As ministry leaders, we believe every person matters to God. And as leaders who think Orange, we know the importance of the family in shaping the heart of each individual. But what do we do when a family walks through our doors that we’re not quite sure how to engage?
In today’s episode, we focus on the role special needs ministry can play in reaching families in our communities. Our guests for this conversation all attend the same church and have unique perspectives on this topic from both sides of the fence. Tom and Alica Parsons share what it’s like to be the parents of a kid with special needs, and Meaghan Wall joins us for an interview on what the church can do to come alongside families like the Parsons. We hope you’ll be inspired to see new ways to serve every family that walks through your church’s doors this week.
Welcome to Episode 15 of the Think Orange Podcast.
Conversation with Tom and Alica Parsons (1:50)
The Parsons tell of two diametrically opposed church experiences (3:35)
Connect with every child on a level he or she can learn from (6:03)
Remove all negative talk (8:41)
Make it a priority for your volunteers to get to know the kids they minister to outside of church on Sunday (11:00)
Minister to every individual with the awareness that they have a soul (16:15)
Alica and Tom tell the story of their son Dane accepting God’s gift of salvation (19:30)
Interview with Meaghan Wall (22:53)
Meaghan started in special needs ministry by working at an Easterseals’ summer camp (23:07)
How Meaghan came to be on staff at Stonebriar Community Church (27:05)
Why churches should have a special needs ministry (28:43)
What parents who have children with special needs are facing that church leaders need to be aware of (30:17)
How churches that don’t currently have a separate special needs ministry can serve families in their communities (32:42)
What we can do to help families feel welcome in our environments and keep communication open (37:07)
The wins a church can experience by having a special needs ministry (41:00)
What church leaders can do to encourage families with special needs (42:53)
Ashley’s closing thoughts (44:39)
People, Places & Helpful Resources
TOM & ALICA PARSONS
Alica Parsons is a wife, and a mother of four teenagers. As a family, they attend and serve as volunteers at Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas. Alica is a teacher, former television spokesmodel, adoption advocate, and cheer coach. In 2007, their youngest son Dane was given the diagnosis of the gift of PDD-NOS, an Autism Spectrum Disorder. This journey gives her a unique perspective on the needs of the parent by way of spiritual and emotional support, but also on how to disciple children who see the world in such a different way. Always eager to share their story of miracles, trials, and blessings, Alica and husband Tom have led breakout sessions at events like the Joni and Friends Summit and Orange Conference.
Originally trained as a teacher and coach, Tom Parsons is in the advertising industry, leading several sales leaders who help brands connect with customers in several forms of digital mass media. He serves on a board at the Baylor Hankamer School of Business and connects with others through LinkedIn and Twitter (@AdProfessorTom) to build sales, advertising, and leadership cultures, as well as recruit. Tom and his wife Alica have four teenage children, including Dane, who has Autism. Tom and his family serve in various volunteer roles at Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas.
Meaghan has served as the pastoral leader of special needs at Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, since 2006. She has a passion for families affected by special needs and enjoys helping churches across the country catch the vision of special needs ministry. She has a degree in social work from Texas Tech University and a master in Christian leadership from Dallas Theological Seminary. Meaghan has an amazing husband, Michael, and two incredibly cute little boys, Jackson and Grayson, who are the loves of her life. Meaghan is best described by a sign in her office that reads: Jesus, Dr. Pepper, and Texas Tech.
Quotes from This Episode
As a church body, we need to lead with grace—which means dropping all assumptions when a kid walks in the door. Click To TweetEvery church will have someone with special needs walk in their doors eventually and how you respond matters. Click To TweetParents will tell you things on social media that they will never tell you face to face. Click To Tweet
Ideas to Influence the Next Generation
1. Feeling awkward isn’t a reason to not engage.
Special needs ministry can be messy. Sometimes you’ll have no idea why a kid is doing what he’s doing. Sometimes you won’t know what to say to a hurting parent. Sometimes you might even worry if you’re choosing words that are politically correct. When we feel confused or unsure of ourselves, that’s when we want to hide. But don’t let feeling awkward or “not educated enough” to be an excuse for not approaching special needs families in your midst. After all, a big smile and an attitude that conveys you’re eager to help will go a long way—even if inwardly you feel clueless.
2. Special needs ministry extends beyond Sunday.
In her interview, Meaghan said, “parents will tell you things on social media that they will never tell you face to face.” And it’s true! In the rush of the Sunday routine, you won’t always get to hear what the families you see in your hallways are experiencing the rest of the week. That’s why it’s important to engage with them elsewhere. Follow them on social media. Offer to meet them at the park for a play date. Or just give them a call mid-week to see how they’re doing.
3. It’s okay to not have all the answers.
There’s nothing cookie-cutter about special needs ministry. Every kid, student, and parent has their own set of emotional, developmental, and spiritual needs. As you minister among a myriad of family dynamics and diagnoses, it’s impossible for you to have an answer for every concern or question a parent has. So as you dive in and get to know your families, don’t feel like you need to provide all the answers. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to just be present, give a listening ear, or send baked goods.
Conversation Starters For Your Church
Outside weekend programming, what’s one way we can encourage special needs families in our church this week?
How can we encourage volunteer leaders to learn how to best connect with kids on their level and in the ways they communicate?
What’s the current experience of special needs families who are first-time guests at our church? What’s something we can do to continually improve this experience?
When he’s not working as a pastor at North Point Ministries in Atlanta, Dave is usually making his family cross their arms, roll their eyes, and tap their feet while he takes “just one more quick photo” on family outings. You’ll also often find him up to his neck in “Jewish stuff” as he researches the cultural context of Jesus for his daily Instagram devotions. Learn more about Dave at daveadamson.tv.
Ashley serves as the Director of Middle School Strategy at Orange and the USA Director of Carry 117. She has worked with students in public education, athletic and ministry settings for the last 12 years. She is most passionate about resourcing the local church, communicating on stage, developing leaders, working with students and world missions. In her downtime, you’ll find her watching Friends, cheering on the Cleveland Cavaliers, traveling, reading, or on one of her Fairytale Friday Adventures.
Join Us Next Week
Thank you for listening to the Think Orange Podcast.
We hope you’ll join us for next week’s episode. More importantly, we hope that when you think next generation, you think Orange.