Archives for the month of: April, 2018

“Thank you for taking a moment to talk with me” the mom said over the phone. On a busy Monday, packed with meetings, I was lucky to sandwhich in a few minutes for phone calls before the day ended. But something in this mom’s voice caught my attention. I grabbed my pen and paper in case she was about to bring up a problem, need or complaint. To my surprise, she said, “I just wanted to thank your team for the service for my kids this past Sunday.” “Um, you bet, you’re welcome!” I managed. “We are always striving to make our services connect with kids and have an impact.” After a moment of silence, the mother continued, “Well, you see, Pastor Trisha, my husband Neil is the worship pastor at _____________ church downtown. Actually, I am a licensed worship pastor myself. My husband and I used to lead worship together there. And I miss it so much.”

I waited with baited breath for her to tell me she quit ministry due to conflict issues or leadership struggles. But instead she said this:

“We couldn’t wait to start a family. But our boys, who were born a year apart, are both autistic- and pretty severe on the spectrum. We soon began to feel unwelcome at church. I could no longer serve because I had to take care of the boys. And then came the day that the children’s ministry could not accept them, and they made noises in service. I loved our church, and had spent all my time there.  I lived for those services. But now, I have not been in a church service for over 3 years, because I have to stay home with the boys. We are pariahs. Cast out of God’s house and it has been so hard (she started crying here). But last Sunday, I decided to try out one of your site churches that meets in a school.  I thought that might be smaller/easier to quickly leave if things got bad. I called ahead, and explained the whole situation to one of your staff, and she told me to come on ahead. (Inside I was doing a dance because I knew that staff member has a huge heart for kid’s with special needs). I was terrified that this would be a disaster, so I sat just outside the door for the entire service. But your team never called me once! They didn’t make a big deal when the boys made noises and even tried to include them in what was going on! I just sat in my car after the service, put my head on the steering wheel and wept. Even though I didn’t get to be in worship or hear the sermon, it felt SO GOOD just to be in church on a Sunday. And to not be treated like a burden or a freak or a failure. (I had tears running down my own face at this point).  I just wanted to say thank you.  And I want to give it another go this Sunday.  And whether or not it works out or not, I am grateful that at least your team is trying.” You know how your perspective can change in just 5 minutes? That team deserved a lot of credit that week for ministering like Jesus and showing grace……

But I realize that this is a hot button topic right now. Autism is on the rise like never before. It used to be a rare thing for a church to have a special needs child in their services. Part of this was partially due to the shame, stigma and “hiding” that has traditionally come with special needs- either physical or mental. And unfortunately, these terrible views of disability have taken hold, have dug a root into our churches. These days there are so many children in our ministries with special needs- down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, deafness, autism (all across the spectrum), ADHD, children from abuse and neglect situations (they have special needs too!!) and many many more. What’s worse, there is so much fear associated with disabilities. All this guilt, as if someone must have done something wrong, or not had enough faith, or as if certain challenges were “contagious” from close contact. I think that one of the deepest fears is of making a mistake, doing something wrong, or of inadvertedly “not ministering correctly” to a child with special needs. The needs can seem overwhelming. But gone are the days that we can ignore special needs family ministries- you already have several in your ministry, and in your church RIGHT NOW. And perhaps even more importantly, how many families of children with special needs are NOT in your ministry, because they do not feel welcome at a church? That question tears me up inside.

So what do you do if you and your church are considering ways to better include kids and families with special needs into your ministry? Need some ideas on how to better address the issues you are already having with integrating kids with special needs into your existing ministries? You already have conquered the first and most important step: you are open to, and are trying to INCLUDE these families, and you CARE about them- you want them to be ministered to effectively.

As a parent of a child with Asperger’s, and 16 year staff children’s pastor (600 kids), here are a few tips I have learned over the years to help you get started ministering to children and families with special needs:

1. Start small, but do START. If you stay afraid you will never step out. Make up your mind to take steps, even small ones, to reach out to families of children with special needs.

2. Set REALISTIC expectations. If you build it they will come. The need is so great, and so many families of special needs kids are looking for a place to go to church. I would highly suggest you let word of mouth do all your advertising at first. Be careful to manage those expectations and do not promise what you cannot deliver.  A good idea would be to say, “we are just starting to reach out to families of special needs kids. We are in the process of expanding what we can offer. We are looking for people with experience in working with special needs teaching/ministry to work with us.” Remember, “Promise low, Deliver high”.  It is always better to exceed expectations.

