Is “Special Needs” Biblically Sound?

The more I think about it the more I’m convinced that the notion of “special needs” isn’t biblically sound.

My friend Tim pastors a church in Denver, and he talks a lot about the “Y’all Come In” mentality. In that view, if the church opens the door and puts down a welcome mat, that’s enough.

Except that it’s not enough.

At Tim’s church they send people to homeless shelters and by-the-week motels. They sit with people one-on-one, talk with them, assure them they’re valued and needed.

Those aren’t the comfortable church people. Often they’re dirty and smelly. Sometimes they’re manipulative or mistrustful. They’re certainly the most materially needy, and they’re also the least likely to respond to “Y’all Come In.”

In Tim’s eyes this isn’t a special ministry to special people who need the church. It’s a biblical ministry seeking folks with essential gifts the church needs.

I think it’s a lot like that with people who face physical, emotional, or mental challenges. I suppose it would be ideal if everyone felt equally welcome and accepted. They don’t. We don’t.

Suppose it’s not about meeting “special needs.” What if it’s about really believing that every person brings unique gifts to the table and that every excluded person means an incomplete body?

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, 12-14

I don’t know how to make this happen. Well, actually, I do—we all do. What I really don’t know is how to make it comfortable.

It’s uncomfortable to be around those who are different. It’s just easier to worship in familiar surroundings with familiar people and familiar ideas. Folks with disabilities, folks who don’t “fit in” in some way—they make us uncomfortable. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that.

What’s wrong is letting that discomfort control us. Folks who look or act differently, who evoke feeling of discomfort—we can’t just open the door and say “Y’all Come In.” And we can’t shuffle them off to the side into “special” sections or “special” programs that that serve our needs much more than theirs.

We need to go get them. We need to include them. We need to equip them to use their unique gifts in ministry.

Just like everyone else.