Don't be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God.
It takes courage for pastors to embrace a ministry to persons with disabilities. I mean to REALLY embrace such a ministry. It causes ministry structures to change in order to be inclusive of all who might wan to participae in the programs of the church. It takes courage because there will be resistance to change generally, resistance to people who haven't yet and perhaps never will master social skills, and many congregational members may feel uncomfortable. At least they may at first. Some may complain and claim they are not "being fed" (meaning, I guess, that the bottle has fallen out of their mouths). The response is not to exclude, but to change the way that things are done such that more individuals can be involved. The fact that current ministry structures do not include persons with various disabilities implies that they were developed without the involvement of persons with disabilites in the first place.
For example, there is a church that I know of whose youth program is held on the second floor of a building with only stairs to the second floor. This is more than just an ADA issue. Clearly there are times when ministries will be designed for specific groups (recovering alcoholics, victims of various forms of abuse) but the more "generic" programs should be reflective of a perspective that errs on the side of being inclusive of all who would choose to attend.
People with disabilities, particularly those wih physically obvious differences (like down syndrome) are an easy target. I can see the outward evidence of their disability in their facial appearance. I can link their cognitive disability quickly to a physical appearance and dismiss them. It is harder to design ministry that aims at and forsters a wider range of "normal."
I have heard pastors wonder aloud, "What do you expect me to do?" Well, I expect you to speak about persons with disability from the pulpit, to advocate for their inclusion in the programs of the church. To encourage the congregation to get out there and bring them in. I first expect pastors to use their pulpit to develop awareness. I would then expect them to be involved in the ministry, if only making an occasionally appearance, or taking the time to interact with class members. I remember a pastor of mine, Dr. Paul Cedar, once chose a man with developmental disabilities to be his weekly prayer partner for midweek Bible studies. This was a year long committment. This spoke volumes to the congregation about who he felt persons with disabilities are. I expect pastors to not be conformed to the patterns of the world as they are reflected in the structures of the church, but to be transformed by the renewal of their minds. What would a church look like who truly included all individuals who would choose to paricipate? What demands would be placed on the congregation to ensure that persons who do not have a driver's license got to church? It is easy to say you will include me if I come when you know full well that I have no ability to get there other than perhaps hours on a bus.
Then an issue that I continue to struggle with is what would inclusive programs look like? I don't think that the whole church should revolve around any particular group of potential members, but what changes might be implemented that would both indicate to the congregation that these individuals are a priority, that they are worthy of our time, and also would not exclude them on the basis of contrived criteria for program involvement? To what degree is intelligence (for example) a criteria for involvement in the Christian church? If it is a criteria, what does that imply about our programs, who we want to be involved in our programs, who we think the church is for? Clearly intelligence (continuing to use this example) is important for attending college, or being able to perform in some jobs. But is intelligence critical for church involvement? Is intelligence critical to being a follower of Christ?
We need to step back and consider the way we do things in the Christian church. We need to reflect on the degree to which our programs, our structures are reflective of something other than a renewed mind, under the control of God's Holy Spirit. Are we doing things because they are the best way of doing things or are we doing things because we either cannot or will not be transformed by the renewing of our minds?