I often say that my son Joel, who has autism, has been the greatest spiritual teacher of my life. The lessons haven’t always been easy, and sometimes they’re not clear until later. But year after year after year, Holy Spirit knowledge pours forth from this young man and blesses all whose eyes and ears are open and receptive. And that includes his church.
No one wants to think of themselves or their family as dysfunctional. And the mental image associated with the term special needs most definitely does not fit. Special needs seems like a suit that was tailored for someone else. But there are no other health conditions for which there are such lengthy delays in diagnosis and treatment solely because of denial. Ditching the camouflage that covers your minimized mental illness might be the best wardrobe decision you ever make.
Keep listening to the voice of God as you ask: What gift has this person been given by God that might benefit those around them, and especially the Church? A person just being present is a gift to those around them. Who are we to judge who can and cannot have a relationship with God, or who can and cannot serve Him?
When I think about the scripture that exhorts Christ-followers to number our days correctly, I kind of get the meaning backwards. I think about things from a natural human perspective, when what I really need is God’s perspective. The verse isn’t so much about the volume of what I accomplish, but the quality and the purposefulness of what I do. It’s also what I let ministry do to change me. Without anyone reminding me, do I actually see the personal dignity of every person?
What do you think happens to a teenager when one of the main authority figures in his life lets him know in no uncertain terms, without words, that he doesn’t matter to your church environment? God offers us all incredible love and grace, but as His followers we have the responsibility to love others with both truth and grace, even when we don’t understand what we’re seeing.
I’ve been in ministry long enough to know that the prayers and time spent seeking God determine the outcome of ministry and special events. Everyone working in the space of special needs or mental health ministry needs to stay prayed up, in God’s Word, for guidance, wisdom, and protection. Make no mistake, the work of all special needs ministry, including ministry to and with people whose disability is revealed in behavior, is very much intertwined with the battle over whose life holds value. Anyone working in this space is on the front line of the battle between darkness and light.
When my cat died, chewy.com showed great care and concern for my loss, even beyond the principles of the Golden Rule. Chewy went all the way to the Platinum Rule. And the Platinum Rule is how churches can make mental health ministry happen and be successful.
Janet Parshall issued a powerful call to the church to minister more effectively to persons with mental illness in this keynote presentation from Inclusion Fusion Live 2019, a national disability ministry conference hosted by Key Ministry. She identifies key biblical figures who experienced symptoms of mental illness, challenges church leaders to end their stigmatization of persons with mental health issues and pastors to begin addressing the topic in the course of their preaching.