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

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

The unfulfilled desire to serve

If people in my church have the desire to serve but no opportunities are available, then it is my fault, not theirs. This is too often the case for persons with cognitive disabilities. At times a service niche is found and they serve famously. In an earlier blog I mentioned the man who served communion for many years who worked as a pot scrubber professionally. I have known of people who have served in the nursery, or worked with children of the church. Another man was simply present in a resource room to help when he could, but to also keep an eye on the food and materials there to keep scavengers out.

In most of these cases, the terms of service were suddenly stopped. In the case of the potscrubber, there was a change over in the leadership and he was determined to be no longer mentally competent to provide the service (although he had for many years prior to the change over). In the case of the nursery worker, his goofy interactions with parents about what he thought Jesus' favorite color was, or some other fabrication he came up with caused him to be no longer able to rock babies to sleep in his perfect grandfather lap. Another person left due to the depression he was facing and has not been able to regain his status as an assistant with the children. Another was replaced with a person without disability.

In filling spots where service is needed in local churches, those who fill the spots and those who supervise the filling both have to be aware of the human resouces within a church and be more surgical, more judicious in filling those spots. I will use myself as an example.

I have been contacted on many occasions to serve in a variety of capacities within my church. These opportunities have ranged from drama, to movement, to ushering, to ministry leadership. With each of these opportunities I have to ask myself whether 1) this is the best use of my gifts and 2) are there others who might do this thing whose place I am taking. Now my assumption here is that I am looking for opportunities to serve, not simply providing the above as reasons not to serve. For example I have often turned down opportunities because I recognize that without my service to persons with disabilities at my church, the ministry might be limited and might not grow. So I turn down opportunities at drama and take up opportunities to work with persons with disability. I do that both because my gifts are in the area of disability ministry, and there are others who are able to fill the spots in the other ministries.

All that to say, that there are opportunities for ministry, say taking the offering for example, which persons with cognitive disabilities can do just as well as those without disability. Perhaps those spots should be reserved for individuals with disability. Can you imagine if a team of 8 people with down syndrome came forward to take the offering at a church! Pretty cool. Those individuals without disability who are engaged in service, like taking the offering, might stretch themselves to use more of their talents by perhaps assisting in a ministry like childrens' Sunday school, leading a Bible study, or some other form of ministry. This is not to disdain those who serve via the taking of offering, etc., however, in the economy of opportunities for service, the economy of people willing to serve, human resources must be used judiciously so that as many as possible can have the opportunity to serve. We also must be careful to keep people from "copping out" by only serving in an unchallenging manner.

Of course service is important independent of what it is. If it is really true that in churches 10% of the people do 90% of the work, then that is a symptom of a larger problem. The point here is not to dismiss myself from doing the menial service of a church. Rather it is to do the challenging service of the church and the menial service of the church, but to also look to others to do what they can, to do what is within their ability level in service as well.

The Bible talks about David and his desire to build the temple. God "credited" David for his desire to build the temple even though he didn't permit him to actually build it. Will people with cognitive disabilty only be "credited" by God for their desire to serve, or will we work to provide actual opportunities for them to serve. It may require our speaking up when an opportunity comes to us, saying "I am willing to do this, but have you considered a person with disability for this position? Why don't you ask one of them first, and then I will help if no one is available." It will also require our stretching ourselves to take on the more challenging aspects of service.


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