to speak to any number of topics from specific disability interventions (such as Autism or Down Syndrome) to classroom strategies for general behavior management, she says this topic is “the reason for every other topic on my speaking list.” The underlying assumption of this book is that everything is about making it possible for people to connect with Christ – regardless of their ability or disability. Newman walks readers step-by-step through a process that begins with finding common ground with every learner. From this point, she explains the importance of identifying how a person takes in information in order to most clearly communicate the gospel message to them personally. Filled with examples of real life stories from Newman’s ministry experiences, the pages come to life as the message the gospel is told over and over again in many different ways. Perhaps one of the greatest contributions Accessible Gospel, Inclusive Worship makes is its re-framing of our concept of worship as a whole. Newman makes the point that creating an accessible worship environment is about so much more than wheelchair ramps and bathrooms that are handicap accessible. Newman writes Most of our worship settings can be described as a conversation. While some of them are corporate and others are individual, we enter into a place where we speak to God and allow God to speak to our lives. For some individuals with disabilities, the tools we use as part of that conversation might be a bit different from some of the traditional tools. For example, if we use only spoken words set to music for the part of the conversation that says “I love you, God,” then we have left someone out who has no spoken words. How can we make that part of our conversation with God inclusive each worshiper? Using the concept of Vertical Habits, developed by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Newman goes on to examine worship as expressions by which we tell God “I love you,” “I’m sorry,” and “I’m listening,” just to name a few. By reframing worship in this light, Newman is able to invite people of all abilities into a conversation with the God who made them in his image. Inclusive worship affects so much more than just the person with different abilities. This person is usually attached to a family or caregivers who are also thirsty for an opportunity to worship. Accessible Gospel, Inclusive Worship gives churches the tools to  invite everyone to worship. Hear me interview Barbara J. Newman on Shaping Special Hearts here. welcome everyone into the house of God. Barbara Newman given us the tools to invite everyone to worship.

Posted in Uncategorized

Ways to Make Your Church Inclusive on Easter

Special event Sundays, as a children’s minister, were always the most daunting. It was a steeple chase of greeting visitors, gathering extra supplies, resourcing volunteers, and (let’s not forget) sharing the Good News. But for me, what I dreaded the most was knowing that Noah would be completely overwhelmed by the entire project. And, completely selfishly, if there was a kid in the building that I wanted to be touched by the message it was my own.

But new clothes for special occasions are itchy. More visitors mean more noise and chaos. Special events mean special programming and a deviation from the “normal schedule.” At Easter there were beautiful lilies that lined the walls of our sanctuary but you could smell them on our hallway and it drove Noah insane. Then the whole lesson was about death (which was scary) and resurrection (which was so abstract). The entire day was a nightmare. I remember planting my forehead on my keyboard and sighing, “he is risen…this is good” over and over again.

Even if you “don’t have special needs kids,” consider reading this great information from Barb Newman and CLC Network. Implementing these ideas is simple and will enhance the worship service for most visitors and all typical children. And then, just in case you encounter a PURE family this Resurrection Sunday you’ll be ready.

Ways to Make Your Church Inclusive on Easter.