“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Talking to your church leaders about starting disability ministry

In the great book, Lead like Jesus by Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges, there are many great insights. One struck me as I was rereading it recently. On page 191-192 they state,

"Whenever we are asked to do something different in life, the change agent - whether a manager, a spouse, a parent, a sibling, a colleague, or a friend - usually starts off by attempting to convince you of all the benefits of the change you are being  asked to make. Yet it's been found that the benefits - the impact and the "why" of change - is the fourth-ranked concern people have during change. People are first interested in information concerns. "Tell me what you have in mind. What is needed? What is wrong with the way things are now?" When you have information concerns, you don't want to be sold on the change; you simply want to understand it. Next, people are interested in personal concerns. "How will doing this affect me? Do I have what it takes to integrate the suggested change in my life?" Here the focus is on the details involved in making the change a reality. Third, people have implementation concerns. "What do I do first, second, third, etc.?"

This is an important set of observations for us who who are endeavoring to facilitate change within the church. I immediately saw myself as jumping down to the number 4 concern about the impact in my interactions and I think that I would agree with the authors that that is a mistake. Just to help to see the progression, let me list the questions in order.

1-Tell me what you have in mind.
  What is needed?
  What is wrong with the way things are now?
2-How will doing this affect me?
  Do I have what it takes to integrate the suggested change in my life?
3-What do I do first, second, third, etc.?
4-Here are the benefits of the change that I am asking you to make.

Think through this progression before the next time you are attempting to influence someone about the benefits of inclusive ministry.

McNair

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Definition of disability ministry

I wanted to post the following mostly to receive input from anyone who might be interested. Here is a first draft of a definition of disability ministry.


Disability Ministry


Disability ministry is the label given to efforts to address disability (definition provided in a separate document), in the Christian community.

Ministries first endeavor to create greater confidence in Jesus Christ among persons affected by disability (definition provided in a separate document) by discipling Christian individuals…


1). So that they understand what the Bible says. For those with intellectual impairments, that they comprehend at their level of understanding.


2). By teaching and modeling Christian behavior so that people can produce Christian behavior (including worship, prayer, evangelism, service, and discipleship).


3). By facilitating people’s understanding and expression of their individual gifting in loving service.



Disability ministry also works to facilitate the discipling of Christian environments…


4). To begin with repentance, recognizing that historically the Church has not always loved its neighbors with impairments.


5). To see all people as who the Bible teaches they are.


6). To actively facilitate the expression of everyone’s gifting.


7). To assume persons with disabilities are to be fully included in all Church social environments and then to work towards that inclusion.



And finally…


8). To advocate for cultural change within the Church to reflect all 8 of the above.

Thank you for any input you might provide!
McNair

Friday, April 28, 2017

Meowoof

I have been receiving much positive feedback on my juvenile fiction novel called Meowoof. It would be great for young people or adults interested in exploring what it is to be different in some way. Here is what I wrote about it last November when it was about to be launched. Please consider picking up a copy! 

Meowoof is a new book from Jeff McNair. It would be great to give to a young person who feels different in some way, someone with a disability, or parents of a child with a disability. It is juvenile fiction so it is easy reading and fun. But there are very deep ideas behind the engaging story. Great also for a discussion group interested in discussing differences in people.

Here is the description that goes with the book.

Meowoof invites you into a world of dogs! Of course it is filled with licking, sniffing, biting and chasing. It is no doubt a fun and amusing place to visit. But life is not without its challenges. 
Barney, a beagle, and his mate Inky, a dachshund are just a young couple looking to start a family and live a typical life. But there is something unusual about one of their pups. He is like no pup they or any other dogs have ever seen before. Skip and Rosie, friends of the family do their best to support them as does His Howliness, the leader of the Moon Howlers, but they are up against attitudes deeply held by doggy society. Barney and Inky find out how those around can change when someone is not like everyone else. Those who understand the experience of being different will fearfully whisper about how dogs are taken over by the Grumble, an evil living inside of everyone. How does one battle against something everyone has inside of them? Dogs like Skip and His Howliness refuse to be put off by differences in others and will bear their teeth and fight the Grumble. But the Grumble is not that easily defeated. 
What is it to be different? What happens to you and those around you when you are not like everyone else? You are different. In a truly unique way, Meowoof begins a story about those who are different and what their lives are like.  
  • If you are a little different you will see yourself in this story. 
  • If you love someone who is different, you will more fully understand your experience. 
  • And, if you struggle with those who are different, perhaps you will begin to understand why.
McNair

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Treating persons with intellectual disabilities in an age appropriate manner

Last year, I spoke at a conference attended by persons interested in theology, disability and disability ministry. Many were arguably disability ministry leaders. The main topic of my presentation was related to age appropriateness in ministry approaches to persons with intellectual disabilities.  I have to admit I was surprised when I received a lot of push back from the group about treating adults with intellectual disabilities as adults. You see, when you treat adults as children, this reveals more about who you are then about who they are. So these leaders reflected more about who they were which was what was somewhat shocking to me. Like any form of discrimination, actions can reveal discrimination. You have a characteristic which in most ways should be considered irrelevant to my interactions with you. I, however, see your characteristic as something which I feel I should elevate to a level which I feel allows me to act toward you in ways I would never act towards others.

