Guest Post: Leading #SpecialNeeds Ministry

Amy Fenton Lee was gracious enough to give me a copy of her book Leading A Special Needs MinistryJoel Dortch, an assistant Children’s Pastor at my church, has a real heart for special needs and does regular book reviews on his blog. I figured he would do a much better job reviewing this great book than I would…so here’s a guest post:


Just tell me HOW to do it. Then get out of my way!

I am a practical guy. I don’t get bogged down by the ethereal or the why? I am just filtering through everything keeping my eye open for the bottom line. What matters? As I begin to go through the process I will start to construct for myself why?

In college, I never had any desire to go to my theology classes or other thought-provoking classes like ethics. They all seemed useless. They weren’t practical enough for my liking. I wanted to take classes that taught me how to do something. How to public speak, how to write a sermon, how to minister to kids. These might not have been the easiest classes for me, because they made me get out of my comfort zone, but they gave me tools and directions to make something happen.

The book, Leading a Special Needs Ministry, by Amy Fenton Lee, taught me just that. How to make something happen. How to make a Special Needs Ministry a success. It’s not a book that tries to convince you to have a special needs ministry nor does it talk about how it is Biblical. It will answer the question: how? You will have to read a different book to learn how special needs ministry and inclusion is Biblical or why you should have one at your church. Well enough with the introduction. Let’s get to what I like to call the quick hitters.

Quick Hitters

In this section of the book review, I will point out some sections of the book that I especially liked and that I will try to use in my own life, character, and/or ministry.

1. The biggest item that I took from this book is the need for a screening process. On a few occasions I have had to ask the parents for advise on how to serve their kid that has special needs. Unfortunately, I usually ask this question because something happened that I did not know how to handle. If a screening process is in place then, I believe, the majority of these questions would already have answers to them.

The great thing about this book, Leading a Special Needs Ministry, is that the questions you should ask during your screening process are provided. It does not get much easier than this. Everything is conveniently provided for you by Amy Fenton Lee. If you really want to start a Special Needs Ministry this book is priceless.

It might be uncomfortable to sit down with the parents, but the amount of information that is gained from having a screens process with the parents. Amy Fenton Lee says that the reason to have a meeting with the guardian(s) before letting their child be a part of your ministry is: to convey your intention to accept the child into your ministry, invite an open and candid relationship between the church and the family, and it might reveal other needs that the family might need. Have a screening and intake interview process.

2. Another amazing part about this book is the numerous appendices that have been included in the back of the book. While some may argue that these aren’t part of the book, I would argue against that view. The amount of hours it would take to make these forms on your own is manifold. Also, these forms ask the questions that are most common and most useful. Many of us have no idea what questions to ask parents of special needs kids. It is like you are getting the answers to a test before you take it. You almost feel guilty for having all these forms and words without having done any of the work. Amy has graciously done it all for us. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel. Some of the forms and resources that she has included in this section are inclusion tips, buddy training material, mission statement examples, handbook examples, and a parent questionnaire. Use the appendices in the back of the book.

3. The last quick hitter that I would like to mention about the book, Leading a Special Needs Ministry, is the importance of writing a handbook and/or any other guiding documents. These documents might seem pointless and a trivial, but they are super important. The book gives some reasons as to why it’s important. First, it tells everyone what the special needs ministry will provide and what they won’t provide. It’s important to make this known at the beginning, because if you don’t tell people what you will and won’t provide, they will. Also, having these guiding documents will answer a lot of the questions and concerns that interested families might have. It will make your job easier in the long run. Take time to write out your guiding documents.

 Those are my quick hitters that I learned from this book:

  • Have a screening and intake interview process.
  • Use the appendices in the back of the book.
  • Take time to write out your guiding documents.

This book gave me a lot to think about if I want to have a successful special needs ministry. It might be easy to check off the list that we have buddies available to walk around and support your child with special needs, but to have a ministry to kids with special needs where buddies are trained is something entirely different. This book will help take your existing special needs ministry to a completely different level or will help lay the foundation for a brand new special needs ministry that God has birthed in your church.

Read the rest of the book for yourself. There is much more to learn and only a limited amount of time.



Hey, Let’s try this…

Most of you are familiar with Ted Talks. They are short (less than 5 minutes) talks that touch on thought-provoking ideas. I came across this one today and thought I’d share.

(Read on after the video)

My thought after this video goes back to something Craig Jutila said in a workshop many years ago. “Sometimes good enough is good enough.” Now, I’m not advocating that we just wing it with everything – but there are times when we may need to try something (in a controlled environment) and see how it works. Trial and error is a legitimate learning method…if done safely. (Don’t try to build a nuclear reactor without good knowledge and experience.)

