May 2008

One of the interesting things about heading a ministry where you are the lead staff person, a van driver, data entry person, chair arranger, praise and worship leader, choir director, and the one who gives the devotions is that you don’t have to worry about who made the last mistake.  You know you did it.  At Special Gathering of Indian River, I’m that person and I’ve discovered more mistakes than I care to admit.  We are a ministry within the mentally challenged community in South Brevard and Indian River Counties, Florida.  We do classic ministry, discipleship and evangelism.  

Each Memorial Day Weekend, we join five of the other Special Gatherings and together we take our members on a spiritual retreat/camp in Vero Beach.    As we approach Camp Agape, there are a multitude of things to do. And, alas, there are many opportunties to falter in preparing to transport some 200 people who are developmentally disabled with all their luggage to camp.  After they arrive, we will be responsible for them for four days.  Our primary concern is the health and safety of our members.  

Some would think that we should be concerned about the spiritual aspects of our camp and, yes, that is vital.  However, without due diligence, mistakes that may cost precious lives could be made.  Perhaps, this would cost us the entire ministry. 

We never lose sight of the fact that God is our source and our help.  We remain aware that God leads us into battle; and occasionally, he gives us a miracle of fire or wind.  Yet, for the most part, he expects that we give our best in daily service for him, which brings us back to due diligence.

Therefore, we ask that you pray for us.  We will have about 200 people at Camp Agape in Vero, Florida.  It will be a good time of love, fellowship, spiritual growth and fun.  The camp begins today, Friday, May 23 and continues until Monday, May 26.  Pray for wisdom, stamina and a sound mind as we work through this joyful time.

Do you have a time of celebration with your members?  Have you found that getting away is a good thing or something to avoid at all costs?  Or perhaps like us, a lot of both. has bagged another coup.  Jane Johnson has given him a live interview.  You can view it on his website.  DON’T MISS THIS! 

Click here for the interview.

Thanks Aaron Nangle for allowing us to share in this!

Last night, I was on a Christian cable TV show in the West Palm Beach/Vero area.  There were several questions that we explored.  Can mentally challenged people receive Christ into their lives?  Do they need a salvation experience to go to heaven?  Have you seen a change in people who are mentally challenged once they are saved?

Over the weeks I have been writing and passing things on to you via this blog, we’ve explored the first two questions but we’ve not worked together on the question regarding life changes once mentally challenged people receive Christ into their lives.  Does it really make a difference when people who are developmentally disabled have a salvation experience?

Ask Barbara’s mother.  She will tell you that the changes in Barbara have made such a big difference that she and her entire family have returned to church and come to know Jesus as their Savior.  Sarah’s mother will tell you the same thing.  She was impressed that Sarah goes into her room almost every evening after work and supper to listen to her Bible tapes or her Christian music.

These families are good people, anyway.  They work and play by the rules of living honestly.  They taught their children the moral principles of right and wrong.  Yet, there was something so attractive about what Jesus did in their children’s lives that they wanted a taste of it also. 

Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  We do classic ministry evangelism and discipleship.  We want to give our parents and caregivers a respite time.  In this way, they can attend their own churches.  Of course, we want parents to know that their children are safe.  Therefore, we encourage our parents to visit at any time but none of our programs are geared for parents. 

We don’t ask parents to volunteer.  We even provide transportation because we want to be sure that parents have as much respite time as possible.  Nevertheless, Sherry’s parents began attending one of our north Brevard programs because they were so impressed with the pastoral attention that Sherry had received over the years.  Now they attend regularly.

In Volusia when our programs began, they were held on Sunday afternoon. Susan and Carol didn’t come the first weeks that their children attended.  They dropped their sons off at the door and went to grocery shop or use the time to just hang out with friends.  However, it didn’t take long for them to want to see what was happening.  They became vital volunteers and tireless workers. 

We were invited to attend a county-wide church picnic a couple of years ago.  We gathered 88 of our members from Melbourne and Vero.  They joined another 100 people for a 4th of July picnic.  I lost count of the number of people who came up to me and said, “I’ve never seen such joyful Christians.”  Many of them had tears in their eyes.

Last fall there was a bit of a crisis at an agency that involved one of our members.  After the feathers had stopped flying, one of the professional from that agency said, “I’m an atheist.  Yet I’m so impressed with the Special Gathering members who work here that I wondered if I can attend your Melbourne program?” 

Does change happen?  Yes and people see it.  Parents, professionals, the church and the community.

What about your members?  How has their relationship to the Lord impacted your community?

Introducing new music to your program is always a challenge.  And it doesn’t matter if your members are musically advanced or developmentally delayed.  At the Special Gathering of Indian River, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community, we do classic ministry–discipleship and evangelism. 

We call your worship times–chapel because we desire to be subordinate to the local church.  The definition of a chapel is a time of  worship that is somewhat less than a worship service.  However, we do many of the same things that you would do in a worship service.  Praise and worship are an important part of what we do.  

