Living on the Space Coast, every pastor in our county understands that they must know something about the space program to interact effectively with the men and women in their congregations.  The same is true within the mentally challenged community but different.

Not sure what is happening in other states; but in Florida, companions and respite care providers are replacing families in the tasks of attending social events.  This is probably a good trend for families who need the respite time.  It is also good for the agencies and private providers who need the hours of work.  Part of this trend is a result of more and more people who are not able to attend a work program during the day.  People who are mentally challenged may be allowed to work three or four days rather than five, as has been the practice for several decades.

In building a relationship with your members, there are several things which are effective.  First, you might want to supplement your income by doing respite care or providing companion services.  If you have your degree, you may want to do support coordination or start your own agency.  While this can have great disadvantages, there is no way to build a relationship with professionals, like becoming one of them.  At Special Gathering, when support coordination first came into our state, we became an agency for a time.  While the State of Florida fought us because we were a “church” program, we are now able to understand the systems that are in place.  As things have changed, we have been able alter our knowledge about how the system works more quickly and easily.

Most people will respect you if they believe that you understand who they are.  This is especially true with the professionals who work within the mentally challenged community.  Few people actually take the time to understand or appreciate their profession.  Therefore, if you are knowledgeable about their job, if you attend state training sessions and you are seen by them as interested in the professional aspect of our community, you will win over their hearts.  They will begin to know that you are more than “the preacher” or “church lady.”  You are equally concerned about the systems under which they must labor.

No one goes into this profession for the money.  They do this because they care about people.  They want to make lives better.  However, without the Lord’s touch, it is easy to become caustic and jaded because the hours are long and the paperwork is maddening.  Most people are on call 24 hours a day.  In short, it can be a difficult job, with little pay, and less respect.

I’ve found that most professionals appreciate that you remember them and their names.  They want to hear from the tone of your voice and the looks of concern that you care about them.  No.  Your ministry isn’t to the professional community; but earning their respect can make your ministry easier.  Here are some things that have worked for Special Gathering.

  • Try to become a part of the professional community by becoming knowledgeable about the state systems and programs.
  • Learn the names of the people with whom you interact.
  • Include them in decisions and ask for their advice for social events, if appropriate.  I became a good friend to one group home manager when we began to plan outings and trips to the amusement parks together. 
  • In the course of conversation, it isn’t a bad thing to let them know what your degrees are.  If you don’t have a degree, coyly interject your credentials to do ministry. 
  • Nobody likes a braggart but interjecting  credible facts about your life isn’t bragging.
  • Stop to speak to the professionals that you encounter.  Ask about their families and their lives.  Learn about their cares and concerns. 
  • Pray for them during your devotion time.

Time is the thing that will help you in this area.  These men and women are caring and concerned folks who are a vital part of the lives of your members.  You need them to respect you and that respect must be earned.