I’m sharing a post today from our friend and ministry colleague Barb Dittrich that raises an issue that touches families with and without kids with disabilities.
We had a very healthy discussion in our Key Ministry Board meeting earlier this week about the necessity of community…in particular, the community that God intends for us when we have the opportunity to worship, serve and “do life” together in the physical presence of other Christ-followers. In our increasingly “virtual” world, we also need a place where we matter to other people…where we can experience Jesus’ love in tangible ways during times of adversity, and celebrate with others when we experience life’s joys.
In sharing this post, I don’t mean to bash the church. I have lots of friends in ministry who serve others tirelessly with insufficient resources and very little encouragement or gratitude. I haven’t personally experienced what’s described in this post in the church that my wife and I attend. Barb post attaches a voice to the most common objection I hear from friends who were actively involved in church at one time but drifted away. We need to get community right.
Brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, I beg all of you to agree with each other. You should not be divided into different groups. Be completely joined together again with the same kind of thinking and the same purpose.
~ 1 Corinthians 1:10, ERV ~
Would your church miss you if you weren’t there?
It’s easy to become frustrated or angry with “The Church”. Too few of us are able to find a church home where we are accepted, loved, and included, along with our unique children. Statistics are questionable, but anecdotally, less than 25% of churches nationwide provide any sort of Sunday School accommodations for children with physical or cognitive special needs. Over the years, I have probably heard as many stories of families being asked to leave a church because of their challenged child as I have stories of remarkable inclusion.
When families raising a child with a diff-ability do find a church home, it is often still extremely imperfect. Suffering from “compassion fatigue” or lacking in resources, families are frequently heartbroken when their church does not reach out to them in crisis. Sadly, those who do find an inclusive congregation or one with special needs programming can also be inclined to walk away from the church when they feel ignored in their darkest hours.
Yet, what if we flipped that concept on its head?
When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, he was trying to mend all sorts of false teaching and divisions between this new congregation. His first letter attempted to bring these fledgling believers back to what is important in an effort to unite them. Paul stressed love and the value of each part of the Body of Christ.
With that in mind, what might happen if those who feel the need to be served actually extended themselves to serve? What if rather than expecting the church to reach out to us, we realized that we are the church and reached out to those around us? How would a congregation look if we asserted ourselves as the disability community, educating those who have no clue how we face challenges in our ordinary lives? What if we showed the mercy and compassion of Christ by educating those in our church who feel ill-equipped to figure out how to include us and our children? What might it look like if we were instrumental in growing our local church into an inclusive community where people weren’t all just pigeon-holed into a women’s ministry or youth ministry or singles ministry, but were instead integrated into a loving community mutually attuned to the needs of all its members?
Now, that would be revolutionary! Imagine how we would put people at ease with disability when they see us serving right alongside them with our unique kids. Suddenly, people wouldn’t see the challenge as much as the child. Our fellow church members might actually get to know us, so they might be more inclined to help when we do experience a crisis. We might find all that we are craving in spiritual community… if we just served instead of having to be served.
I know. I may have offended you with this notion. However, before I apologize, let me tell you that the Lord doesn’t excuse those of us dealing with special needs from service. In fact, He tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:22 (ERV), “No, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are actually very important.” The church needs our families or the Body is not complete. We point people to hope that lays beyond our circumstances.
Get in there and roll up your sleeves! Reflect God’s glory to churchgoers who need to see you involved. Then you can feel certain, your church will miss you if you aren’t there.
PRAY: Father, forgive me for my sense of entitlement. Lifter of my head, focus my eyes on Your glory and Your commands. Help me to get beyond my own circumstances and serve just like Jesus did. Holy Spirit, go ahead of me and beside me as I venture into church community. I can only do it by Your power and Your guidance.
Photo Image Courtesy of 123RF
Barb Dittrich is a passionate advocate for the needs of families impacted by disabilities in the church. The mother of three children, two of whom have a variety of special needs, Barb founded SNAPPIN’ MINISTRIES (Special Needs Parents Network) in 2002 and currently serves as its Executive Director. The organization she leads was one of three finalists for WORLD MAGAZINE’S Hope Award for Effective Compassion in October of 2009, in conjunction with the American Bible Society. With a unique vision for serving parents of children with special needs, she has led the SNAPPIN’ MINISTRIES team in developing an innovative parent mentor curriculum. She blogs at Comfort in the Midst of Chaos.