3. Sensory Room- We created a “sensory room” for kids with severe needs (autism etc.) who need a “break”. The schools gave us the sensory room items we needed. We know that all kids have good days and bad days. So we have the sensory room option open for tough days. Some kids who are sensitive to flashing lights or lots of worship noise may need some quieter time, and for us the sensory room has been helpful.

4. Special needs ministry non-integrated. We have been sooooo blessed with two older ladies, both of whom have raised autistic sons- they do our class for children with severe special needs, children who the parents do not want integrated. We work closely with parents to decide what works. Most kids with special need are integrated. But this is about what works best for the individual child and their family. And some kids do better in a designated class. But this has to be taught by loving people who have EXPERIENCE working with special needs kids.  You may not have this right away, but it may be something you want to work toward.

5. I still say, do not give out any medications or provide any medical treatments. This is a liability issue and still must be the sole responsibility of the parent. I do not make exceptions to this one. You MUST have a way to contact that parent at all times, even if you try not to use it unless you really need to.  But for safety reasons, do not accept any child in your ministry if you cannot quickly contact the parent (paging, cell, screen etc.), especially a child with special needs. It is true that a church is not equipped to do what a school can do. That doesn’t mean that we do not try to reach out and minister to these families. What is reasonable, AND full of grace in your ministry situation?

6. Case by case- no two children are alike, and no two children have exactly the same severity of special needs. Two children with autism can be so far apart on the autism spectrum that their plans may look nothing alike. Your first step is always to talk with the parents and try to understand the full situation and try to help them understand your set up. Don’t promise what you cannot deliver. Listen a LOT. I suggest writing down a plan for each child that you agree on with the parent. Evaluate it later to see how the ministry is going. Think of ideas for inclusion.

Coming up in part 2- How to effectively partner with parents of special needs kids and make them a part of the ministry, great leader training that works, ideas for inclusive special needs kid’s ministry and more.

What great tips do YOU have for reaching out to families with special needs? love and God bless- Trisha

Integrated special needs ministry

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Whether or not to celebrate Mother’s Day, and if so to what extent, has been the subject of more than one “intense” discussion for our staff in the past. People can have VERY strong feelings on the subject. Here was my standpoint in those staff meetings:

Yes. I still believe the church should acknowledge Mother’s Day. Yes. From the pulpit.

Now before anyone starts sending hate mail, just hear me out. My husband and I DID struggle with infertility. As a children’s pastor, it was MISERY to be in church every single year on Mother’s Day, handing out flowers to Mothers, when I so desperately just wanted to BE a Mother. Oh, and let’s not forget all the baby dedications, and nursery renovations, and children’s productions when the desire for a child of my own was so overwhelming I thought it was going to crush me/kill me. I am ashamed to say that when one family announced that “oh oops, I guess we are expecting number 8!” I went home and bawled my eyes out. More than once at Walmart, I would pass a 14 year old pregnant girl headed outside to smoke and want to claw her eyes out and rip out all her hair. Not my finest hour. But even during those difficult times I knew that being a Mom was a special full time job, a calling that I wanted in on.

Skip ahead several years, and our church had grown. a lot. And in a very large church, you have to take a lot of things into consideration when planning your services ahead. For awhile we decided to cut our tradition of the kids singing on Mother’s Day in our Sunday morning service, because non-Mother’s might be hurt by it. And we debated mentioning Mother’s day AT ALL because non-Mother’s might not come to church. This line of thinking spread into cutting most of our Father’s Day activities because a lot of children do not have fathers. And then our Veterans Day cards giveaway was on the chopping block because some of our soldiers did not come home (they were killed in the line of duty). Next came came cutting our children singing/performing near Christmas time, because some families do not have children and may feel left out, or they come from divorced homes and cannot participate. During all of this debate and planning on our staff, I was asked whether or not we should have special services at all or if we should mention things like Mother’s Day. After some prayer and thought this is what I said:

Yes. We need to mention the importance of mothers and fathers and family because God does and Scripture does. Not just on one or two days but throughout the year. Furthermore, our American culture does not highly value the role of “mother”. In fact, in an era when young women are encouraged almost EVERYWHERE they turn to be thin, beautiful, sensual, sexually appealing, young, immature and irresponsible- raising a child does not fit into that mind set at ALL. Young women are taught from the get go to be selfish, to focus on what THEY want, when THEY want it. Choosing to raise a child and put the child’s needs ahead of your own is considered old fashioned and ignorant and even a waste of your life. The “secular” world does not usually see a “stay at home mom” as a full time job, though it most certainly is!

