To suppose that we are saved, as it were, for out own private benefit, for the restoration of our own relationship with God (vital though that is!), and for our eventual homecoming and peace in heaven (misleading though that is!) is like a boy being given a baseball bat as a present and insisting that since it belongs to him, he must always and only play with it in private. But of course you can only do what you're meant to do with a baseball bat when you're playing with other people. And salvation only does what it's meant to do when those who have been saved, are being saved, and will one day fully be saved realize that they are saved not as souls but as wholes and not for themselves alone but for what God now longs to do through them.The point is this. When God saves people in this life, by working through his Spirit to bring them to faith and by leading them to follow Jesus in discipleship, prayer, holiness, hope, and love, such people are designed - it isn't too strong a word - to be a sign and foretaste of what God wants to do for the entire cosmos. What's more, such people are not just to be a sign and foretaste of that ultimate salvation; they are to be part of the means by which God makes this happen in both the present and the future. (pp. 199-200)
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Trajectory of ministry
Here is another quote from N.T. Wright's Surprised by Hope
This is powerful stuff. Our salvation is not just about us escaping punishment so we can sit on a cloud. Heaven is not about our living out our wildest fantasies forever in some spiritual place. I was listening to a radio program where the host, Dennis Prager, was asking his listeners what heaven will be like, how it will be for each person. Heaven is not about me. I think the greatest thing about heaven will be an unimpaired ability to do what God wants me to do, to live with others as God intended. That would be heaven!
However, our work, our working out our salvation, is according to Wright, a part of the way that God's plan is worked out for the present and the future, including our future existence in a new heaven and earth. With that in mind, I like to dream big. So in the area of disability, what would be the characteristics of a church that was truly representing God's will in reference to persons with disabilities and their presence in the church. To me, it is thinking about the trajectory for ministry. As we are in the the developing stages of disability ministry in the church, it is critical to think about the goal so there is a greater chance that we will hit it. Not that it is entirely knowable, however, in an "If this, then that" (Wolfensberger, 1995) kind of way if I want to end up at a particular place, then I must do particular things now in order to get there and avoid doing things that will lead me in a different direction. So, for example, if my goal is to see people with all types of disabilities fully integrated into all aspects of church life, becoming involved with those without disabilities in caring friendships, completing the Body of Christ by their presence, then I can't have a separate church that has only disabled people in it, a place where all the churches send their disabled people. It would be like having a church where all the people with a certain ethnicity would be sent, because we want our church to be comprised of a different particular ethnicity. In actuality, there is much that has to be corrected in the church in order to get us back on a trajectory of ministry that would lead to our goal.
I have had conversations with pastors who honestly think that in regards to persons with disabilities and the church, that everything is fine and I am wrong. My comment to them is that I pray that they are right. But when I know that the population of the US is 19% people with various disabilities and I look at the church and do not see those numbers, when I read secular literature talking about the isolation and loneliness of people with intellectual disabilities, I know that they are wrong. So a first correction that needs to be made in the church is the recognition that we are currently on the wrong path that will largely lead us to perpetuating the same mistakes we have been making for centuries.
In training my student teachers, I tell them to take data on the performance of their students with moderate to severe disabilities so that they can see if what they are doing is working. If their instructional strategy isn't working, they can change it such that the student improves. Too often, churches are presented with the data or look at the data, and don't believe it, or claim things are not that bad. Well if they were in the lives of individuals with disability, they would find that we are not on a trajectory that would make us what God intended for the church.
So Wright helps us by pointing out the power of what we do in our lives, not just in making a difference in the lives of all people, but also in preparing a future.