Doing Ministry Like a Missionary…Mike Woods

Heidi_Baker_BabyhouseI think that we’re going to have to think differently about special-needs ministry in order to reach the special needs population with the Gospel. Statistics may vary, but many report that approximately 80% of the disability community are unchurched. And though there are several factors that may account for this, I would like to focus on one important factor called “cultural distance.”

The concept of “cultural distance” is one paradigm that will help us to understand the reason why special-needs ministry outreach is an essential activity in bringing the gospel to the disability community.

Cultural distance is a simple concept that was initially developed by Alan Hirsch. Alan is a South African-born missiologist, author, and an acknowledged leader in the missional church movement.

What is cultural distance? According to Hirsch:

Cultural distance is…“a conceptual tool that we can use to discern just how far a person or a people group is from meaningful engagement with the gospel.”

Let’s say that you take a continuum that is a line. And on that line you indicate cultural barriers from left to right, evenly spaced. Each cultural barrier needs to represent a real significant barrier to meaningful communication of the Gospel.

What are some significant cultural barriers to the Gospel? Try thinking of cultural barriers in terms of missionaries who go to foreign countries to plant a church. What are some of the significant cultural barriers that missionaries have to cross in order to effectively share the Gospel with people of other cultures? Here’s a few of the primary ones:

  • Language
  • Values and beliefs.
  • Current cultural practices.
  • Past history.
  • Stereotypes
  • ________ ?

Here’s what it would look like visually depicted:

Missionaries and Cultural Barriers

Make no mistake about this: missionaries go through a course of training to overcome the obstacles to reach a people group. To be a successful missionary you must be willing to learn the language, the cultural practices, the history, and the values & beliefs of the people you are going to in order to reach them with the Gospel.

The problem that I see happening now in many churches and church-based special-needs ministries is that we’re not the ones crossing the cultural barriers anymore.

Many church-based special needs ministries (and churches) have sunk a lot of time and energy and effort into developing a great special-needs ministry located within the walls of the church building. And there is nothing wrong with that…in fact, it is a good thing. I spent my first two years working hard to create a welcoming special needs ministry at First Baptist Orlando.

But realistically, this type of “come and see” special needs ministry only shares meaningful communication of the Gospel with people who are within the walls of your church building.

In other words, the Gospel is only shared with those differently-abled individuals who attend your church and participate in your special needs ministry. The problem with that, as I have mentioned earlier, is that the larger percentage of the disability community is nowhere to be found within the church building.

In essence, by operating only in the “come and see” mode we place the burden of crossing cultural barriers on the disability community. In other words, they now have to become the missionaries and take the initiative to cross significant barriers to get to the church. The more barriers that someone has to overcome the less likely they will be to cross them.

Here’s what it would look like visually depicted:

Come and See Ministries

That’s crazy! Each barrier presents a potential reason for someone to say, “Forget it.” That would be like a missionary going to Botswana, building a church building, and waiting for the Gciriku people to come to church after having made no effort to engage and relate to them. The “If you build it, they will come” philosophy isn’t a sure bet.

Whether you want to call it “outeach,” “missional,” or “go and tell,” I think it’s important for church-based special needs ministries (and churches without special needs ministries) to start operating again like missionaries.

We need to be the ones to shoulder the responsibility of being missionaries and take the initiative to cross cultural barriers in order to reach the people that we’re passionate about to meaningfully communicate the Gospel.

What’s one thing you could do this week to begin to do ministry like a missionary?

Mike-Woods-Joy-Prom-@-1024x615In addition to serving as a Church Consultant with Key Ministry, Mike Woods currently works as the Director for the Special Friends Ministry at First Baptist Orlando. Prior to joining First Baptist Orlando, Mike worked for nine years as the autism and inclusion specialist for a large school district in metropolitan St. Louis. Mike regularly blogs for Key Ministry on topics related to “missional” Special Needs Ministry…how churches can “leave the building” to share the love of Christ with families impacted by disabilities in their local communities.

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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3 Responses to Doing Ministry Like a Missionary…Mike Woods

  1. Pingback: Doing Ministry Like A Missionary

  2. Ann Holmes says:

    O, my! This is spot on and totally practical! Thanks for posting!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Agree entirely! Barbara J. Newman just finished a new book called Accessible Gospel, Inclusive Worship -should be published by Christmas. I’ve had the honor of proofreading it, and she is saying this as well –and offering ideas, resources and fuel for this fire! We, the church need this! Come on, churches! Do this!!! (Thank you, Mike, and Dr. G!)


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