I do not believe that our young ladies (or young men) are getting the tools they need to be parents, because the role of a parent is not valued in our society.

So if the role of a parent is not valued or encouraged in our self focused, self driven life style- then where can a parent be valued, encouraged and equipped? That should be, and is supposed to be in the church. God created the family and places a very high value on parents- including Mothers. Mothers are important to God. What they do is valued and blessed by Him. It is a good thing for the church to go counter culture on Mother’s Day and affirm and thank moms for following a calling laid out in Scripture.

Then, what should our approach be as a church, as a congregation- when some of your congregation are parents and some are not? When some are mothers and some are desperately trying and some are mothers who are grieving? And what about divorced families and families with only one parent and foster families and blended families?

One of our major problems as a body of Christ is our tendency to swing to extremes. We tend to swing violently to one end of the pendulum or the other. Either we have every Mom stand up in the church service with their flower bouquet while the band and the children sing, and every other woman gets nothing OR we skip the whole day for fear of offending anyone. Part of our Christian walk is learning to live together in love and balance. We can learn to lovingly thank and affirm our mothers without singling people out. We can remember that people in our congregations are suffering, waiting for a child or grieving the loss of one and be sensitive to that. At the same time, we can make a stand as to the value of God’s design for the family- and weave that into our programming and the way we “do church” year round. Can we do special day well, with balance, effectiveness and grace? Oh definitely. I don’t want to cut so much that we are not offending anyone, because we are saying nothing at all.

Should we acknowledge Mother’s Day from the pulpit? Yes. We should affirm God’s design and approval for motherhood, but with grace, compassion and balance. So go love that crazy messed up outta wack beautiful thing we call the church this Sunday (the Body of Christ) and Happy Mother’s Day. Love Trisha

Ephesians 4:13-15American Standard Version (ASV)

13 till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a fullgrown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
14 that we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error;
15 but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, even Christ;

Here is a pic of me, my mother Bonnie Stevens and my daughter. I love you Mom! Thank you for always pointing us to Jesus. Your prayers have carried us countless times. Love you!!

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In my experience, there is no one more at risk for a serious addiction that someone who sincerely believes, “It can never happen to me.” It is true that science has discovered a genetic link- a hereditary predisposition-to being an addict. However, in the right circumstances, or should I say the wrong circumstances?, anyone can become dependent on a substance or a behavior in their day to day life. What exactly is an “addiction”? Well, it is not just a “bad or annoying habit.”  The dictionary defines an addiction as:

The state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.”

In other words, an addiction is a habit or practice that you because so completely dependent on, that it begins to interfere with your everyday life, and you have a decreased ability to function without it. What comes to mind when we think of the stereotypical “addict” is an alcoholic, or someone who is dependent on an illegal drug such as cocaine, heroin etc. But it is possible to become addicted to many things: legal/prescription medications, pornography, sex, television, food, gambling, shopping and more. The word “addiction” actually comes from the Latin, meaning “to give over to” “to surrender to.” Addiction can start as something necessary for a time (prescription pain medications), but after too much time goes by, the brain and body literally change their chemistry, needing the drug just to “function.” Sometimes an addiction starts as a recreational or social pass time- television, smoking, shopping. In many cases, the individual is using the substance or the behavior as a “coping mechanism” in order to deal with emotional or physical pain, stress, loss or illness. The coping mechanism releases feel good endorphins and stress releasing dopamine to counteract pain, stress etc. This is what the body and brain are supposed to do to get us through a SHORT time of “fight or flight.” However, over time, the body releases less of these pleasant hormones or simply builds up a tolerance to them. Then the individual must drink more, smoke more, shop more etc. in order to get the same relief as they did before.  Addiction is a major problem in the United States today. According the the United States Attorney General, 1 in 7 Americans will become addicted to a substance some time in their lives.

As ministers, we deal with the terrible consequences of addiction all the time in our congregations- broken marriages, lost jobs, neglected children, destroyed lives…So how then could a pastor or strong Christian lay leader become addicted to something themselves?

I believe that pastors are at high risk for becoming addicts. They need to recognize that risk and guard against it. Pastors live in a relative state of high stress. We are at the side of those who are dying. We counsel families who are living through loss. We minister through tragedies. Our work weeks are never 9-5, and they certainly do not stop when we get home. We are the sounding board for those who are hurting and suffering. We are counselors at times (which can be dangerous). We see and hear people at their worst. Ministry is at times a “sedentary profession,” meaning that too many pastors do not get a lot of exercise. We do not often feel that we can be open with those around us about our stresses and fears, because we are “serving others.” Most pastors do NOT have many friends they can talk to outside of their congregation.  Too many leaders feel that they have failed it they go in to see a counselor. All of this together can be a recipe for disaster.

