June 2010

If you have never visited Shelly’s Page at Special Gathering stories, you should go.  Michelle Demeree is a gifted writer and member of Special Gathering.  She serves as a deacon and she is part of our Board of Directors.  You will be blessed if you visit.  

Shelley began attending our Melbourne program when she was about 20 years old.  Over the years, she grew in the Lord.  Within a short time, she wanted to become a deacon.  (Our deacons are chosen by and come from our membership.) 

After explaining to her the Scriptural admonitions regarding taking positions in the church when you are too young, Shelley was willing to wait.  But she reminded me often that she still wanted to be a deacon.  As Shelley became older, she began acting like a deacon.  I could always depend on her to help with visitors and to assure that they would feel at home.  She was willing to move chairs and set up tables.  She was eager to help.

At the beginning of this year, she was elected as one of our deacons.  No one was surprised because she had been acting in a deacon position for many years.  Our deacons are nominated by the membership.  Then our elders review the nominations.  The people who received the top votes almost always are confirmed by the elders.  Then the top people are voted on by the membership. 

Shelley is working happily each week, helping with chores that other people may feel are “below” them.  Shelley does them with a smile.  She asks for no recognition and she demands nothing from us.  I hope she thinks that fulfilling her dream to become a deacon has been worth the wait.  I certainly do.

Visit her page and leave a comment.  Shelley will be blessed.

Teresa’s personality is typically soft and placid.  Perhaps because she was raised by her father, her rough edges don’t usually emerge as irritability.  However, Aaron stands apart from everyone with his arms folded as if daring even the bravest of the brave to glance in his direction.

At Special Gathering, we have learned over the course of years to allow the unique personalities of our members to play out without judgement.  Yet, the people who are consistently irritable, or The Irritables, do present a unique disciple concern.

By the time a person reaches adulthood most of the roughest edges has been wore away.  Think of the rock caressed by the flowing waters of the bubbling brook which eventually becomes a smooth stone.  However, our members often miss the rubbing that others get for one reason or another during their childhood and adolescence.  Perhaps it is their limited mental capacity which doesn’t alow them to sort through complicated relationship interactions.  Perhaps there are overly protective parents who monitor every move.  Maybe their early training was too harsh and their personalities broke under the pressures presented to them in their daily life.

Whatever the reason, the moderating subtleties that mark the arrival of adulthood somehow seem to escape their grasp and our members are left with the emotions and reactions of pre-pubic adolescence.  Of course, their personalities, like other adults, continue to grow and mature but more slowly.

There may be no real keys to unlock the secrets coaxing the irritable folks in your program from their state of mind.  However, there are a couple of things that we have found that help.

  1. Harsh disciple will almost never work with these members.  This will only accelerate the irritation.
  2. Ignoring should probably be our first line of defense.  If Aaron can stand for a few minutes alone and apart, he can gain his equilibrium and slowly allow himself to be absorbed into the group.
  3. Laughter is the “Get Out of Jail” free card for most of our irritable members.  Of course, they don’t want to ever be the brunt of the joke but laughter is contagious for almost everyone.
  4. Observe what makes them most irritable and permit subtle changes, if necessary.  Marcie could never allow herself to become a part of the group during the first hour of our program.  This is when we have our large group meeting.  However, she was quickly and smoothly assimilated into the smaller group setting.  We allow her to sit in the very back of the room whenever the larger group is assembled.  But insist that she remained with her smaller group during the discussion and Bible study times.
  5. Allowing movement may release the tension that is evident.  When Tory visited a few weeks ago, she wanted to walk.  Before the program, we allowed her to walk the parameter of the gymnasium.  She and her caregiver had come an hour early.  By the time, the Special Gathering program began, she was able to stand in the back of the room quietly absorbing the action. 

The object is to allow the person time to become adjusted to her surroundings.  There is no magic bullet in regard to a perfect time.  Remember their irritability is not a personal, confronting or aggressive stand.  It is a measure of their instability while being thrown into an unfamiliar or overly active surrounding.

At times, nothing seems to work, except prayer.  Bathing each member with prayer during the week can work miracles in their lives and in the life of your program.

The Irritables will always be with us.  Learning to moderate their mood and allowing them to come to a place of peace is important.   It is also one of the many roles you play when you are teaching and leading a group of people who are developmentally delayed.

When I went to Korea the first time, I got up early to pray.  I went outside my son’s apartment and saw all the people hurrying to church.  I knew that was where they were headed because they had their Bibles and hymn books with them. I woke up my son and asked if I could go to church.  “Sure,” he said, through his sleepy-induced fog.

I quickly changed from my casual clothes and followed the stragglers to a small Presbyterian church.  Later, that day my son’s roommate asked if I’d gone to an English-speaking church.  “No, I wanted to attend a Korean church.”

“How did you understand the sermon?” he asked.

“Oh, I didn’t need to actually understand the sermon.  I’d probably heard that sermon a hundred times.”  My son laughed but the other people in the room looked puzzled at my remark.

