I am an unchurched Christian.

Steeple, Iowa CityI am ashamed to say it, but it’s true.

For the better part of the last five years, our family has spent very little time in church—I couldn’t even call us irregular attendees.

What gives? I mean, I am a PK (preacher’s kid) and all, for goodness’ sake! How can I not be attending church? Aren’t Christians supposed to go to church?

Well, it’s not because I don’t want to go. Oh, we’ve gone in “fits and starts”. But there have been seasons of life when it has been impossible for us to go because it was just too much for Jacob.

In your church, do you see, or know of, any adults or families with kids with Down’s Syndrome? In wheelchairs? With autism? Or other disabilities? Is your church reaching out to and loving on these folks?

Lots of times, if these things do not affect you directly, it is not on your radar at all. Which is understandable. I get that, but we are out there: Christian families, who love the Lord, but find it nearly impossible, for whatever reason, to be a part of a church.

Where do families with special needs fit in our churches today?

In our various moves around the country, we have attended many churches over the years. Churches of many denominations—Southern Baptist, Evangelical Presbyterian, non-denominational.

Only one of those churches offered a specific ministry to those with special needs and their families.

Unfortunately for my family, that was before we even knew we were a family with special needs.

Even though we were not a part of that ministry at that particular church, I was keenly aware of how it met the needs of many of the families in our church. I knew families whose lives were deeply impacted by that ministry. Those special folks were not only welcomed and ministered to, they were celebrated. They were a vital part of the body of that church.

In fact, it was because of that ministry that many of those families were able to come to church at all.

3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.  ~Romans 12:3-5 (NIV) emphasis mine

As a PK, I grew up on the pews of quite a few Methodist churches around eastern North Carolina. I was raised attending summer camps and youth groups and revival meetings. Church was an integral part of our family.

I remember fondly laying my head on my mother’s lap in those pews, looking curiously at one of her veined hands, while the other gently stroked my hair as my Daddy preached from the pulpit.

I also remember, as I got a little older, cracking up in those pews at my older brother as he pointed and snickered at how the blue hair of the old lady in the pew in front of us matched her blue suit. It was quite hilarious, much to my mother’s chagrin. She shot us the dagger eyes. It still tickles me to this day.

Nowadays, when I get asked where we attend church, I am ashamed to say that currently we are not attending anywhere, and I am quick to add, “but we have been visiting and just haven’t found our church home yet.”

Which is sort of the truth and sort of a lie.

The truth is we haven’t found a church home where we feel our son is comfortable, understood or welcomed. And the truth is, we are not the only ones.

When you have a family member with special needs whether they are hidden disabilities like autism, as in our case, or they are more visible, you need a church family. You need to feel that your child will be loved on, safe, and accepted into your church family, not looked at as a situation to be dealt with, feared or simply tolerated.

Sometimes I feel like the fact that we are not attending church regularly makes me less of a Christian somehow, and a failure at raising godly children. In a family of ministers (my father and both brothers), I sometimes feel like I am failing miserably. I know that is not true.

I know that going to church doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than standing in your garage makes you a car.

I just miss the fellowship. I miss the teaching. The worship. I feel like my kids are missing out and honestly, I feel guilty for not being in church. Please know that I am not blaming anyone else for our being unchurched. I know that I have a part to play in this as well, but I see a general lack in this area of ministry in churches. I believe churches need to take some time to consider whether they are reaching out to all families.

I am not just talking about creating another program to slap on the weekly calendar of the church.

I am talking about love.

Who is church for, anyway?

Is church just for those who look the part, all cleaned up and acceptable in the eyes of the church? Those who are easy to look at and care for?

I’m  not just talking about those with special needs or disabilities, either.

I am talking about people who struggle with addiction, whose marriages are falling apart, who have a family member who has committed suicide. I am talking about the homeless, the poor, the elderly, infirm,  and shut in, the mentally ill, the outcasts of society.

All need to be loved and need the fellowship of other believers. They need relationships. They need Jesus. They need people to be His hands and feet.