How many pastors pride themselves on never smoking or drinking, but they go for the “OK” addiction and binge eat-sometimes late at night or in secret? This often leads to diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease etc. etc.

How many leaders secretly spend too much money, running up way too much credit card debt in an attempt to ease stress? When they have a major financial crash, it can impact their credibility in handling the church’s finances.

The news has been full lately of pastors who have lost their ministries because of an affair, sex addiction or pornography addiction. This probably started as a coping mechanism to deal with stress and emotional pain.

A saw a pastor on the news just a few weeks ago, that was having to step down from a very large church/ministry that he had built due to an alcohol addiction that he can no longer hide. My heart breaks for him and for his congregation. He is a caring, effective pastor, but he admitted that his secret coping method for all the enormous stress had gotten out of control. Another pastor I know, almost lost their ministry due to a secret addiction to prescription pain medications after a terrible car accident.  And I suspect the problem is much deeper than we know, because pastors are reluctant to reach out for help until the landmine explodes publicly (which it eventually does). The devastated congregation is usually grieving and bewildered, thinking, “How could our pastor have secretly been so horrible?” But we need to remember that our pastors are human beings too who face incredible pain and stress.

Not all coping mechanisms are inherently “wrong.” The Apostle Paul said it best when he said, “I will not be brought under the power of anything.” 1 Corinthians 6:12.Below is a list possible ways to cope with the high stress of ministry, though this list is certainly NOT exhaustive.

Unacceptable Coping Methods- illegal drug use, pornography, adultery/fornication, violence, destroying things, threats, self harm, stealing, legal drug abuse, excessive spending etc.

Acceptable Coping Methods- (when not taken to extremes) exercise, talking to a friend, taking your days off weekly, taking your vacation days, having a weekly date night with your spouse, reading a great book, having a healthy hobby, listening to music, praying, going to a counselor (yes I mean it), going to a church service to be ministered to, gardening, journaling, eating WELL, sitting in the sun etc. etc.

If you feel that you are using ANY coping method to excess, or that you have lost or are at risk of losing control of your life to any substance or behavior, please please get yourself to a professional counselor NOW. Learn how to deal with your stress and pain now. Do not let this landmine explode, perhaps destroying you, your marriage, your family, and/or your ministry. Realize that any of us are at risk and learn to manage the stress of ministry in a HEALTHY way. It is not too late. God is a God of restoration, healing and hope- not just for everyone else, but for us too. For more information on addiction, seeking help and finding acceptable coping strategies, check out:

https://addictionresource.com/

https://www.asam.org/resources/public-resources/resource-links

https://www.addictionguide.com/resources/

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Can I let you all in on a little secret? I’ve been working on the launch of an all new project- a short, weekly  Youtube show all about ministry- kid’s ministry, youth ministry, family ministry etc. I am so excited at how it is developing! We’ll be talking about what’s working well NOW in kid’s ministry, what’s brand new, what’s on the horizon!

I’ll also be talking live with some amazing pastors, some who are “legends” in ministry and want to share their years of experience. We’ll also feature some newer leaders who are innovating in bold new ways.

I’ll be occasionally broadcasting live when I’m traveling across this nation, so you can see a variety of church facilities and get ideas from several areas of the country and styles of ministry.

Look for fun, impactful, encouraging, inspiring moments together every week. We’ll be covering crucial topics such as volunteer recruitment that works, safety and security, ministry and depression, amazing facilities on a budget and more. Better yet, you’ll have a chance to suggest topics, places and people that YOU WANT US TO talk to/about!!

But first, I need YOUR help. I am searching for the name of our new show! Here are some of our suggestions from leaders all over the nation. Which one is your favorite? Wanna write one in? Whoever’s suggestion wins will be receiving a free copy of my second book! So please take a sec and vote! We’ll make sure to announce and countdown when the show gets close to going live. I cannot wait for us to connect and create together soon! Thanks so much! Trisha

 

Possible Titles for my Kidmin/Fammin You Tube Channel? Which is Your Pick?
  1. Just Peachy
  2. The Peach Buzz
  3. Going Bananas with Peach
  4. The Peach Adventure
  5. Peachy Keen TV
  6. A Peach of my Mind
  7. Other-comment below!!

 

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