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

Monday, August 10, 2015

Ministry to persons with disabilities is not an "organic" ministry

Was chatting with a friend recently who was visiting. She talked about conversations with the pastor of her church about working toward developing a ministry to persons with disabilities at her church. The pastor replied that he doesn't feel the need to reach out to people with disabilities in the community. He feels that ministry should be "organic" meaning that you don't do anything till someone shows up.

I have heard this nonsense many times before. As I have stated elsewhere in the past in the blog, I have students in one of the classes I teach interview their pastor about ministry to persons with disabilities. I have the students ask...

Is ministry to persons with disabilities a priority at our church?
If it is a priority, what is the evidence that people with disabilities are a priority?
If it is not a priority, why isn't it a priority?

A typical response is that we love everyone the same who comes to our church. Now that sounds great, however, you have a group of people who likely have no ability to come to church. If they are intellectually disabled, they don't have driver's licenses. If they have physical disabilities, they also may not be able to get themselves to church without assistance. Even those who live in group homes likely need people to go to the home and talk to those who manage the home to invite them etc. There are also families who have been shunned because of a disabled family member.
But this pastor sees no need to invite people with disabilities to church. 

Luke 14 is a passage that is often cited as important in supporting ministry to persons with disabilities. But the part of Luke 14 which has always impacted me is verse 23. The NIV says, "Then the master told his servant, "Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full."
How do you compel someone to do something? Actually, the first question is probably why would you have to compel people who have been devalued to come to a wedding banquet? Perhaps because you have participated in their devaluation. You see the starting point in disability ministry is to ask those who you have devalued for forgiveness. To compel you to come, I begin by saying, "Please forgive me for how I have treated you in the past. I have not acted as Jesus would call me to act toward you. Please forgive me. If you are able to do that, would you please give me the opportunity to serve you...." and we go on from there. Also note that the passage says, "Go out... and compel." This is not a wait for them to show up. This is a go out and convince them to come in. You have to do something! Not sit and wait.

That we would just wait for those we have hurt in a variety of ways just to show up because we are so wonderful is stupid and foolish.

I once spoke to a group about disability ministry. I shared the idea of beginning ministry by asking for forgiveness. I said, "I really don't have the power to do this, but I want to say to anyone in the room, please forgive us, the Christian church, for the way we have treated you. You did not deserve the treatment you received from us. I humbly ask for your forgiveness and ask if you would give us another chance." A woman in the group immediately began sobbing. Through her tears she said, "I have been waiting for this apology for years!" 

Our starting point is not that we project to the community that we are "God's gift" to them. I honestly believe that the Christian church is a significant part of God's answer to supporting individuals and families, however, not as it is at the moment. There is much change and growth that needs to occur. There are pockets of beauty where amazing things are happening. But there are also still those in their foolishness who spout the nonsense that contributes to the ongoing exclusion of persons with disabilities.