But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height.
Numbers 13:30-32 (ESV)
As we’re coming up on the beginning of a new ministry year, we’ve been spending some time scouting out the landscape and developing a plan as an organization for how we might use the resources God has very generously provided Key Ministry to produce the greatest possible impact for the Kingdom. We’ll be meeting next week as a Board to finalize our priorities for this year…and perhaps the next few years as well.
Those of us in leadership positions throughout the disability ministry movement need to ask ourselves whether we’ll approach the challenges ahead from the perspective of Caleb and Joshua while scouting out the Promised Land, or whether we’ll focus on seemingly insurmountable obstacles…as did the ten other spies sent by Moses along with Caleb and Joshua.
Here are some thoughts about how, with God’s help, God’s people might overcome the “giants” standing in the way of families impacted by disabilities who face barriers to connecting with their larger family in Christ through involvement in the local church. I’ve listed ten priority “targets” for the disability ministry movement. I’m very interested in hearing the thoughts and observations of our fellow “spies” so we might develop a coordinated “battle plan”.
- We need to pursue relationships with senior pastors and executive pastors of churches that aren’t intentionally pursuing any strategy to connect with families impacted by disabilities in their local communities, seeking first to understand their perspectives before expecting them to understand ours. All too often, we in the disability ministry movement stick together in our “holy huddles”, indignant at churches who don’t share the same passions as us without taking the time to appreciate their call, or the priorities that they juggle on a daily basis. We can’t find common ground with our brothers and sisters in leadership until we first take the time understand the church cultures in which they serve, and consider models of outreach and inclusion that will work within the context of their church culture.
- We need to develop new models of inclusion at church. We struggle to find common ground with churches that don’t do ministry “programs”. Some churches don’t have volunteers to spare to launch ministries heavily dependent upon the use of “buddies”.
- We need to develop and publicize effective models of service ministries to children and adults in the community impacted by disabilities. The movement among churches to become more “missional” and “outwardly-focused” is a golden opportunity to establish common purpose between the disability ministry movement and churches that have to this time demonstrated little intentionality in serving those in the community with disabilities.
- We need to develop better strategies for connecting with and including families impacted by the full range of disabilities…not just those with severe physical, intellectual and developmental disabilities. Teens with disabilities are frequently terrified of any service or intervention with the potential for causing their peers to see them as “different”…an enormous limitation for ministries dependent upon “buddies” or self-enclosed classrooms. Mental illness is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and throughout the developed world, yet we lack demonstrably effective ministry models for outreach to and inclusion of children and adults with significant mental health concerns. That must change.
- We need to do a much better job of telling and disseminating our “stories.” We’re not going to be successful in engaging church leaders, mobilizing volunteers and raising the necessary funding to expand our influence within the larger church without continually casting a compelling vision of how those currently outside the disability ministry community can join God at work by supporting outreach to and inclusion of the persons and families we seek to serve.
- We need (to quote one of our Board members) “scaleable” models for training church staff and volunteers in disability ministry. I’ve enjoyed the occasional opportunity to join our ministry team at a couple of our JAM sessions where we might have the opportunity to train 15-40 staff and volunteers from 3-12 churches in a given region. The reality is we need events in which we’re training hundreds of pastors and thousands of volunteers if this movement is to truly have an impact throughout the church, much less our larger culture.
- We need modern, effective means for communicating our most effective ministry strategies…“best practices” with one another and with the larger church.
- We need to engage and mobilize members of the professional community who are sympathetic to our cause. Our Board and ministry team has always seen the effort to share the love of Christ with families impacted by disabilities as a “three-front war.” The first front encompasses the effort to influence churches to recognize the need that exists in their local communities and train the pastors, staff and volunteers of those churches to respond to the need. The second front involves mobilizing parents of children with disabilities who are established within the church to become advocates within their local congregations and supporting them as they encourage and exhort one another. Mike Woods and the team of parent-authors assembled at Not Alone have done a fabulous job of ministering to and supporting parents as they become champions for their children in the local church. The final front involves mobilizing professionals who can lend wisdom and credibility to ministry efforts in local churches as well as the larger disability movement, and direct families they serve in their daily work to local churches prepared to meet their needs.
- We need to become more effective at empowering families impacted by disabilities to use their gifts in ministry to others. Most of the leaders I’ve met in this movement are parents of kids with disabilities who love the Lord, have strong connections with local churches and want the same for everyone else’s family. Our kids with disabilities and their families have marvelous gifts to contribute to the Kingdom…we can give them the opportunity!
- The organizations and leaders who compose the disability ministry movement have a unique opportunity to reflect what it means to be the body of Christ as described by the Apostle Paul in Romans 12. We have lots of small ministries and organizations with passions and gifts that complement one another very well. We need to look for organizational synergies in order to advance the movement. We need to seek ways of using our resources to advance the work of our colleagues in ministry. The title of a book describing the hospital where I served my residency pretty much sums it up. To Act as a Unit…
That’s our “scouting report” on the territory ahead. I don’t mean for this post to be the final word on anything in disability ministry, but to serve as a discussion starter. I’ll be posting this on the Special Needs and Disability Ministry Leaders Forum on Facebook and encourage discussion there.