Recently I’ve been really encouraged by people setting up new ministries for children or adults with additional needs. There’s a group for children with autism in Edinburgh, a monthly group for adults with learning disabilities and their carers in Wokingham and, nearer to home, two of our Network members are building an SEN support ministry in their church and reported some great progress.
I didn’t set up our Good News Group and I certainly didn’t want to lead it! The fact that God had other plans must be amusing to some, but I am so thankful that I am not alone. There are in fact three leaders and a team of people with us who are amazing. Not in their wonderful talents and gifts (although there are plenty of those about) but in their humility and willingness to serve. Time and time again, I am reminded that we are a ‘body’. There are many times I don’t know what to do or cannot take on something for the group, and always there is someone who steps in and does what is needed really well.
You see, a team is a body. I seem to be the ‘mouth’…but how can I speak of anything if there isn’t a brain, hands, ears and feet…not to leave out a heart! In truth, I have learned that a team is the most wonderful thing when it functions under the grace and passion of Christ. And I am privileged to have experienced a team that serves with its heart and faith like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Even interns and visitors alike speak of the strength of the Good News Group is how the team works.
That doesn’t mean we don’t have issues and problems, with each other or within the group, or even personally. Whatever happens we try to pray before we do anything and see who God will prompt to be the best person to deal with it. It seems to work.
My prayer for these new groups and for other Additional Needs Ministries, is to let God bring a team together and build that team into a body. Passing on my experience I would suggest…
1. Spend time with each team member individually. Get to know them personally and their history, what their family’s names are and why they have volunteered for your team. People feel valued when you can ask about their week, their lives and see what gifts and experience they have to offer you. Here’s a funny story about that though… One of our team was telling me how she used to work as an secretary. I had to grin as I confessed I was just going to ask for some admin help for the group that night! Bad timing, or God’s provision? She has done a great job and taken some of the weekly admin burden from me that I am wonderfully thankful for.
2. Plan and prepare well. We have a term lay meeting for the whole team where we fill in a ‘jobs list’ and everyone knows what they are doing each week. It runs so well that everything usually gets done without a hitch, all the team can serve in different ways each week or stick with their favourite job. We encourage people to try new things and it’s a safe group to step out of your comfort zone…and grow.
3. Don’t let issues fester. Pray A LOT. About EVERYTHING and for each other. When issues arrive, don’t talk about them behind people’s backs. Speak to them, support them and affirm them. Then work together to deal with the issue. And let things go once they have been dealt with.
4. Expect everyone to grow. God hasn’t finished with any of us. So why would we not?
5. As a leader you must trust and deligate to others. You cannot do anything, and often you are not the best person for the job. People will stand back and let you do everything if you try to do it all. Our vicar says to us that it’s our job to raise up those who will be leaders after us. It is a joy to see what others can do. We try to give constructive and encouraging feedback and the opportunity to try again. We also want people to feel that their ideas are valued and acted upon. So we often have discussions before making decisions and have been blessed with better outcomes than if we’d just decided as leaders.
6. Having people with additional needs on the team. We have had various group members with additional needs on our team in the past. It’s something we could improve on and we include every member in having a voice and serving in the group where we can. I do believe that this is something we can do better as we work through our next steps.
If you are interested in any of the groups I mentioned in Edinburgh or Workingham, please comment below and I’ll put you in touch with the leaders. If you are running a group in your church, I’d love to hear about it. also do look on http://www.prospects.org.uk for other groups for adults with learning disabilities around the country.