By the time I visited Korea in the 1970’s I’d been to so many church services that I felt I’d heard every sermon on earth.  That didn’t mean that I was bored with church, just familiar with the form and function of the sermon. 

At Special Gathering, we have developed a pattern for our sermons.  The main variation from the “typical” sermon is that we have found that for our members who are mentally challenged three points are overkill.  Therefore, we use only one point, rather than three.  When I was cutting my teeth on sermons, the adage was that a sermon must have three points and a poem.  Not much has changed in the three-point requirement, even though the poem has fallen prey to the warm-fuzzy-make-them-laugh-make-them-cry antidote. 

There are two mistakes that people make that are deadly with our members.  First, they believe that our members are forever children and cannot learn.  Therefore, they placate them with a warm milk message that is pink, placid and pathetic.  The other mistake is the opposite.  They approach our members with the same attitude that they would attack any other congregation.  Regarding our need to hear the gospel, the mentally challenged community is the same as any other congregation.  In our ability to absorb, we are different.

Therefore, the one-point sermon is a vital necessity.  There is also a need to keep our sermons shorter than some pastors may want to teach or preach.  Fifteen minutes are the maximum amount of time that you will hold the attention of our members. 

Some pastors use an interactive approach with their teaching to keep the attention of our members.  Using this approach, their sermons may be longer out of necessity.  Allowing our members to enter into the discussion of the Scriptures is good and necessary.  However, we feel that interactivity is better left to the Bible study classes which reexamine the Bible lesson with a smaller group.

As seasoned preacher will attest, sticking with one point is often harder than it appears.  However, effective ministry to our population demands that a practitioner continually learn to simplify, simplify, simplify.

Trusting in the Lord means Action

Proverbs 3:5

Central Theme:  Trusting in the Lord means we take action.

Introduction–Show a map.  When you are going on a trip, it is important to know where you are going.  In addition, wherever we are in life, all of us need to know where we are going.  However, much of the time, God tells us that we are to go and then He gives us no  idea where we are going.

       I.     Have a member Read Proverbs 3:5.

              A. Tell the story of Abram and how God sent him.

              B. Trusting God means actions–not knowledge.

              C. Abram obeyed God.

           II.     We must choose to obey God and we don‘t have to know everything.

              A. Years ago, I would wrap gifts with elaborate wrappings.  I’d make alligators and tin-soldiers and lots of other things out of my gifts.  When I would wrap gifts, I would being with a vague idea of what I wanted to do but I didn‘t know what I was doing but I did it anyway.  Usually, they would turn out great.

              1.  In the same way, God will give us a small word about what we are to do and we are to follow it.

              2.  A friend said that she could not attend church anymore because she had moved from the city where she had attended a Special Gathering program for years.  She decided that she wouldn’t go to the Special Gathering in her new town because she was sure that she would have a bad attitude if she had to go to somewhere else. 

                        a. We need to put the Lord first no matter what the circumstances

                       b.  We need to think about Jesus at the beginning of everything we do, not the end.

     III.     Abram did not know where he was going.

              A. He did know who was leading him.

              B. God will lead you into the right things.

Conclusion–Trusting God means being actively following Jesus.

In Walterboro, South Carolina, a thriving self-advocacy group meets each month to learn about advocacy.  However, the interesting twist in this group is that once they had mastered the ins and outs of their rights, they turned to learn what their responsibilities are as good citizens.

The interesting part is that the members have found much more to learn about in regard to their responsibilities than in their rights.  They are seeing that becoming a good citizen is more about what they can do for their country,  not what their country can do for them.   

But their time isn’t just spent learning.  They plan trips and events.  Even their fund-raisers are fun times as they work together to help each other.

Many of us strive to tap into the joys of being a good citizen of our nation.  Perhaps it is good to look at our responsibilities, as well as our rights.

Because of our cushy lifestyle, it is difficult to divide our desires from our needs.  Even in ministry, there are things which we absolutely must have to have a ministry.  Then there are the needs.  The rest are desires.

Cutting to the bare bones, there are only three things that are needed to have a specialized ministry.  They are members, volunteers and monetary support.  At Special Gathering, our organizing and operational board will probably not intervene with a program if there are these three things actively operating.  (SpG organizational note:  We call this organizing and operation board, the INC board because it is the board of directors of our mother organization, The Special Gathering, Inc.  It is made up of area directors, members from each area board and members from each incorporated Special Gathering.  There are currently five Special Gathering area boards that serve under the INC board.  These area boards are defined by geographic locations.)

After the bare bones necessities are met, there are needs.  We need a place to hold meetings and transportation to get people to the meeting spot.  I found early into this ministry that I need some amplifying equipment to project my singing voice.  Because we have never had anyone who can play an instrument, I also need recorded orchestration for praise and worship. 