What if Jesus had thrown up His hands and shrugged his shoulders when the woman came to the well at Samaria? What if Jesus had allowed the men to stone that adulterous woman? Or ignored the lepers and the prostitutes? What if God had never changed the life of Saul that day on the Damascus Road? Because if anybody appeared to be a lost cause, it was Saul. Many of today’s churches wouldn’t have touched him with a ten foot pole! The parables Jesus told about the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son aren’t just stories. They are examples for us to follow about how to minister to people in the trenches of life. Every trench—the painful, ugly, prickly, muddy, stinky, scary and difficult-to-navigate trenches.

He meets us where we are. He loves intentionally.

I think His church needs to do the same.


“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  ~Matthew 25:40



Filed under Autism Days, Faith

8 responses to “I am an unchurched Christian.

  1. Wow, Joell, such a good post. I admit I haven’t given this much thought until now. I would love to get with you later and get some insight/advice/tips on how to make families with special needs feel welcome and comfortable; there is a new boy in Merrick’s sunday school class who is autistic and the teachers have struggled in figuring out the best way to take care of him. Do you have my email?

  2. Hey sweet girl. I love your vulnerability. You are precious.. I was a church hopper for years after I left a church I had attended for 10 years. I just felt out of place everywhere. I don’t know. Maybe it was my insecurity, all my wounds holding me back from receiving. 2 years ago I found this house church. Very small and intimate but it changed my life. When the group (well this group of people anyways)have issues and trust me there have been a few. We bring it before the Lord. All the anger and frustration. We repent to God and one another and move forward. Watching God show His glory thorough these painful afflictions is so beautiful. He always (If you allow Him) Takes those things that are meant to break you and uses them for HIM.. Love it……. Any ways I do not mean to ramble but I totally hear you here.. xoxoxo..Kristin

  3. Wonderful,Wonderful,Wonderful, Joell. And I totally agree. When I worked with the mentally handicapped in highschool and college, I knew so many loving Christian families who couldn’t go to church. But there was one church with a loving, welcoming ministry for those handicapped ones, and all that could went to it. I loved that church for that. It’s not really enough to be a church and say you’ll let kids go to a class that is “developmentally appropriate” for them. Those kids need their own, unique loving on too.

    Beyond the handicapped, though (not even sure it’s politically correct to call them mentally handicapped anymore), ALL kids need that loving on. All adults- all in difficult, yucky spaces in their lives. Whether unemployed or down and out or looking for healing or just hurting from sin (either their own or someone else’s). People seem so busy- too busy to minister.

    I hate that my boys feel accepted at one church and my girls hate going there because all the girls are catty and mean. I hate that school kids look at homeschool kids like they are aliens. I hate that people are so superficial and look at your clothes and judge books by their cover.

    That said, we have found a place we’re visiting that is loving, accepting, warm and friendly. And it’s near the beach so after church, we head off to play. Let me know if you guys want to visit. I know all of your family would be welcomed. I don’t know if it would be the right fit for you, but it might be worth a try.

    Love you- S

  4. Sherri Weitnauer

    This makes me sad and reminds me that our church use to have 2 ladies that made sure that a few of our families with special needs children were able to come to our church AND Sunday School. These ladies were their Sunday School teachers and would sometimes sit with them in church. There were about 3 special needs children and 1 adult who attended. Each had a unique way of participating in church, which at times might be considered disruptive, but that was ok. One of these wonderful ladies passed away last year, Mabel Weeks Duke and the other lady no longer attends our church, which sometimes happens when a pastor moves to another congregation. After reading your post, it dawned on me that I haven’t seen these families since we no longer have these ladies with us. Our new pastor starts in September and this will be a great time to bring this issue to his attention. Of all places, church should be a safe, accepting and loving place for everyone!

    • Thanks for your comment, Sherri! And this is truly what I was hoping could come from this post! I don’t think this will always be our situation, as Jacob has grown my leaps and bounds, but I know there are so many families out there who are in the same boat, who desperately need and want to be a part of a church family. Thanks girl!!

I always love hearing from you! :-)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s