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

Friday, March 17, 2006

"Don't be conformed to this world..."

Romans 12:2 says,
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?



impossibleape said...

Hi Jeff:
I liked what you said about ministers being responsible to at least speak about the needs of disabled people and to encourage members to think about ways of including them in our churches.
If we had ever been made to feel that PWD's were valued, or at least thought of enough to be even mentioned from the pulpits of churches we have attended, my family's sense of isolation would have been diminished.

Thank you for using your cyber space pulpit to speak about the people that mean the most to me, my children.

Mark said...

Well Said! and right on! The church can say as often as it will that all are welcome

Mark said...

Whoops!I sent before I was ready. What I meant to add was that in these cases the churches actions shout the true condition of its heart, while the whispered words, and not from the pulpit, mind you, but the plattitudes only offered when attitudes, actions and inactions are confronted by lay persons.

I don't believe Pastors have negative beliefs about disabled persons, well not most, I think they just don't think about them at all. Those persons simply aren't on their "radar screen." Concerned chutchmen and women need to put the disabled on the radar and keep them there until they are fully engaged.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with the comments made above. I think the church dismisses those with disabilities. When did the church make the call of who would be held accountable? It makes me sad to think that the churches are not loving on an entire group of people because we have decided that they won't be held accountable. If churches only knew how much disabled people can add. They teach us a new level of love and humility. I really appreciate your passion for the disabled. I hope that churches start catching on. I know that I have changed my perspective.

Anonymous said...

You have a good point however I do not feel that all pastors ignor the issue. Many pastors are trying to focus on the whole congregation, I am not saying that they sometimes do not over look it, however you are right you can not just focus on one certain group. At my church we have individuals with disabilities that attend our masses. I go sunday mornings so I do not see how many there are, however on sunday morning mass I usually see 4 to 5 individuals with a disability. I do agree with you in the point that many churches do need to try to show love to all types of groups.

Anonymous said...

I think that churches need to be ready to have anyone come. THis makes one who has special needs feel like they can go there. We should be ready to go out and reach all people, not just certain people. If we did that we would be a poor representation of Christ. Christ gathered all.

Anonymous said...

Prof McNair, this is Breon Stell from your EDU 541 class, I really connected with the ideas discussed with in this particular article. In life, I always try to live my life the way I think God would want me to live it and not others. Though I sometimes wonder what others think about my decisions and actions, when it really comes down to it, I only care about what God think of my actions. I think this is the same mind set ministers need to have when approaching the needs of disabled people in their church. All minister’s need to realize that disabled people are children of God too and therefore are entitled to the same type of treatment non-disabled people received while at church. Until all minister’s realize this, disabled people were still be neglected. Minister’s need to stop conforming to make other’s happy and start doing what God wants them to do……….PERIOD!!!!!