While all of our members enjoy some form of music, many of them have not been taught or encouraged to sing for most of their lives.  Therefore, teaching new music can be an especially difficult concern.  After several decades of trial and error, this is the method that I find works best for me.

From the beginning, I teach new music to the choir.  These are my best singers and they are the people who are most enthusiastic about singing during worship time.  I try to encourage my choir members to understand that they are part of the worship leadership and they will lead others into worship by their example. 

Occasionally, I find a member who comes into choir because he or she feels it will be great to be able to go to other churches and sing.  The choir sings special selections during our worship time.  Being up front appeals to them.  They learn quickly, however, that choir is hard work and I expect them to put forth the effort that getting up front requires.  In this way, they either become enthused or they leave the choir.

Second, about a year ago, I began using the new music as a before-worship funtime.  I will often sing along with the members in a silly kind of way.  Or I’ll let people come up front and show off.  In general, it’s a relaxed, happy time of learning.  I’ve found that this helps me to connect with our members.  It gives me about 15 minutes of playful time with them before worship begins. 

In this way, I also find out what songs the members like.  I can also figure out which songs may be too difficult.  “Big House” is a great, fun song that our members love.  However, it is too hard for them to sing.  I still throw it into the mix about every six months because they love it.  Yet–and this is an interesting observation–as much as they enjoy “Big House” during the “fun-time,” many of them show frustration on their faces during the praise and worship time.  Perhaps the reason is because they understand the seriousness of praising God and they want to be able to participate during the worship time.

What about you?  What are the ways you have found that make learning new music fun and exciting for your members?   

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Over the past few weeks, I’ve observed that several people have reached The Special Gathering blog after googling “music for mentally challenged people.”  Therefore, I decided to do a couple of entries about music. 

Over the past 20 years working within the mentally challenged community through the ministry Special Gathering, I’ve found that our members’ taste in music is varied and complex.  However, there are some songs that seem to hit their praise and worship buttons. 

First, let me explain.  I’ve had years of formal and informal musical training.  But I also have the worst eye-hand coordination known to mankind.  Therefore, I don’t play any instruments.  I don’t play them even badly.  That means, that I have to depend on someone else to play the piano or guitar. 

When we lost our piano player about 15 years ago, our executive director suggested that I begin to use CD’s with musical accompaniment.  He even bought me a CD.  (He had heard me play the piano.)  I wasn’t happy about the CD’s that I found.  They seems too simplistic and terribly outdated.

There is a pattern to the songs that I find works well with our members.  Reviewing quickly, the selections are singable songs with simple but very melodic  melodies.  (I remember the first time I heard “The Sound of Music.”  I know that song was my immediate reaction. Of course, I didn’t know that song but I could sing it anyway.  That’s what I mean by melodic melodies.) Second, these are songs with words that have lots of repeating phrases. 

The CD’s that I’ve depended on for years are  All the Best Songs for Youth (split-channel).  It is published by Lillenas and the product number is LILLENAS DC-9214S.  It is a four CD set with 98 songs.  Almost all of the arrangements are excellent.  Some of them (“Pharaoh, Pharaoh”) are too silly for our members and somewhat childish.  However, when you want to have fun, they fit in perfectly.  Most of my members only know the songs that I teach them. Consequently, they are happy with the oldie goldies because these ancient favorites are new to them.

I’ve purchases perhaps 50 other CD’s but I keep returning to All the Best.. when I’m frustrated because nothing else seems to fit.  If you’ve looking for something new and you don’t have this set of CD’s in your collection, it’s a must have. 

What is a CD that seems to minister to your members?  Maybe you don’t use CD’s.  What musical instrument do you think works best for them?

We must bring Others to Jesus

John 1:40-42

Central Theme:  We must bring others to Jesus.


Introduction–Have one of your “evangelist type” members come up to the podium.  Tell about how they bring people to your program.  The reason why they bring people to our program is so they can hear about Jesus.  All of us should bring others to Jesus.


       I.     Have a member read John 1:40-42. 

              A. Tell the story of Andrew and Simon Peter.

              B. Andrew brought Simon Peter to Jesus and Peter became the head disciple.


      II.     I have so much honor for people like Andrew and …(name your member) because this is something that I have a hard time doing.

              1.  The Bible calls these people evangelists.

                   A. They are able to bring people to Jesus.

                   B. (Name the person who is the best you know) is probably the           best evangelist I have ever met.

                   C. My husband is also a good evangelist.

              2.  All of us must be able to bring people to Jesus.


     III.     How did Andrew do it?  The method was really simple.

              A. He went to someone he knew and loved. (Love is the key.)

              B. He was excited about what he knew about Jesus.

              C. He told his brother without any apologies.


Conclusion–All of us must bring people to Jesus and be evangelists.  It is simple and we can do it if we do it.  We must be willing to do it.

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