When Sherry Mann’s daughter was born with a rare genetic condition three years ago, Mann’s eyes were opened to a world she never knew existed.
While seeking to provide the best possible physical, emotional and medical care for her daughter, Mann says she and her husband Brian began to see the need for churches to provide spiritual care for individuals who have special needs.
“We began to see a whole new community,” Mann said. “It’s just allowed me to see this (special needs) community, their need for the gospel and how many churches need to be ready to care for them.”
Mann was one of approximately 80 people who attended one of two recent daylong conferences for church leaders on ministering to children with special physical mental or social needs and their families.
The events were held on Saturday, March 5 simultaneously at Quest Fellowship Church in Garner and Peninsula Baptist Church in Mooresville.
Titled “The Banquet” based upon Jesus’ parable of the great banquet that’s recorded in Luke 14, the conferences featured keynote presentations along with a series of breakout sessions. The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) sponsored the events in both locations.
“We believe special needs ministry is important in the lives of families and in the lives of churches,” said Donnie Wiltshire, the convention’s consultant for special ministries. “Christ’s mandate to us is that we make disciples, and that means to make disciples of everybody.”
Cheryl Markland, BSC consultant for childhood evangelism and discipleship added: “Jesus calls us to minister to all His children. We should not let our fear or lack of understanding be a barrier to fulfilling this mandate.”
Carlton McDaniel, founder and executive director of Able to Serve, delivered the keynote address to attendees at The Banquet in Garner. Based in the Triangle, Able to Serve provides educational, social and community service opportunities for individuals with special needs.
Prior to founding Able to Serve, McDaniel worked with special needs ministries in churches for more than 20 years. During his keynote address, McDaniel used the event’s theme passage of Luke 14 to share why the church should be involved in ministering to those with special needs.
In Luke 14:15-24, Jesus tells the parable of the master of a house who had planned a large banquet for many invited guests.
Yet when the banquet was ready, the guests made excuses for not attending. The master then sent his servants out to invite “the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” (v. 21).
“The point was that all are welcome,” McDaniel said. “This is Jesus’ banquet table. It’s not yours, and it’s not mine.”
Ministering to individuals with special needs is about showing the love of God to others, McDaniel said.
“If we believe in the Creator, then we believe in the creation,” McDaniel said. “We’re demeaning the Creator when we ignore or pretend that something is wrong with His creation.”
McDaniel believes everyone has a disability that the Bible calls sin, and all are in need of God’s love and sacrifice that was provided by Jesus on the cross.
“The banquet is knowing that God loves you,” McDaniel said. “There is no better food for my soul than knowing that God loves me…. His banquet is open to all, and His banquet is the same for all.”