I recently had the opportunity to teach a portion of the second Joni and Friends certificate program to be offered by them at the Christian Institute on Disability at Agoura Hills, Ca. What a great group of folks participated in the training. There was one person, however, who felt very put off by the things I was saying. The feeling was that I was just attacking the church. We talked and I think the person came to understand my perspective, that I was trying to improve the church's outreach to persons with disabilities by challenging those in attendance who in many ways self-selected to be taught important principles about developing ministries. As I shared with the one person who was having difficulty, "If you are in your church, I will praise your efforts. However, as soon as you enter the training, it is my job to help you to mold your ministry into the best it can be, using what are (in my opinion) best practices. I will therefore be critical." There are things we can do which do represent best practices, and there are things we can do that are not best practices.
For example, if we develop curriculum that implies that adults with disabilities are children, we are wrong because they are not children, and we demean them by communicating to them that they are children. I have been teaching adults with intellectual disabilities in ministry settings for 30 years, and I have yet to find the need to develop cutesy stories that I would never use for adults who are not disabled in order to educate those who have intellectual disabilities. We teach from the same Bible that the nondisabled adults use, studying the same passages, generally, that they study.
Now I am circumspect in the things that I teach because I know of the intellectual capacity of my audience. So for example, I don't see the need to teach the story about how David had the opportunity to kill Saul but didn't (1 Samuel 24:4) because that is irrelevant to their lives. I can teach about doing unto others (Matthew 7:12) and therefore make the same point in a relevant way. The Psalms, for example, provide a wealth of information that is entirely relevant to anyone, including adults with intellectual disabilities. For example, this past week, I taught on Psalm 116, asking the group whether God had ever saved any of them from death (v3)? There were those in auto accidents, those in hospital for surgeries and so on and they easily made the connection that God had saved them. Or had any of them been delivered from tears, or God kept them from stumbling into sin (v8). We then moved to verse 13 that asks "How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me?" The answer is in verse 14, "I will fulfill my vows to the Lord." We talked about the fact that we have given our lives to Jesus. So that means we will try to do what is right, to do what Jesus would want us to do.
I don't need stories that are juvenile in nature to convey these truths to my audience. I talk to them as adults and they respond to me to the degree they are able as adults. And people will rise to the occasion. This past Sunday, for example, we were having a time of prayer for people in our group. One of our members is a 4th year medical student at Loma Linda university. He mentioned how he had important upcoming exams and wanted someone to pray for him. One of our men, a regular attender, who I will tell you just to give you an idea of the level of his disability, spends his days in adult day care, immediately stood up and moved to the side of the medical student. He prayed, "God take care of him" ending with a loud "AMEN." He has learned how to pray for others who he is able to perceive are in need. He has been treated as an adult and has now developed the ability to treat others as adults.
But getting back to the initial point, we need to celebrate what we are already doing, but also improve what we are already doing. There are people out there who have thought deeply, have researched, have years of experience that we can benefit from. Yes there are those with years of doing something which may not be the best of practices. Hopefully God will provide the opportunity for assistance to those programs as the Christian church grows and develops in areas related to disability ministry. There is so much room for thought in this area.
But as stated above, the point is to begin and to even do things wrongly. Even if we are not doing things according to the "state of the art" we are moving in a direction and we can be directed. We will also see the logic of the correctives which might be suggested as well if we are "in the trenches" trying to figure things out.
There is really no excuse for inactivity in this area. Trust in the Lord and look to Him to direct you. Also recognize that as in any area of human endeavor, there are people who have gone before. Look to see what they have done. Evaluate what they have done to see that it treats people with disabilities with respect, does not demean them, and then emulate what you see as appropriate.
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
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Your statements about adapting the message of your teaching to your audience is good. It takes the elitism out of hearing from God in order to teach/minister and humanizes the love, care and concern that God has when it comes to communicating what people need instead of communicating /teaching what will make "us" look smart.
I like that you say you talk to them as adults not children. That is turely you really do talk to them as adults. Which is right because they are adults. Everyone has the right to learn about God and more churches need to be open to the idea of having disabled people in the church and activityies that include them.
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