Growing up there were two great influences that shaped my life. The first was that my father was in the army, which meant we moved around quite a bit. Anyone who was raised in a military family knows about this experience. The second is that my father was also a pastor. Both of these factors shaped my life in profound ways because at a very early age I was taught to allow my life to be submitted to a purpose far greater than me.
As a pastor I am always excited when I get to personally witness people progress in their spiritual journey to being completely submitted to the mission of Christ and his church. It is an amazing feeling to know that God has the ability to lead us into a life of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment as we serve him and the local church.
Over the last few years, following my autism diagnosis, I have become even more aware and excited about all of the possibilities the local church provides for individuals and families impacted by disabilities of all types. Although I was not diagnosed until adulthood I am convinced that the love and care I received as a child from my local church served as a foundation for my future.
That is why as a pastor I understand the critical importance of acknowledging and encouraging those who have been called into special needs and disability ministry. They have answered that call to submit their lives toGod’s greater purpose for their lives and the lives of the families they serve.Their calling is equally as important as that of the pastor and they need and deserve our acknowledgment and encouragement.
Perhaps the Apostle Paul provides the best blueprint for acknowledging and encouraging the faithfulness of special needs ministry leaders.
“We always thank God for all of you and pray for you constantly. As we pray to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 NLT)
Pastors here are three reasons to be thankful for special needs ministry leaders in your congregation.
Special needs ministry leaders and volunteers are faithful to the work of the gospel. When Paul uses this phrase, he is not just speaking of their commitment to the work. Paul is largely speaking to their conviction about the work. He is praising the church because of their conviction about the truth of the gospel. For special needs ministry workers this means that they have a profoundly deep conviction that all people are created in the image ofGod and that it is the power of the holy spirit that does the deep saving and transformational work in the lives of all regardless of ability. Pastors this is the reason why so many special needs ministry leaders and volunteers have incredible passion. They are not just committed to the work and they are not just convicted about the work. They too are called to the gospel ministry and they are called to the disability community.
When Paul speaks of being thankful for the loving deeds of this church he is not simply speaking about acts of kindness. There is something distinct about the loving deeds in this passage. Paul is actually praising them for their willingness to put their physical bodies on the line in order to serve others. Special needs ministry leaders and volunteers also practice this precious truth. They place their whole lives in the hands of God to be used for this sacred task. I know this reality well because of the demands my own sensory processing issues place on my body as I serve in ministry each week, but this is also true of those who serve in special needs ministry. There is a tremendous demand placed on their spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical lives and they should be appreciated for the ability to perform loving deeds that require their complete and total investment.
Hope has a power that propels us all to do the greater works that Jesus promised we could do so when Paul speaks of hope he is attaching it to action and not just wishful thinking. Enduring hope is a hope that has been tested and proven to be strong. Special needs ministry leaders and volunteers display this type of hope. They have been given a gift to see God’s greatest potential for all of his children. They have a hope that is tested and strong and serves as a foundation for the faith they have to continue creating inclusive environments in the local church.