Today Stephen speaks about respecting neurodiversity in the Church. Check out his other post about Why Online Church Services Should Continue Beyond the Pandemic.

People experience God in different ways. For some people, the connection happens during a vibrant worship set, others through traditional liturgy, and others by walking through the woods or climbing a mountain. None of us are exactly the same.

People are shown in a church worship service with their hands raised in the air.  A band is seen in the background, on stage.
Photo by John Price on Unsplash

This is especially true when it comes to neurodiversity. Neurodiversity has been defined as “the range of differences in individual brain function and behavioral traits, regarded as part of normal variation in the human population (used especially in the context of autistic spectrum disorders).”

In a recent meeting with the group home where my children with autism live, we discussed their religious activities. My son thoroughly enjoys watching the online services of the church where I am a pastor. This is an important part of his routine. While my daughter sometimes watches the services over his shoulder, it is not really her preference. For my daughter, her religious activity is watching her favourite Veggie Tales episodes. And that is okay.

I have seen a greater awareness in congregations about neurodiversity and the variety of ways that people connect with God. One way of accommodating some forms of neurodiversity is by focusing less on the teaching of doctrine and more on relationships and experience. I have seen the benefits of this as people who are provided common opportunities to experience God together.

The only problem is that this only benefits one type of neurodiversity. I spoke to a young man with autism who had been attending a small group. The focus had been on relationships and experience, two things that did not come easy to him. Trying to connect, he mentioned his interest in Christian apologetics. That was quickly shut down as not relevant to Christians today.

Photo by Fa Barboza on Unsplash

For some, the focus on relationships and experience seems to be the lowest common denominator which will allow a shared faith community. While relationships and experience come easy to some, for some people on the autism spectrum, they are far more difficult than the most complex philosophical questions.

Respecting neurodiversity means not starting with an assumption of what people want or need. Christian discipleship always happens within a specific context. Start with the people who are present and adjust the practices accordingly. It is more complicated than a standard way of discipleship but it is a way that respects that different ways God has created us.

A person's legs and feet are shown walking on a nature trail.
Photo by Olia Gozha on Unsplash

About Stephen Bedard

Stephen J. Bedard is a pastor at Queen Street Baptist Church. He is currently completing his DMin in the area of disability ministry from Acadia Divinity College. He lives with his wife Amanda in St. Catharines, Ontario. Their oldest two children have autism and live in a group home setting. Feel free to check out his website at stephenjbedard.com , or pick up a copy of his book How to Make Your Church Autism Friendly.

One Thought on “Respecting Neurodiversity in the Church

  1. sarah smith on June 18, 2021 at 11:17 am said:

    There are lots of small groups that meet over zoom, perhaps your son could get his need to understand apologetics unmet that way?

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