Without naming specific programs, there are those who attempt to celebrate the lives of persons with intellectual disabilities by treating them in age inappropriate, demeaning ways. Imagine any group who has been discriminated against in some way by the larger society. The larger society then recognizes that those individuals have experienced discrimination. So in "repentance" they celebrate you in the same ways in which you have historically experienced being demeaned. This happens with age inappropriateness. Society has treated adults with intellectual disabilities as children. But when it comes time to try to celebrate them, they actually denigrate them by treating them as children. Once again that reveals who they are, not who those with disabilities are.

Now I recognize that people will do these things with the best intentions. Segregated ministries are developed similarly, with the best intentions. However, intentions when leading to flawed programs or activities do not justify the flawed programs or activities. I would like to care about your intentions, however, I am more interested in what you actually do. In the same way that if you segregate people with the best intentions and are dead wrong, if you treat adults as children because they have an intellectual disability you are wrong. If you want to read more on age appropriateness, see these past blog entries.

My wife Kathi and I have facilitated ministry at local churches for 40 years. In the past 27 years of our group called the Light and Power Company, we have made every effort to ensure that adults are treated as adults. I remember one visitor to our program commented, "Your program is different in that you treat them as if they were your peers." Well Lord willing, we do not treat them AS IF they were our peers, we treat them as our peers because they are our peers. They are adults and therefore should be treated as adults. Once again, if I do not treat adults as adults, it reveals things, negative things, about me. Such treatment is not reflective of anything about the individual with intellectual disability.

I am working on an article at the moment on age appropriateness. As ideas develop I will share more here.

McNair

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Prayer by persons with severe disabilities


It might seem obvious, but a critical aspect of ministry is to teach people to pray. In assisting adults with intellectual disabilities to grow in their faith, one thing we have desired to do is to teach them to pray. Too often the prayers we hear from people are full of words, full of directions, as if God isn't really sure what to do so he needs us to tell him what to do.
I have addressed this a bit in a past post called Help Me.

The class my wife and I facilitate at our church is called the Light and Power Company. At times, we have hosted an all church prayer meeting. The meeting are sparsely attended by around 30 people, but they are always a great time.

In preparing for the event, it occurred to me that prayer would be a great leveler of persons within the church. As stated above, God is not honored by many words repeated. Our prayers are equal. For me to go on and on about the surgeon's training and hands and whatever else comes to mind does not make my prayer any more effective than that of someone who simply says, "Help Sally get better" or even more simply, “Help Sally.” At the same time, however, who knows if the faith of persons with intellectual disability may cause a qualitative difference between my and their prayers.

Perhaps consider instituting a prayer session sponsored by the persons with disabilities in your church. It gives teeth to the lesson that we really are all equal at the foot of the cross. It also should raise the esteem of persons with disabilities in the eyes of other members of the church. There are people who will literally not be prayed for if not for the prayers of persons with disabilities. We had a class member who would ask every week that his bus driver and his teacher would be prayed for. These were two very important people in his life. So we prayed for those people every week. We have no idea the ramification of those prayers, however, one has to believe that they made a difference.
Teaching persons with severe intellectual disabilities to pray is very powerful. I have often been told by someone, someone with a severe intellectual disability, that I was prayed for by them. One friend would greet me every week by saying, "I pray for you Jeff! I nice to you Jeff!" I would always express my appreciation for his prayers. He delighted in praying for me and I delighted in being prayed for by him.

In my work, I do a lot of international travel. I used to ask our class members as a group to pray for me in just a general announcement. One day a woman named Amber came up to me and said, “I pray for you Jeff.” So I sat down before her as she placed her hands on my head. She prayed, “Help Jeff. Help Jeff” several times. She then closed by saying, “I’m trying to be a good girl.” What an incredible prayer. Since that time I always seek her out to ask her to pray for me when I travel. When I am facing challenging times in my life I will also ask her to pray. Sometimes her prayers will be different. One time she actually wept as she prayed for me. Another time she suddenly said, “Devil get away from him!” That was a little frightening. I relish her prayers. At times now, now that she knows she has "permission" she will just approach me and say once again, "I pray for you Jeff." I stop what I am doing, hold her hands or she puts her hands on my head or shoulder and I submit to her ministry of praying for me.

A couple of last comments about prayer. First, when I humble myself before Amber, I honor her and provide her the opportunity to express her gifting by praying for me. Her prayers for me are real to me and valued by me. But I also demonstrate her gifting to those who are observing. Forgive me, but at times I deliberately ask her to pray for me in locations where there are other people around. I want them to see how I value her prayer. Perhaps it will cause them to reflect on who she is in God’s sight as well.

McNair