On the more spiritual end and perhaps on the top of the list, there must be a sense of calling to this ministry for the leader of the program.  Unlike, some other ministries, it has been our experience that you will not have to labor for years to break through the mentally challenged community shell.  The people are eager to hear the gospel.  They enthusiastically respond to the good news of Christ’s redemption.  If the program director has a strong sense of calling, then volunteers will respond in like manner. 

Over the years, I’ve been amazed at the total commitment that SpG volunteers have to our members and their assigned duties.  I am convinced it is a reflection of the strong sense of calling that stems from our executive director and founding pastor, Richard Stimson. 

Physical needs do come next.  Several times over the course of our history, Special Gathering has been offered a building.  We have also turned down the offer.  While others do own buildings, we have opted to borrow the facilities we use from the community and later from local churches.  We plan our meeting times so that we don’t conflict with church services.  We have insurance to cover any liability that our ministry may occur while meeting in their building so that the congregation is not responsible for any accidents.

Transportation is another thorny situation.  It is not easily solved.  We will tackle transporting in a later blog.  Yet, we know that our members do not drive and their parents may need the respite time or they may be too old to provide a ride.  Rides are essential.

Needs or desires?  Of course, I’ve not covered all the needs.  What have you found are your needs?  What can you add to this list?  When do our desires paralyze us while our needs are being met?

From the time I was a young woman, I’ve noticed that groups–large and small–seem to have unique personalities.  I first observed it when I was a member of the youth choir in my church.  Most of the people in the choir were also in my Bible study class.  In the choir, there were several younger teens and a couple of older teens.  Throwing in these other folks meant that the people in my Sunday school class acted and reacted differently than  when the ten of us were together on Sunday morning.  

Later, on Sunday evening, most of us attended a church-sponsored training class.  Even though we were the same group of people, our leader was different.  Additionally, most Sunday evenings, at least three or four people did not attend.  Again, the dynamics of this more intimate, training class was different from choir and from the Bible study.  I wondered at the change.

 A couple of years ago, my observations were confirmed to me during one of the classes I took while getting my masters degree.  Answers.com defines group personality as :

Characteristic of a group which is analogous to that of the personality of an individual, in that the group behaves as a unit in certain circumstances; it possesses energy (see synergy), has drives and emotional states, and it engages in collective deliberations in much the same way as individuals. Group personality is relatively independent of those apparently possessed by the group members.

Mayers Briggs even has a test which will determine the type of personality any group may possess.   

I’m sure you have found that not only does your whole ministry have a personality but the people (elders or volunteers) who are responsible for this ministry also pulse with unique characteristics.  The concern occurs when the personality of your ministry group turns negative or critical. 

Years ago, John, one of the volunteers with whom I was working turned 70 years old.  I did not realize that he was sensitive about his age.  Therefore, I made a silly teasing remark about his birthday.  Without realizing it, I offended him.  We were a small group of six volunteers and we had become extremely close.  We often went out to lunch.  We enjoyed each others’ company. 

One day, I realized that group dynamics had drastically changed.  We were no longer comfortable with each other.  Slowly, the wonderful friendship and joy of sharing in ministry evaporated.  I began to pray.  John called me one afternoon.  “Can we talk?” he asked.

We met and John shared with me that I had offended him.  I apologized and tried to explain that my teasing was not meant to be offensive.  He forgave me and things went back to normal again.  Because of his maturity in the Lord, we were able to avoid more uncomfortable tension.  And most importantly, the entire ministry did not suffer.

There are no easy answers to resetting the personality of a ministry team.  However, prayer is the start.  Confrontation may be needed.  I’ve learned that most people aren’t as mature as John.  Once they have been wounded or offended by a member of the group, they may never return to the comfortable place of trust, fellowship and joy they once shared within the group.  This is hard to swallow; but it is also reality.

Continuing to bathe each meeting and encounter in prayer seems to be the only way to make things right.  Criticism to counter criticism will never work.  Negative reactions to block negative attitudes will spell disaster for you and your group. 

Should the offended party decide to leave your ministry, you must release her and bless her as she goes.  This will be hard but it may the best and perhaps the only way to restore your group into a cohesive working unit.  Perhaps God has allowed the offense to help the person to move into another place of more valuable ministry.  When Joyce came to Special Gathering, we welcomed her with open arms.  She told me later that she had tried to work with another ministry in the county for a couple of years.  “I knew God had called me to minister within the mentally challenged community.  However, I could never do anything that suited the leadership in the other ministry.  Finally, I left only to visit you for one time.  Immediately, I knew I had come home and I was needed.”

For MaryAnne, it was the opposite.  She attended Special Gathering but she couldn’t seem to find her nitch.  The moment she walked into the ministry across town, she felt needed and wanted. 

It was after Judas left the upper room that Jesus was free to turn to his other disciples and pour out his heart to them regarding his death and resurrection.  Knowing and observing the personality of your ministry team is one of the keys to successful ministry.  Some advice our mothers’ gave us never grows old, “Stop, look and listen.”

« Previous PageNext Page »