LifeWay special needs ministry marks 30 years
Andrea Higgins, Baptist Press
November 04, 2009

LifeWay special needs ministry marks 30 years

LifeWay special needs ministry marks 30 years
Andrea Higgins, Baptist Press
November 04, 2009

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.

Photo by James Yates

Jason Reynolds, left, listens as Darlene Ponder, a volunteer in special needs ministry at Woodlands Hills Church in Asheville, shares a story with him.

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

by LifeWay.

“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.)

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