A lot of leaders get froze in the preparation phase. They are getting ready to get ready. They excel at planning but fail at execution. Again, I’m not giving permission to toss the lined paper and thought process out the window. Yet, we must balance planning with doing. I have worked with folks who never accomplish anything, but they have some amazing ideas and plans.

So, how do you do? Do you maintain a good balance? Could your marshmallow tower stand up?

What Your Followers Need (part 2)

When we are talking about taking people with us. We have to always remember—we have to have a place that we are going! A leader needs to be goal oriented; otherwise you might end up just leading people around in circles. Without a clear goal, our followers can feel like the people of Israel wandering around in the desert for 40 years! So, we have to start with a simple, but powerful question: What’s the single biggest thing you can imagine that will grow your business/ministry or impact your life?  Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, Built to Last and Great By Choice talks about BHAGS. These are Big Hairy Audacious Goals. A BHAG is a significant goal that is going to take substantial effort to accomplish. So that answer to the question should probably reflect the qualities of a BHAG.

In order to take people with you, there are a few questions you need to ask:

  1. What’s the biggest single thing you can imagine that will grow your ministry or change you life?
  2. Who do you need to affect, influence, or take with you to be successful?
  3. What perceptions, habits or beliefs do you need to influence in the “target audience” to accomplish your goal?

In order to accomplish your big goal, you’re going to need to develop a good understanding of what your followers are thinking. You need to spend time with those you are leading so you can develop insight into how they think, insight will allow you to begin the process of framing your big goal in a way that will connect with other people.

I don’t know if you have ever experienced a time of vision casting, where you have poured out your heart and soul for the company or ministry. You have expressed what you see as the extended future to your audience and the audience looks back at you with a blank stare. It can be demoralizing.

Learning about your followers allows you to reframe your thoughts in a way that will connect! Think of the image of Oldsmobile in the mid 80’s. It was seen as stodgy, old, and stuffy. To combat this image, Oldsmobile didn’t change their entire line of product models—they reframed their image. Do you remember their tag line? “Not your father’s Oldsmobile.” They understood what their target audience thought about them. Knowing how people are thinking gives you the insight you need to reframe your message in a way that gets people on your side.

Keeping your BIG GOAL in mind, if you can identify whom you need to make something happen and then get inside their heads, then you will have the best chance of convincing them to help you accomplish big things!  Think about some of the things you are trying to accomplish—what we will cover from here will help you map out how to accomplish big things for you and your organization!

This is the second thing a follower needs – a leader that is aware of their thinking and mindset. Not so that the leader will change their mind, but so the leader will be aware and communicate in common language. It’s avoiding the men are from mar and women are from venus syndrome.

Some questions you can ask yourself:

  1. Do I communicate the same way to everyone?
  2. Do I expect people to adjust to me or do I adjust to them?
  3. Do I communicate clearly and consistently?

(More to come)



What your Followers Need (part 1)

What is something that every leader needs?

(Read on after the video)


There is a lot of leadership material out there – but much of it skips one basic point of leadership – the needs of followers matter.

Throughout this session I want to work from a simple premise – it’s something the video touched on.

  1. The work needs to be about the movement and not the leader.
  2. Treat followers like equals.

Robert Greenleaf in his “Servant Leadership” model starts with two basic principles:

  1. Leaders are servants FIRST
  2. The leader is the first among EQUALS.

Much of leadership theory is based on power, charisma, position, etc. When we take leadership out of the context of authority and power and place it in the context of service and meeting the needs of our followers, the emphasis is changed greatly.  Our focus becomes more about relationship and what it takes for others to be successful and not just accomplishing a task.

This conversation today starts with a simple assumption: We all need people to help us along the way. We can all have a measure of success when we tackle life individually, but to find a higher level of success, ultimately, we will need people to accomplish great things!

Let’s add a little caveat –if your desire is to do BIG things. If you want to see amazing things happen in your company, church, or ministry—you’re going to need other people to get where you want to go. While we recognize that we need to invite others along with us into the BIG things we want to accomplish, it does not happen on accident or by itself. At our core, most of us are selfish people. Consequently, to have people follow you as a leader, there are intentional things you are going to have to do in order to take people with you.

As a leader, you have to keep in mind that people tend to follow the leader’s actions. You can’t say one thing and then do another and expect people to believe in you or follow you. As the leader you have been given the opportunity to set an example of how you want your organization the function. If you say “Follow me, I’ll lead you where we need to go!” But display weak leadership and poor decision-making skills, people will lose faith in you. If you say people are important to me, but sit in your office all day and never interact with your peers and employees—they won’t believe you. The old statement that actions speak louder than words is never truer than when you are talking about leadership.

This is really the first thing followers need – a genuine leader. If we want our followers to emulate our actions – we need to have actions worth following.

So you can ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Do I follow through on my promises?
  2. Do I think about the project more than those working with me?
  3. Do I have a good relationship with my followers?

(more to follow)