Mistakes I’ve Made – Part 2

My first article about a mistake I made was so popular, I will share with you more of my imperfections (which I had planned to do anyway).  Again, my prayer is that you learn from mistakes I made (as I have) and avoid the in the future.

Good communication is vital! A few years ago, as we planned for our closing program, I was approached by the Sparks Director (who was a fairly new director) who wanted to have a fellowship for the Sparks and their families after the awards program, or so I thought. We had let the Cubbies leave after they received their awards for a few years so they wouldn’t get “antsy” in the pews. When the Sparks Director asked me, I said sure, thinking that he meant after the entire Awards night activities. Well, I was mistaken. After the Sparks were presented their end of the year awards, he proceeded to lead them out to a fellowship hall for a time of fellowship taking a large portion of the audience with them. Consequently, they missed seeing the older kids getting their awards and the PowerPoint presentation I had developed showing the need for children’s mnistry and thinking all who serve in it. It was pretty powerful if I do say so myself (others did as well).

When I had a fellowship for the Awana leadership later the next week and replayed that presentation, the Sparks director said, “WOW!, we probably should have stayed in the service to see that” (paraphrased).

So while not a “major” mistake, because of a lack of communication, this occured and several missed the message and impact of the presentation.

Some may call it “micro-managing” (I dislike that term), it is important to understand and know what others are saying and doing so the Awana ministry & its leadership is on the “same page”, working in unison to reach kids and their families.

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Success & Failure with a Special Needs Child

This is an example of working with a special needs child and how communication is key for the success of reaching the child and the family.

Several years ago, a young boy who we’ll call “J” came to our church and Awana Club. “J” is on the autism scale and though he is what I would call “highly functional”, there are nuances and things that will set him “off”.

He would not always participate in gametime and we sometimes allowed him to “play” off on the side. As we noticed that he was picking and choosing what games he wanted to play, we began to not allow him to play some games and not others. His mother wanted him to participate in all areas of Awana, and so by doing this, we were working with and supporting her goals.

“J” did well in Awana and then one year, he had a TSS (Therapeutic Support Staff) helping him during Awana. I knew the person would be there, but I never knew her role and how to interact with her as she did her job working with “J”. Consequently, “J” began to regress because I, and the leaders, no longer interacted with him as we normally would and yielded that to the TSS. The TSS also had no knowledge of Awana, or how we normally interacted with him.

After a few weeks, a month or so, my wife and I invited the mom to lunch to talk about her son and how we could better minister to him and what the role of the TSS was and how we should be interacting with her. It was a good lunch meeting and the TSS stopped assisting shortly thereafter. “J” would have trouble sitting still during council time (large group time) and so we provided a coloring sheet for a few weeks until he re-adjusted to the night.

Being detail oriented, “J” was used to how the typical night ran and so any deviation (especially backwards night) would be difficult for him, which we experienced at times. I learned to let the mom know ahead of time if there would be any variation to the night so that she could prepare “J” ahead of time to make the night go smoother for him and for the Awana leaders.

TIP: You can post a schedule of the night on a board at the entrance for all to see each Awana club night. The child will get used to looking at the board for potential changes to the night. Place a star or something indicating what will be different. This way, even “changes” become “normal” for the child.

By letting the parent know that we cared about their child and seeking their input, we were able to open up lines of communication to work together to better minister to the child. “Buzz words” that the parent used to teach “J” we began to use, like “space” (he had his personal space, etc) . If we did something to try to help “J” learn a verse, we shared what we did before they went home so the mom could continue that style to keep consistency.

“J” has since moved away, but there will always be a special bond between us. I’ll keep in touch, pray for him and see him when able.

With good communication with the parent, things may not have always been perfect, but they went a lot better than when we did not communicate. So if you’re not sure how, or are struggling, reaching a child with special needs, invite the parent out to lunch or dinner, then ask, “How can I better minister to your child?” and then most importantly, listen and open the lines of communication.

Awana and Special Needs

As the Awana year begins, you may find yourself faced with a child who has special needs. The statistics are that you will probably, at some point in time, have a child with a special need.

Special needs come in many forms, and there is no one way to run a program with a special needs child, bu there are some very basic things you can do. I’d like to say that I am an expert, but I am not. I am simply an Awana Commander and children’s pastor who has experienced children with special needs in my many years of ministry. I have had successes and failures in ministering to children with special needs. The successes are great, the failures still “haunt” me today.

Here are a few basics:

1) Communication is key. The parents know what their child is facing, the therapy they are going through, what “sets them off” and what “calms them down”. I have had many successes when communicating and working with the parent, and failures when that communication is not there. Remember that communication is a two way street. Share with the parent successes the child has had in club.

2) Realize when you are not capable of effectively ministering to a child. You may encounter a child that you simply are unable to minister to effectively due to your resources. It is more detrimental to try to minister ineffectively. Show love and try to direct them to another church can may be able to minister more effectively.

3) Use available resources. Awana does provide some resources to help the local club. these include:

  • Awana for Me – A guide to working with children with special needs
  • Verse labels for Sparks and T&T which can be placed in the handbooks to help those with learning disabilities. Only use after consulting with the parents/guardians.
  • T&T Discovery cards – while not an optimal solution, it can be useful.

I could write more about this topic, but others have also done very well and I have listed links below. If you have questions about my successes and failures, please feel free to contact me and ask. We learn by working together and we minister more effectively when we communicate one with another. As time goes on, I will try to post some scenarios I have experienced here on the blog.

A book I would highly recommend is Brokenness – by Lon Solomon

Other Web sites and articles:

The Inclusive Church – Amy Fenton Lee (an excellent web site resource)

Podcast: Your Church & Children with Special Needs

Ministering to Children with Special Needs – Kidmin1124

Will Your Church Care for the Special Needs Child? – Ministry-to-Children

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