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

Friday, December 15, 2006

Second class ministers

Those of you who read this blog, know that I have at times spoken of the need for a movement of lay professionals to change the church. That is, professionals in special education, rehabilitation, social workers and others to step up and call for the development of disability ministry in their own local church.

Recently Kathi and I were doing an inservice for a local Christian school about why Christian schools should want special education generally (a future blog entry) and specifically how to do curricular modifications at the Christian school to allow students with various needs to be successful in the general education program. In the process of delivering the inservice, I got talking about the priorities that churches place, that pastors and leaders place on ministry to persons with disabilities.

It occured to me that one of the reasons that professionals in areas of disability have not stepped up is that over the years, they have been made to feel that their work, particularly as it relates to the church is not very important. People will often say how wonderful it is to work with persons with disabilities, talking about how much patience it takes, however, they don't make the connection to applying those skills to the Christian church. I think that because there is little mention and little priority on ministry in the church, professionals may feel like second class ministers if they are involved in such ministries.

Churches see ministry to chldren or high schoolers or developing small groups for adults as very important. Disability ministry is less important in their eyes. So my desire to do such ministry is less important. I would be willing to bet money that at least one professional in disability attends every church in the United States. However, there is not at least one disability ministry in every church in the United States. Why might that be?

It could be that there is a disconnect in the minds of disability professionals between their work and potential ministry. I am sure that is often the case. However, I am equally as sure that pastors are not calling those professionals to use their gifts and their training in such ministry. There are people out there like me who arriving at a church with a Ph.D. and years of experience in disability ministry were told, "Its not a priority at this time." That is one way of telling someone that your ministry desires are second class. Another way is to have a highly trained person in your midst and see her expertise as irrevalent to the work of the church. Its like, "Its nice that you paint pictures" or "Its nice that you play basketball" or "Its nice that you have a BA, MA, PhD, or whatever in working with people who have been ignored by the church for hundreds of years." Its nice but it is irrelevant, in their minds.

That is why when Kathi and I were told that disability ministry was not a priority, I turned to her as we left the pastor's office and said, "It soon will be." We began to bring people with disabilities to church, sought them out in the community, and the ministry has become more of a priority. I think people think it is nice, but often don't know what to do with us. I wonder what would happen to the ministry at our church if we suddenly disappeared from the scene. It is getting better as regular members begin to open themselves to those with disabilities and begin to like the changes those people make in them. They find out the big secret that we in disability ministry already know...Its fun and people with cognitive disabilities (our particular focus) are really great people.

So you lay professionals out there, don't allow your church or its leadership to make you think that disability ministry and disability ministers (potentially you!) are second class ministries or second class ministers. If we believe that all people are of equal value in the sight of God, our churches should reflect that fact. Our ministry priorities should reflect that fact.

And to you pastors who might be reading this, you need to confront disability professionals with their responsibilities in the church. You need to bring people with disability into the Church and support the efforts of those who do the same. Did Christ see people with disability? Very often these people are also poor. Did Christ have any interest in the poor? We read the stories of the extent to which Jesus went to minister without considering the context or the effort on his part to get with these people. Jesus’ interactions with persons with disabilities are breath-taking, and they were intentional on his part. We trivialize these interactions when we use them simply as illustrations of spiritual principles. These were real people confronted by a real God, and these confrontations with real people by a real God are ubiquitous in the New Testament. So don’t miss the priority Christ gives to these people as an example for you as a church leader in terms of the priority you should give to these same individuals who are living in your midst today. If you say that people with disabilities are not a priority, you devalue people, you indict yourself and you diminish the service of those who do work with the disenfranchised and people experiencing disability.


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