Key Ministry is turning ten on December 24th! As we celebrate what God has accomplished through ten years of providing free training, consultation, resources and support to churches serving kids with disabilities and their families, I’ll be doing a few blog posts looking back at what God has done through the churches we’ve served, as well as looking ahead to what might be in store for the future…
A couple of weeks ago, Tony Piantine (a highly respected disability ministry leader) shared the following comment in response to a post I’d written on the topic of Next Steps for the Disability Ministry Movement…
The concept of numbers being the reason church leaders cannot ignore people with disabilities is devaluing to every individual with a disability. Your quote: “Only when we include kids and adults with emotional, behavioral and developmental disabilities do the numbers become too large for church leaders to ignore” gives away power to a controlling elite, that have deemed themselves “the church”. The church that is not a full body and does not desire to be for any other reason than Biblical mandate, is simply not the church. We must move ahead on the basis of the value of every one of Gods people, the ruling “church” needs all the gifts of all the people, not the a lot of the gifts that some of the people have a lot of. Martin Luther King said “Discrimination is a hellhound that gnaws at us in every waking moment of our lives to remind us that the lie of our inferiority is accepted as truth in the society dominating us.” With out the change of our system of value, the church will never really be inclusive.
I’ve been mulling over Tony’s comments, because they deserve a thoughtful response. What he says is, of course, true. But I also think we need to step back to see a bigger picture.
Folks who are passionate about disability ministry are given their passion from God, and most disability ministry leaders have had experiences with family members or persons they’ve served that fueled their passion for disability ministry. But in the same way that individual churches are composed of people with unique gifts and talents and passion that complement one another, it would seem that the principle Paul described in Romans 12:3-8 would apply to the larger Church as well.
No church will be able to provide an optimally welcoming and inclusive ministry environment to every person and every family impacted by disabilities. But every church has something to contribute to the movement among Christ-honoring churches to share the Gospel with families impacted by disabilities. Some churches may not appear to be making much of an effort at all to welcome the families we want to be a part of church. But that doesn’t mean that their leaders are bad guys, or that their leadership is being disobedient to God. Maybe they’ve been given different gifts or passions that they’re using quite effectively to advance the cause of the ‘big C” church? Many of these churches happen to be very effective at reaching people with the Gospel who don’t have relationships with Jesus or any meaningful connection through a local church. They often do a very good job with creating church environments that are welcoming to “unchurched people.” Maybe it’s our job to reach out to them and show them how they can share the Gospel with the families we serve while being true to the ministries to which they’ve been called?
We (leaders in the disability ministry movement) ought to be able to find quite a bit of common ground with other church leaders who share our passion for reaching people who don’t know Jesus. But to work effectively with them, we need to seek first to understand their ministries before we seek to be understood. In my experience, they would not see families impacted by disabilities as being of anything other than equal worth to God, but might not develop programs or services for them because of concerns that committing the staff or volunteer resources necessary to meet their needs would take away from their ability to pursue what they would see as their primary calling and ultimately result in fewer people knowing Jesus.
When we in the disability ministry movement start speaking and thinking in terms of the 20% of kids with disabilities (ADHD, anxiety disorders, attachment disorders, trauma, kids on the autism spectrum of average or above average intellectual functioning) in addition to the kids and adults with physical or intellectual disabilities classically thought of as having “special needs” that make it harder for them or their families to regularly participate in church, our passions become more closely aligned with the passions of the churches Tony referred to as the “ruling elite.” If we work together, we can combine our resources with theirs to greatly expand the numbers of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Because many churches that are effectively reaching unchurched people are very gifted at creating welcoming ministry environments, I could easily envision a role for them in serving kids with more subtle or hidden disabilities…kids with conditions that are disabling in some, but not all environments. Kids with disabilities that wouldn’t necessarily be thought of as having “special needs.” Kids with parents who may not have done well in more traditional church environments. And rightly or wrongly, the large churches that are reaching lots of unchurched people are the ones that are granted access to the platforms to influence leaders of other churches.
I want to issue a challenge to my friends and colleagues in disability ministry. I want you to read at least one of two books… Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger and/or Seven Practices of Effective Ministry by Andy Stanley, Reggie Joiner and Lane Jones. After you read the book(s), I’d like to invite you to do a guest post for me on how you and your organization could help church leaders operating under the leadership paradigm described in these books to welcome more children, teens and adults with disabilities while staying true to the ministry principles they’ve found successful.
Looking for a unique Christmas gift for the person who has everything…including a relationship with Jesus? Consider something from the Key Catalog! You can sponsor anything from an on-site consultation at a local church, the addition of a new site for church-based respite care to a “JAM Session” to help multiple churches launch special needs ministries in your metropolitan area. Click the icon on the right to explore the Key Catalog!