I recently read the book No Greatness without Goodness by Randy Lewis. In it, Lewis tells the story of how he convinced Walgreens to employee large numbers of people with special needs, while also giving them regular salaries and benefits. (If you have a child with special needs or work with children who have special needs, I think you will find it to be extremely encouraging.)
Here is my most important take away from the book. I believe the church needs to revolutionize the way we teach kids and teens with special needs in Bible classes. Lewis and his team took the attitude that failure was not an option. If regular methods to motivate employees or have them complete a task weren’t working, they found a way to make it work.
So many times in churches we unknowingly communicate the message that children and teens with special needs are somehow “less than”. We discourage parents from bringing them to Bible class. We give the children coloring sheets, while other students are engaged in more hands-on, meaningful activities. We don’t ask them questions. We don’t ask parents how to help them learn. We don’t ask the child with special needs what he or she needs to make learning easier. We assume they don’t want to become a Christian and rarely even bring up or study baptism with them. We may even look the other way or ignore the children and their families. On rare occasions, families have even been asked to find somewhere else to worship.
What if instead, we viewed children and teens with special needs as having an amazing godly potential? What if we helped them find their gifts from God, helped them find ways to develop those gifts and then encouraged them to use those gifts to serve God? What if we talked to them and their parents and found ways to adapt activities so they could participate? What if we interacted with them emotionally in the same ways we interacted with our other students? What if we stopped assuming they can’t understand the Gospel message and don’t know enough to become Christians, and taught and asked them about their faith instead?
My guess is we would quickly learn what Lewis and the management at Walgreen’s learned. Once managers learned how to really listen and adapt procedures to help them succeed, those people who were previously considered unemployable became stars. They were more reliable and more focused. Their production was equal or better than the production of those employees considered “normal”. With a little extra time and effort, lives were changed.
I want to challenge you to take a page from Walgreen’s book. Find those children and teens with special needs in your community. Reach out to them and their families. Develop a “we will find a way to make this work” attitude. Help these young people reach their godly potential instead of assuming they have none. My guess is our churches will be revolutionized in more positive ways than we can even imagine. With a little extra time and effort lives and eternities will be changed.
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