When someone thinks about “next steps” in ministry they have come to recognize that where they are is no longer where they want to be. Perhaps they have visualized a different place they would prefer to be. They desire to move in the direction of their new vision.
Leaders are often unsure of exactly where they are because they have not fully fleshed out their vision. They may not know what questions to ask as they think about taking next steps. In order to see where one is and where one might go, some form of evaluative criteria is needed. Answering the right questions often provides the vision for what is next.
The answers to questions about next steps in growing disability ministry will be different for every church. Some churches have not sought to include persons with disabilities. Some churches serve only a few persons with intellectual disabilities. Others have developed what might be referred to as “silo” ministries…stand-alone disability ministries that operate independently of other vital ministries of the church.
Here are eight questions leaders might use as a guide for determining the next steps in the development of their church’s disability ministry:
- Is our church welcoming persons with disabilities and their families?
- Who are we welcoming and what specifically are we doing to offer welcome?
- Are persons who attend our church integrated into all aspects of church life?
- What is the evidence they are fully integrated?
- Is the gifting of all people, independent of their personal characteristics, being used?
- How are we providing a platform for the expression of everyone’s gifting?
- What expectations are we placing on regular church members to love their neighbors with disabilities?
- What is the evidence that each of us within the body are doing the difficult work of loving our neighbor?
These eight questions will help you to determine the next steps in inclusion of persons affected by disability in the local church. A more extensive list of questions is presented in an article I published with Dr. Marc Tumeinski, (available here for download) “What Would be Better?” The self-examination questions and criteria were designed to help ministry leaders to reflect upon the current state of the disability ministries they lead. With that understanding in mind, the article simply asks readers to consider the question, “what would be better?”
What does our shared vision of Christian community look like? Who is present in our biblical vision of community? How can the inclusion of vulnerable people better reflect the Gospel vision and therefore strengthen our church community? How can we more closely approach this vision here and now within our church? Given the actual makeup of our membership, might we unintentionally or unconsciously be putting some groups of people outside of this vision? What would be better? (p. 18)
I would invite readers considering the next steps for their ministry to use the questions posed in the paper as a guide for advancing disability ministry in their local church. I would like to leave you with one final thought.
I once saw a billboard advertisement that said, “Better has no endpoint.” Whatever stage we are at in our ministry work or our own walk with Christ, we recognize we are on a continuum. Minimally, each of us has the ability to assist others seeking to get to the place where we are. I may be gifted at integration while you are gifted at biblical instruction. We should seek to provide assistance to each other as we work to more fully emulate the vision for the church as the Body of Christ.
Dr. Jeff McNair serves as Professor of Education and as Director of the M.A. in Disability Studies program at California Baptist University. He also serves as Director of the Policy Center of the Joni and Friends Christian Institute on Disability and volunteers with The Light and Power Company, a group that includes adults with developmental disabilities at Trinity Evangelical Free Church in Redlands, CA. He blogs at Disabled Christianity.