NASHVILLE, Tenn. — This fall LifeWay Christian Resources
celebrates the 30th anniversary of publishing printed Sunday School lessons for
special needs learners, resources that were rare prior to the late 1970s.
“The thread of neediness and disabilities runs throughout
Scripture,” Gene Nabi said as he reflected on LifeWay’s 30-year-old decision to
create resources for the special needs community. Nabi, who is now retired,
served as LifeWay’s second special needs ministry consultant. “Parents have a
desperate need as to what kind of spiritual nurture can be given to their
Originally spearheaded by Doris Monroe, the special needs
ministry area of LifeWay’s church resources division has led the way in
publishing leader and learner resources that encourage churches to include
everyone in the Great Commission.
LifeWay’s first dated Sunday School materials for the
special needs community were released in 1979. The Sunday School Resource Kit
for Teaching the Mentally Retarded was intended for use with children.
In the 1980s, however, research revealed most of the
learners in special needs classes were adults. In response, the Special
Education Resource Kit that LifeWay released in 1989 could be used with adults
for the first time. The resources were expanded throughout the 1990s and were
renamed Access in 2000.
The curriculum has been adapted as societal needs have
changed. Trends in public special education continually influence the teaching
strategies incorporated in updated versions of the curriculum. For instance, in
the 1990s public schools emphasized mainstreaming special needs students —
incorporating them into the larger educational population — and LifeWay
responded by including adaptation tips for special needs children within the
core children’s Sunday School resources.
LifeWay now encourages a range of options for children with
special needs, including learning buddies, separate classes and other options.
In 2007, LifeWay launched “Bible Teaching for Kids: Special Buddies,”
curriculum geared toward children in first through sixth grade.
“We’ve gone from our first publication, which was all black
and white text, to a multisensory curriculum filled with colorful visuals and
hands-on teaching ideas,” said special needs resources editor Ellen Beene, who
has been with LifeWay for 24 years.
Before discovering Access, Jo Ann Banks of Asheville,
rewrote all of her materials from a regular adult lesson and created images on
a flannelgraph for her adult special needs classes.
“Once I found Access, I wasn’t frustrated anymore,” Banks
Daphne Lyon of Garner, has a 24-year-old daughter, Kate,
with Down syndrome. Lyon attended the special needs track of The Power of the
Connected Sunday School Conference (aka Sunday School Week) at LifeWay
Ridgecrest Conference Center near Asheville, in July.
Lyon is a member of Aversboro Road Baptist Church in Garner,
which has an active special needs department that offers three classes and provides
respite and activities once a month for families of children with special
needs. Her church also uses the Access and Special Buddies materials published
“The materials are so good,” Lyon said.
So good, in fact, Lyon said when her daughter’s Special
Olympics softball competition conflicted with “High Attendance Sunday,” Lyon
asked permission to do the lesson onsite during the games. The engaging and
adaptable material helped her present the lesson not only to her daughter’s
team but also to a team from another town that joined in and actively
“I think we had the highest numbers for high attendance and
the highest newcomer numbers,” Lyon said with a smile.
Most programs in the church will accept any volunteer who is
willing to serve, but special needs ministry is a bit different.
“Special needs is the one area where churches tend to seek
only volunteers who have a specific calling to special needs ministry or who
have prior experience,” said Carlton McDaniel, LifeWay’s current special needs
ministry specialist. “In any other area of service, you’re expected to be
untrained when you volunteer.”
In the past, few ministry resources were available to
prepare people for volunteering among the special needs community. McDaniel
said that has changed.
“Today there are multiple resources and training
opportunities available for volunteers who want to serve in special needs
ministry,” he said. “Churches have access to all the support they need to equip
leaders for reaching families with special needs.
“Those old excuses are disappearing.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Higgins is a freelance writer for
LifeWay who lives in North Carolina.)
Special series — Body parts
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