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

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Disability ministry: It is not what you do it is who you become.

I was working on a document about leadership in disability ministry for the Joni and Friends organization this past week.  As I looked at the early draft, something seemed to be missing.  We were describing the development of programs and how those programmatic ideas might be infused into local churches.  Yes, programs are important.  But it occurred to me that what was needed in the document was a discussion of change and maturity development in both Christians who attend church and the Christian churches themselves. 

I can hire someone to develop and run a ministry that includes people with intellectual disabilities.  That program can be on the campus of the church and I can observe those people coming and going, but no demands are made on me individually or the larger church as a whole.  Disability ministry implies a change in both individuals and organization such that people with impairments no longer need to ask, "Why don't you love me?"  Disability ministry means that I have grown to the point that persons with just about any characteristic do not make me uncomfortable.  Disability ministry means that the congregation and the leadership have grown to the point that persons with any type of impairment do not make them uncomfortable.  But disability ministry also implies that persons with impairments are comfortable with others who also have impairments.  For example, in the group at my church that includes persons with intellectual disabilities, that implies that we try to facilitate their growth such that they are accepting of persons with autism and more severe disabilities.

We are all on the spectrum of need, we all find it difficult to love one another, so we all need to become something different than we currently are.  Disability ministry assists us all in that process of change and maturity.

Please don't be confused into thinking that disability ministry is just another ministry of the church, another program to be instituted.  It is about helping people become someone who is more like Jesus independent of personal characteristics.  That change is facilitated through the discomfort (for many) that comes through integration.  I will not learn to love someone with mental illness if I never am challenged to love someone with that characteristic.  The person that I would become if I learned that lesson will never be.  The church that doesn't learn that lesson will never be.

This is an area in which I need to embrace change and recognize that I am not OK the way I am.  Could someone look you in the eye and be justified in asking, "Why don't you love me?"  Do you care enough to prevent that from happening to you or your church by becoming something different?

Programs are fine, but they really are not what is truly needed.

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