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

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Broadening the notion of "ministry"

I had the priviledge of speaking in a class on suffering and disability at Biola University this past Monday. The class went fine.

Afterwards, one bright student approached me with her story. The child of deaf parents, she wondered about church ministry to persons who are deaf. Should interpretation of sermons into sign language be the extent of ministry with persons who are deaf? What a great question! So the only relevant aspect of being deaf is to be able to understand what is being said to you by someone translating. I am sure there are those who believe that, but I am not sure that I do. I suspect there are many other things that go along with being deaf that I have no understanding of and that if I treat deaf people as if the only important thing about their deafness is that they need to understand what I, or my pastor say, I am being very naive. Other similar questions flooded my mind like, "Are accessible restrooms the entire range of ministry to persons who use wheelchairs?"

The way the church typically responds, you might think so. I have several friends who have progressive MS. Is the extent of ministry to these people accessible restrooms, or a spot for their wheelchair in the church service? You might think so. When will the church, when will leaders in the church take on these issues such that those who experience the disabilities, and the rest of the congregation for that matter, become informed about what disability tells us about who God is, what the role of the church is, as well as thinking through the "whys" of disability. We may never know why, but we can sure explore the whys. Not knowing something has never kept Church leaders from speaking about it in the past. A rational exploration of the whys might be very helpful for all concerned and as with many things in life, the journey may be just as valuable as the answer. What does it imply to you as a disabled person, if I am struggling to understand the issues you face in your life from a Christian perspective? I think it implies at the very least that your issues are important and worthy of my consideration, my professional or pastoral efforts to understand, and at best that perhaps there are answers that might be found should I devote some or all of my energies to the issues.

Exodus 4:11 states,
The LORD said to him, "Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?

Why would God do such a thing to a person? Because I know that God is love and God is just, there is something for me to learn if I will pay attention. God apparently deliberately makes some people mute or deaf or seeing or blind. I may never fully understand why, however, by devoting my energies to understanding perhaps God will reveal new lessons about himself that the Church has never learned but that God has for us to learn if we will only look.



Anonymous said...

Phillip Peek
SPE 541

Response to: Broadening the notion of ministry

Deafness is a gift from God. God has blessed these individuals without the ability to hear. That’s not a bad thing! It just seems to be a problem in Church and other organizations which don’t provide for these individuals. Granted that, some churches provide an interpreter for the deaf, that doesn’t mean that all do the same. Interpreters cost at least thirty dollars for every half hour and they need two interpreters to rotate every thirty minutes. That’s sixty dollars an hour. Most churches are small and can barely cover the expense of renting out their building. How can they afford an interpreter?
Churches need to form organizations within themselves to reach out to differing communities. If churches provided lessons in sign language, not only would the church become more diverse, but the quality of conversations for the deaf in a church would be of like minded individuals whom a simple translator couldn’t speak to in the same way.
A translator generally has to take a neutral approach to translating. They are brought in, most likely from an agency and leave after the sermon is over. Deaf individuals don’t have the chance to intermingle within the body of the church. So they automatically feel neglected in the companionship of likeminded Christians. Aren’t Christians supposed to be like minded with Christ? If Jesus was a part of the church, wouldn’t one think that Jesus would understand how to speak all languages, and know how to reach all people groups?
If the body of the church is informed on how to use sign language, wouldn’t the deaf community have a chance to actually become members? They would be able to receive Christ and Christ’s community and know how to love by listening and reasoning with those who are a part of the church. They would not only attend and receive the pastor’s sermon but they would become an integral part of the church, allowing them to participate with others in the body of the church.

Pilgrim said...

You're a dangerous man.

Anonymous said...

Deafness has been a part of my church since I can remember. Our high school is on the same campus as our church and ASL has been the popular “2nd language” over Spanish or Chinese. It is a blessing to see a new student each week interpreting the worship songs and then the teacher interpreting the main message. The deaf people at our church really enjoy working with the students and love to see their excitement for their new language. Deaf people take pride in their lives and often prefer to marry into deaf families. If they see that I am trying to immerse myself in their language, they will be touched that I care. But no, only interpreting in church should not be the only way of “ministering” to the deaf community. By applying ourselves to their lives, we can truly accept them as brothers and sisters in our church.

