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Discipling and neurodiversity

Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (1 Corinthians 1:20)

Neil Hook

We are all individuals and should be treated as such, says Neil Hook

I am a neurodivergent man working in full time ministry. If you see me behind an altar or preaching from the pulpit you would not know that I am neurodivergent. However, talking to me for a little while will probably reveal that I interact with the world in a slightly different way to other people. This is because I have borderline personality disorder - I am a self-identifying member of the neurodiverse community.

Neurodiversity is a newer and more positive word typically used to replace ‘disability’, regarding neurological differences. The neurodiversity movement, which encompasses all those whose long-term mental health diagnosis displays neurodivergent characteristics, argues that we’re all individuals and our brains are all different. Therefore everyone, whether they are neurotypical or neurodivergent, should be treated individually.

Society (including our churches) generally is happiest when people display neuro-normative behaviour, interacting with the world around them in a way that makes others feel comfortable. Neurodivergent people therefore have a way of making situations, circumstances, and activities uncomfortable. We may be incredibly good at masking our behaviour but, at some point or other, the true person will slip out and we will say or do something which causes others to stop and ponder.

All our churches seek to be safe spaces, to focus on relationships and develop a shared faith community. Neurotypical individuals find relationships and experiences easy, but it’s more complicated for neurodivergent people. So how should your church respond if it wants to reach out to the neurodivergent, or minister to a neurodivergent individual who is already part of your community?

I would argue that we don’t want a specialised type of ministry that creates a little ghetto in which we can be safely encountered. Instead of assuming what people want or need, we need to practise contextual faith that welcomes all people, all the time, regardless of neurological differences. We need to start where people are and create welcoming and affirming fellowships.

This is not easy because every neurodivergent individual is just that – an individual. Every situation and context will therefore be different, which means that the standard methods of discipling will not necessarily work. But if we respect the different ways that God has created us, the infinity of diversity that makes us His rainbow children, we can only be strengthened by welcoming and affirming the neurodivergent and their different ways of seeing the world.