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

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.



Julie said...

Wow, I was thinking about this idea the other day, how some in the church wait and see who will come to them and create ministries to those people. (I'm guilty of this.) That's great in a way, but it leaves out those who simply cannot get out of their homes or their nursing homes or their group homes on their own.

Very good post.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, most churches are NOT about acceptance, but about what you can do to serve. And if you can't serve, you are forgotten. Been there, done that.

Anonymous said...

I love how you titled this blog. I could not agree with you more in that the church needs to get out there and welcome these people into the church and make them feel welcomed. I have been in services where a baby starts to cry and the pastor just gives that look to the parent to get that child out of there instantly. I have been in a sermon where the pastor jokingly says, “Can you be quiet?” Of course everyone laughs but you can feel the embarrassment that the parents felt. How does that make the parents feel who have a child who is autistic that they want to bring to church? The church can not stand a crying baby in church, what makes the parents think that they would accept a child with autism who can’t sit still and screams when a high pitch noise is heard. What is that church saying to those who attend their services? Of course, today, churches are admitting that they are lacking in making those with disabilities a priority because of the lack of funding. Yet my church can spend all kinds of money and time on setting up the arrangements for a Couples Honeymoon. Is that time well spent helping those who really need help? I think not.

Anonymous said...

Amen!!! We, as Christians should shine with a Godliness that is irresistible. Aren’t we the light that God has called to shine in the world today? We were created to glorify God by allowing Him to love other through us. We are blessed to be a blessing, are we not? It seems to me that love in the church today only goes so far. You are welcomed and “ushered” in, even introduced to other members to the church and embraced with a hug and a “pleasure to meet you”. They may ask questions about you and your interests and even let you sit with them the first couple of times you attend service. And then all of a sudden, the newness of you is over and their on to the next person. Their love has only extended so far as to welcome you, make sure you’re comfortable for the moment, and then leave. This is defiantly been my experience often times, and I think that this is what is happening with disability in the church. No one is following through with their end of the bargain. People are starting a so called “ministry” and then leave it hanging. They claim to desire disabled individuals and even welcome them with open arms but have no place for them to grow, fellowship, and serve. I think it takes too much effort to really love others, and people throw in the towel when things get rough. But as you said, what reward is there in loving those that love you back? Well that is easy, anyone can do that! As it says in Scripture, the heathens can do that! But what a great reward is there in loving others that at first may take some understanding in how to love. I also think the church needs to take a reality check and realize maybe they are the ones that aren’t easy to love. Maybe THEY are the problem here. What this says about the church and Christianity is embarrassing. The Church bears the name of Christ, so lets stop with the facade and take our eyes off the unholy Trinity of me, myself, and I and back onto the word of God and what He says what a Church should be.

C. S. said...

I think Dr. Gary Inrig is a fantastic pastor. Good for him for taking up the subject publicly.
But then Trinity E. is known for that, they are not afraid to shine light on our darkness.

Anonymous said...

I really like the Titus verse. This really says it all. My pastor says all the time "This ain't your grandmother's church!" What he means by that is in making the gospel attractive in everyway, if we still continued to do things the way we did 20 years ago, we've wasted 20 years of our lives. What reaches one is not what reaches another. It's important that we accomodate everyone in teaching the gospel. My church is a fairly new church, and we do not have our own building yet. The facility we use does not allow for us to utilize all of the things that may accomodate diversely disabled individuals. I asked my pastor what were his plans for the new location for disability accomodations. I made sure to educate him on the difference between what is required by law and what "real" accomodations are. He had not thought about all of the needs presented to him. He asked me to make a list of things I thought were appropriate, and he'd see what could be done. He also offered to pay for me to take an ASL class to sign in front of the church.

Gail said...

This was a very informative blog! Until I took your class,The Exceptional Child, I hadn't really given much indepth thought about the church's role regarding disabled individuals. At my church, parents are encouraged to leave their children at Sunday school. Of course, any loud or disruptive sounds during the service are discouraged. I believe that people in general, have grown up believing that they should stay within certain boundaries of what is acceptable behavior. What is acceptable behavior anyways? If christians are going to go into all the world and make disiples that would include those with disabilites as well. The church needs to accept those who cannot stay seated in their pews, they may need to leave the service temporarily and return after a few minutes, but many churchs will not allow someone to return to a service once they leave their seat (too disruptive). The church needs to learn to work around people with disabilities and not be "shocked" or "afraid" if a few loud noises are made during a service. If anyone should be flexible it should be the church. We need to think outside of the box when it comes to meeting the needs of those with disabilities. There are going to be people with autism, blindness, those in wheelchairs, the hearing impaired. The church has a responsibility to meet the needs of all, and move out of the box of confinement, and "acceptable behavior".