I think Christ wants us to try to identify with all whom we come into contact with. God created us to glorify Him, and when He sees His believers connecting and bonding in His name – He is glorified and blessed. We are called to share His love with others; we are required to go out of our comfort zone to ensure those around us that we care. I am tired of God’s people being prejudiced against one another, churches versus churches, cultures versus cultures, non disabled versus disabled – lets all come TOGETHER

Anonymous said...

I have a friend who has progressive MS. A group of us have a fellowship/prayer/Bible study group in her home. One of the other members is blind. I am also disabled with minimal mobility. It is a benefit to disabled persons to take the church to them rather than expect them to come to the church. A small group meeting in the home provides connection in ways that the larger church experience cannot. We connect with one another, get to know each other well and pray for one another. We also have the opportunity to meet needs if we can. Eg: One of the members now cleans homes for two of the other members because they cannot. If the church really wants to reach the disabled, it has to go to them. My two cents.

Anonymous said...

What great food for thought. How often do we classify "reaching people" by simply making the church and the appropriate surroundings accessible. Sure, they are helpful to those that may be blind, deaf, mute, disabled, etc. though there is much more to ministry! If the church truly is settled on thinking accomodations are a way of ministering to a particular group of people - they've truly got it all wrong. How often does the youth group, men's ministry, women's ministry, do events that appeal directly to their target group? More often than not, in the courtyard of a church, in their bulletin, on their website, etc. you can find some sort of outreach directed to a particular group of individuals. That is a focus on ministry, attempting to gather a target group to share with them, encourage them and love them because Christ did so for us. When was the last time you saw a church ad looking for people in wheel chairs because they were going to play wheel chair hockey on Saturday or wheel chair softball with the other local church leagues on a Tuesday night? I have never seen such an ad. It's disheartening to think those of us who should be responsible (the church) to include ALL people are sitting back and doing nothing. Christ is calling on us to move, now let's be dilligent and respond. It's about time we back up with our actions what our mouths speak!
-Jeni McKeithen, EDU341

megan said...

Unfortunately, it seems that the full integration of the deaf population does not exist at all churches and I could not agree more that our ministry to this group should go beyond an interpreter. I think that part of the reason that this problem exists is that many people will never understand the complexity of the deaf community. Unless you yourself have a deaf friend or family member, you may think that the only provision they require is a person who can translate for them. It would never occur to a hearing person who hadn’t interacted with the deaf community that they may desire to be included or to serve in a different way. If we would examine this issue (and issues that surround other physical and intellectual disabilities) more closely, perhaps we would be able to see other ways that we could make our brothers and sisters feel like welcome, contributing members of our church family. I recently attended an all deaf Bible study and there were several things that really struck me. One of the most significant was that worship felt so different. At my church (which is composed mostly of hearing people), we sing the same words in the same rhythm. At the deaf study, each individual signed the same words but at different speeds, holding different motions for different lengths of time. It struck me how personal this worship is. They were not concerned about being in sync with other people, they chose to hold the words that were meaningful and significant to them, concerned only with their full worship of the Lord. It was a really beautiful thing to see and it made me think much more carefully about the way that I worship. The unique quality of worship that I encountered at the deaf study is something that neither I nor my hearing friends can provide to God when we worship Him as a church body. Unless we have church members who are able to uniquely serve and worship in their disability, I fear that we will be lacking as a body in what we offer up every Sunday.

Anonymous said...

What does it imply to you as a disabled person, if I am struggling to understand the issues you face in your life from a Christian perspective?

This is key if you ask me. I and many others have gone through life thinking of disability as kind of a general thing. Someone who is metally handicapped is just metally handicapped. But it is not like that. We need to talk openly and discuss the different struggles each handicap comes along with and talk about how in the church we can accomodate and face these struggles. Until lately in my life and through this class I better understand my roll and the roll of the church in helping with the handicapped. Never have I been nervous or fearful to interact with the people, but I am no longer satisfied with just making certain physical adjustments to house them. Although not sure what roll I will play yet, I want to integrate them into the body of the church so we can show them Gods love and they can show us Gods love. There is nothing that can put your priorities straight and your mind right like being around a special needs person. The love and innocense they portray is like none other. Like this blog says there is a reason they have these issues, and God shows me everytime I am around them.

