One night I got a call from one of our staff members. He said a man who was serving on the drama team that night wanted to meet with me. I went down to meet with the gentleman, and when I saw him, I hoped I hadn’t done anything wrong because he was huge. At six feet, four inches or so, he had the shoulders of an NFL lineman and eyes staring right at me as I came down the hallway.
As he looked down at me with a serious look on his face, all of a sudden his eyes began to get glassy and water up. He said, “Are you Pastor Craig?”
I said, “Yes, Sir.” (That’s what you say to guys who can crumple you like an aluminum can.)
“I’ve been wanting to meet you,” he said. I thought, Okay, he’s still talking calmly and hasn’t tried to kill me yet so things are looking up.
Then a tear began to stream down his face as this gentle giant shared a story deep from his soul. He said, “I’ve been wanting to meet you because I wanted to thank you.”
“Thank me for what?” I asked.
“I wanted to thank you for the Champions Club you have here for special needs at the church.”
He explained that his son is autistic and that their family had attended another church for many years. A few years earlier they were told that their son would not be able to come anymore. The man told them if his son could not come then he and his wife could not come either. For a year and a half they hadn’t been going to church until they heard someone tell them about Lakewood. They heard there was a place at Lakewood where any child was accepted, no matter what their special need. Their son is lower functioning and non-verbal, so when they heard this, they were amazed. When they brought him, everyone was loving and accepting and made their son and family feel welcomed. The boy has been going to the Champions Club, and the parents get to come to church and sit in a service for the first time in years.
“I just wanted to thank you,” the man said, “because tonight I will be volunteering for the first time in years here at the church on the drama team. I just wanted to shake your hand and say thank you to you and Pastor Joel for starting the Champions Club for special needs.”
By the end of the conversation, we were both crying. This story is not uncommon. Probably one of the biggest tragedies of the church is that many have forgotten those with special needs. If the average church in America is 100 people, I would estimate fewer than five percent of churches in the U.S. have any type of program for special needs. I think I’m being generous with that figure. It could be far fewer.
I recently spoke with an author friend of mine who was doing research on her book. She said that she surveyed more than 25 families with special needs and asked them what was their most painful experience as a special needs family. Fifty percent of them said that painful experience happened in the church. It’s hard enough when families with special needs struggle with medical and developmental issues. But when they are not able to be in a supportive spiritual environment, I can see how anyone facing those types of challenges can feel like a victim of their circumstances.
We as parents can change that. We can't let the stigma of ignorance prevail in America and the world when it comes to those with special needs. When we are rejected we can't let it victimize us. We have to fight through it. No matter how many times you have been told no, there are now organizations like Key Ministry, Joni & Freinds, Champions Clubs and many more who are helping to launch programs in churches for special needs and bringing awareness to shine a light on the church to start reaching those with special needs.
You may say, "I've been hurt and told no too many times. I don't want to be told no again and it's so hard just to get there any way." I understand and can definitely identify with where you are coming from but this is what the enemy wants you to do. He wants you to become victimized feeling there is no hope and especially from the church. You may have had a lot of no's in your past but let's believe this year your YES is coming. 2 Corinthians 1:20 says, For all of God's promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding "Yes!" And through Christ, our "Amen" ascends to God for his glory.
There is hope! More churches are launching programs every month and the wall is starting to see cracks. We have a long way to go but we need every parent to keep going. Key Ministry can help find a place hopefully near you and let me encourage you to reach out to these different organizations I've listed if you are already going to church and want to get something started. Championsclub.org would love to help with a program and curriculum to get something started in your church, home, and community.
If we don't show up pastors are going to think there is no need. Yet, we know the need is huge, growing and there are special needs families around every church in the country. If we will be bold to start going back to church and letting the church visually see the need then letting the church know there are orginizations that would love to help the church meet the need we can see the crack in the wall get bigger and bigger until one day the walls begin to fall down. We can't do it alone but we can do it together. I'm believing as we step out in faith God is going to reverse all the times you've heard no and give you the yes!!! Can I get yes and amen?!