Anonymous said...

I don't know how we would be able to push our churches into taking more responsibility for the disabled community, but I think that for every day that passes without the members advocating for change, we are as guilty as the church leaders. Who is the church but the sum of its members? We ARE the church, not the pastor, the ministers, the deacons, or anyone else "in charge." We are responsible for doing too. If our church has nothing for disabled people, and children too, then why not make your own class? I'm sure that all churches have some classroom or place that can be turned into a new place for fellowship led by none other than the one who most wants it to be there. My husband always says that getting something done depends on how bad you want it accomplished. Coming from someone who doesn't even believe in God, it was extremely relevant to this topic. If you really want those people to be reached, YOU go to them! If people need to learn how to love ones who are hard to love, YOU show them how it's done! If people need help getting to church, YOU go and get them! Bring them! Pray with them! Call them! Mentor them! You may find that your relationship with Jesus and your spiritual level will, and must, grow for this to happen. Just because someone may not be able to talk doesn't mean that they don't pray, or understand the Bible, or anything else that we "normal" people do. If anything, they have an opportunity to have a stronger relationship with the Lord than we do, because it seems like we have way more distractions. We think we're perfect in our normalcy. So if that's the case, and you end up reaching out to someone who's at a higher spiritual level than you are, REACH! Get to their level. Lead them, but let them lead you too. See what you can learn from someone who has a different perspective on life. Others will see you doing that, and they will know what they need to do as well. It's not only "go and make," I think it's also "actions speak louder than words." Let your actions speak to those you decide to help, those you want to help, those who should be involved, yourself, and the Lord. But be careful not to boast of your involvement. You will want to keep doing it for the right reasons, not because you're getting recognition for being a "good Christian." I just learned from my pastor what our church "does" for disable people: not much. When the pastor for the Deaf ministry left, they "tried" to find another one, couldn't, and then "let" their members go to other churches! Unbelievable! We live in a country where ANYONE can go to seminary...it's not illegal. How can you NOT find a pastor for a deaf ministry? They don't seem to have tried very hard, and that's a shame. So now that I know the situation, it's up to ME. If you aren't satisfied with your church's participation, it is up to YOU.

The Editor in Chief said...

WOW what an amazing comment by the anonymous above.
I love this statement

"So now that I know the situation, it's up to ME. If you aren't satisfied with your church's participation, it is up to YOU."

Terence Scott said...

Dr. McNair,
I read this article and I couldn’t agree with you more about the fact that the church does have the mind set of build it and they will come instead of seek them out and build according to what you are given to work with. I looked around at our church and found nothing on having ministries related to the disabled at all. I would not say that our pastor and his staff are oblivious or do not try to minister to the disabled, but I would agree and would think that they would agree that it is not high up on their chain of concerns or ministries. That should change though. I did read two things that made me think though while reading your posting.
You mentioned in the fourth paragraph that, “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.” I have to be honest that I am not sure that it would work in this situation because after hanging out with your friends during class, I think that a pastor simply mentioning experiences about disabled folks will in return bring in or satisfy those who are disabled or families who bring in their disabled members. I feel that even though not all disabled are extreme cases, there is still a lack of comprehension, or there is a difference in learning style, and so to truly minister to these people we would need to do more than just have the pastor address them. I think that there needs to be classes and programs and ministries within the church that not only serve the families by ministering to their disabled folks by any means necessary, but also by providing a support service for families while at church so they may be able to go and listen to the pastor while someone is assisting their disabled. I feel that even though having a pastor address disabled folks from the pulpit would be great, it still only goes skin deep. We need to get to penetrate deeper so that God can change hearts through our work and devotion to Him, not just break the skin.
The other statement that you made that struck my interest was when you said, “The church would be seeking out people who are "difficult to love" because of social skills and that would be attractive to the community.” I agree that if our actions represented what you said that it would be attractive to the community, but I fear that it would be attractive only to communities who have ties with disabled individuals. Our world today, as we mentioned in class, is so cold hearted to those who are different from us that we don’t accept and promote those who are different and there is a harden heart blocking the disabled from having true community with the society. We who put faith in the Lord must do more than just present an enticing message, but we must find ways to break the harden hearts and allow the Lord to work, and we must find ways to show the importance and acceptance of disabled through media or any other outlet God provides for us to use. I feel that our society accepts that which is thrown in their face by the media, so in order to have our society accept the disabled we need to provide them with many opportunities through media, personal interaction, or any other means by which we can accomplish our goal of showing God through His creation of ALL individuals. The Lord wants to work through us, but he is not going to throw the opportunities in our lap, we need to go out and find these opportunities to show our love for the disabled which in turn will show our love for the one true and mighty God.

Terence Scott