Anonymous said...

The question never crossed my mind of, “should interpretation of sermons into sign language be the extent of ministry with persons who are deaf?” This implies, as Dr. McNair states, “So the only relevant aspect of being deaf is to be able to understand what is being said to you by someone translating.” This makes me think a bit different about deaf ministry and ministry in general. What about all other disabilities that the extent of ministry is a wheel chair ramp. Sure it is great to have an interpreter and the cost can be high for an interpreter, or handicap assessable ramps. But, many churches raise and spend tons of money to send people overseas, add to their building, or install a new sound system. Not that such things are not needed or noble, though I cannot help to wonder if the minimum legal handicap requirements would excite the disabled in the community to attend. Could funds that are raised to send people to far off countries be more effective if spent on the nearby disabled community, and/or the disabled within a church? Are we really doing everything we can to assist and improve the quality of life, quality of ministry, or the quality of Sunday service for the disabled community?

Anonymous said...

I think the reason disabled ministries is so poor in our churches is that the church, at least the American church, focuses so much energy on helping people in other countries. This is exceptional and wonderful, the teams that we send out to help those that don't know Christ, but I think that at the same time the church should be taking care of it's own. Is not a soul here in America as important as those over seas? Yes, people over seas often have harder lives than those here but I think a lot of times we Americans try to overcompensate for the guilt we feel that we are better off. The person next door to you is just as important as the starving child in Africa. What the difference is is what they require from you. It would be wonderful for a person to move to Africa to help and share the love of God with people there but, for many, that is not possible. What IS possible if for a person to financially support those who DO go over seas. So what can a person do here? They can give their time and their love to the disabled community. A church is not a building or an administration, it is the body of Christ and it needs to have a large, leading role in the disabled community. We are called to love all people, not by worldly standards but by God's.

Mr. Sum said...

You have stated in class on many occasions that you believe the church falls short in the area of ministry to disabled persons. Often it is merely a place for their wheelchair to be easily parked. These spaces are often in the rear of the church. I agree with you that the church falls short in this area (and others). You are correct to question “why” and to cite the need for the church to investigate the “whys” of disability. I think one of the first “whys” has already been asked, by you – not about the why God makes people with disabilities, but why God’s people aren’t doing something about it. Why don’t WE, the church, remember to put others’ needs before our own? Why don’t WE consider their lonely plight and make an effort to make them feel welcome, included, and loved?

Unfortunately, the church can only be as good as its people, since it is made up of people, to be exact, believers. Maybe the answers to these questions can be found with those believers. Sadly, I feel many of us are just going through the motions. Sure we pray and attend service on Sunday, but the commitment stops there. If it does go beyond that, it is often in an area that is of great comfort and safety – we dare not to travel outside of our comfort zones. Again, sadly, disabled people make some of us uncomfortable. If change is to occur, a greater commitment must be made to become better Christians – to be more like Christ.

My father-in-law has suffered from advanced MS for a decade. At the time of the disabling exacerbation, he was very involved at a large church, and was away at a youth camp one weekend. He was surrounded by many believers that were all great friends and strong brothers in Christ. They rallied around him initially, and the family, but as time passed, they all began to come by less and less. None come by now. Fortunately, he is at a new church, and the pastor comes by from time to time, as he knows it is difficult for my father-in-law to make it to church, especially during the hot months. When things were good, these brothers were there, but as time passed and so did his health, like Job’s friends, they failed to stand by him.

Jesus tells us in Mark 2:17 (NIV) that "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Let us as Christians begin the healing process – let’s minister to the disabled instead of trying to save the forgiven. My prayer is that we as Christians find our way back to the heart of the matter at hand - and in all things. We cannot know the whys of my father-in-law’s disability – no man can understand the work of God. But God has a plan for our future – one of hope – and I trust He will guide us towards it. I know that I have strayed often from my path, but He has carefully guided me back. Sometimes, he lets me take the step, as I do today, in recognizing my own shortcomings…