We all know the benefits of students participating in a small group; this is why we press so hard for them to do so! Consider the joy you experience when “that” student moves from being a prankster who could care less about being there and is actually more of a distraction than a disciple, to being fully engaged in a small group. Or when that passive observer in the back of the room joins a small group and begins to truly experience Christian community with his/her peers. We all praise Jesus and are reminded that miracles still happen!
BUT, what about when the one that we don’t really know what to do with signs up to be in a small group—you know, Teddy. Teddy is the quirky kid with autism, or the kid that is in a wheelchair, or the kid that has the mind of a toddler but the body of a thirteen year old. Teddy is the one that we are a little afraid to fully embrace as ‘our’ youth (I’ve been there). No doubt, helping Teddy get connected can be challenging. There is however, a message that we need to get out.
According to the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 “those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor” vv. 22-23.
If students impacted by disability are missing from our groups (large or small), then an indispensable part of the body of Christ is missing, resulting in a disabled group. This perspective is quite the opposite of what one would expect, but by excluding those with disabilities from our typical programs, we are in fact disabling the body of Christ.
Sure, some changes may need to take place, whether architectural or even attitudinal, in order for these students to be included, but we must do whatever it takes to include them in every possible aspect of our ministries. By doing this, we will receive the blessings that are found by embracing Teddy (I’ve experienced this as well). Teddy’s God-given gifts will soon be recognized, and his group members will soon begin to embrace his presence. If your ministry does not have students with special needs in it, then take Jesus’ challenge to the Pharisees: go find them and invite them to the party (Luke 14:12-24)!
Do you have a student with special needs in your group? What are some ways you have successfully included them each week?