Sunday, June 15, 2008
Go and make vs. build and they will come
I teach a class that is called "The Exceptional Child." It is basically a class that is an introduction to disability. One of my assignments in the class is for students to contact their local church and interview their pastor about the priority the church places on recruiting and ministering to persons with various disabilities. All too often, students report that the pastor says that they have handicapped parking spaces and accessible restrooms, and that they also have areas for people who use wheelchairs. The typical comment is that "They are welcome and that we would serve them if they came." In a kind of Field of Dreams model for ministry, you simply meet the basic requirements of the law in the United States (handicapped parking places and accessible restrooms) and people with disabilities will be so impressed that they will come to your church! Build the large bathroom stall and they will come!
I remember that was actually a principle I was taught as an undergrad in Christian Education (my major). "If you want to minister to widows, start talking to them from the pulpit and they will come." I guess that it makes a little sense.
As I sat in church this morning, however, Dr. Gary Inrig, my pastor was teaching on Matthew 28:16-20. The passage states, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit..." As Gary stated, it doesn't say, "Sit here and wait in Galilee and people will come." It says go to the nations. I am confident that relates to persons with disabilities as they are just members of the nations. We should go to them as we would go to any other member of the nations and invite them in. Jesus' command is "Go" not "Build it and they will come" or "We will serve them if they come to us." There is a big difference between going and sitting and waiting.
One other note, Titus 2:10 also states "Make the teaching about God our savior attractive in every way." I suspect this is not just a verse about knowledge, about the content of instructional lessons in the church. I don't think it just means that we should use lots of video screens and the latest technology, although I am not opposed to that. It is something different.
How would I make the teaching about God our savior attractive to persons with disabilities and their families? I could begin by accepting them both the families and the people with disabilities. I might even talk about the life experience of people with disabilities from the pulpit because it gives the impression that those in leadership have thought about both disability and theology as it relates to disability. It makes a difference. Human experience around disability and how an understanding of God relates to it is nuanced. There is a difference between being born with a disability or having some traumatic event in your life that causes a disability, or just kind of "rusting" (as I feel is happening to me) such that disabilities of vision or physical or memory just begin to happen as a result of age. Does God, does the Bible, does theology have nothing to say to these aspects of human experience? You might think it doesn't based on the amount of time that pastor's dedicate to the subject. I could begin also by going out and trying to find persons with disabilities and their families and telling them about the priority that God seems to place on them and the importance of their participation within the church. The church desperately needs to discover that importance and reflect it in its practices.
Then, the teaching about our God and savior would be SO attractive, it would be hard to stay away. The church would be REALLY accepting people, really loving people as it was meant to. The church would be seeking out people who are "difficult to love" because of social skills and that would be attractive to the community. The church would really be about acceptance and loving others as a reflection of its God and savior and it would be hard to stay away.