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

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Trajectory of ministry

Here is another quote from N.T. Wright's Surprised by Hope
To suppose that we are saved, as it were, for out own private benefit, for the restoration of our own relationship with God (vital though that is!), and for our eventual homecoming and peace in heaven (misleading though that is!) is like a boy being given a baseball bat as a present and insisting that since it belongs to him, he must always and only play with it in private. But of course you can only do what you're meant to do with a baseball bat when you're playing with other people. And salvation only does what it's meant to do when those who have been saved, are being saved, and will one day fully be saved realize that they are saved not as souls but as wholes and not for themselves alone but for what God now longs to do through them.
The point is this. When God saves people in this life, by working through his Spirit to bring them to faith and by leading them to follow Jesus in discipleship, prayer, holiness, hope, and love, such people are designed - it isn't too strong a word - to be a sign and foretaste of what God wants to do for the entire cosmos. What's more, such people are not just to be a sign and foretaste of that ultimate salvation; they are to be part of the means by which God makes this happen in both the present and the future. (pp. 199-200)
This is powerful stuff. Our salvation is not just about us escaping punishment so we can sit on a cloud. Heaven is not about our living out our wildest fantasies forever in some spiritual place. I was listening to a radio program where the host, Dennis Prager, was asking his listeners what heaven will be like, how it will be for each person. Heaven is not about me. I think the greatest thing about heaven will be an unimpaired ability to do what God wants me to do, to live with others as God intended. That would be heaven!

However, our work, our working out our salvation, is according to Wright, a part of the way that God's plan is worked out for the present and the future, including our future existence in a new heaven and earth. With that in mind, I like to dream big. So in the area of disability, what would be the characteristics of a church that was truly representing God's will in reference to persons with disabilities and their presence in the church. To me, it is thinking about the trajectory for ministry. As we are in the the developing stages of disability ministry in the church, it is critical to think about the goal so there is a greater chance that we will hit it. Not that it is entirely knowable, however, in an "If this, then that" (Wolfensberger, 1995) kind of way if I want to end up at a particular place, then I must do particular things now in order to get there and avoid doing things that will lead me in a different direction. So, for example, if my goal is to see people with all types of disabilities fully integrated into all aspects of church life, becoming involved with those without disabilities in caring friendships, completing the Body of Christ by their presence, then I can't have a separate church that has only disabled people in it, a place where all the churches send their disabled people. It would be like having a church where all the people with a certain ethnicity would be sent, because we want our church to be comprised of a different particular ethnicity. In actuality, there is much that has to be corrected in the church in order to get us back on a trajectory of ministry that would lead to our goal.

I have had conversations with pastors who honestly think that in regards to persons with disabilities and the church, that everything is fine and I am wrong. My comment to them is that I pray that they are right. But when I know that the population of the US is 19% people with various disabilities and I look at the church and do not see those numbers, when I read secular literature talking about the isolation and loneliness of people with intellectual disabilities, I know that they are wrong. So a first correction that needs to be made in the church is the recognition that we are currently on the wrong path that will largely lead us to perpetuating the same mistakes we have been making for centuries.

In training my student teachers, I tell them to take data on the performance of their students with moderate to severe disabilities so that they can see if what they are doing is working. If their instructional strategy isn't working, they can change it such that the student improves. Too often, churches are presented with the data or look at the data, and don't believe it, or claim things are not that bad. Well if they were in the lives of individuals with disability, they would find that we are not on a trajectory that would make us what God intended for the church.

So Wright helps us by pointing out the power of what we do in our lives, not just in making a difference in the lives of all people, but also in preparing a future.



Anonymous said...

I think you are completely right. People with disablities need to be represented in the church and feel like they belong to the church family. I think that a lot of churches who think they are praticipating in providing a disabilities ministry do not see the whole picture. People with disabilities should not be isolated somewhere else, but they should be integrated throughout all church activities. I attend Crossroads Church and they have quite a large disabilities ministry, but as I think about all the church functions and even Sunday morning people with disabilities are not greatly represented. Churches need to help form friendships and fellowships with all people, all God's people. Professor McNair, I think you made an wesome point and I beieve that churches need to make an even better attempt at connecting all their people into one family.

Gary Sweeten said...

As a family therapist who views individuals only within their systems or communities, we need to change the discussion. Does the church actually train/equip the congregation to think of themselves as one Member among other members as it says in ICO12, 13 and 14? Few pastors are trained to equip people to accept anyone who is different in any way. let alone disabled or mentally disabled.

Before churches can invite and integrate large numbers of disabled people we must teach people how to overcome their own fears about dealing with differences.

I have trained hundreds of churches to reach out to people with special needs. But, many resist my approach because they fear it will become too9 much of a burden.

Anonymous said...

People wishing to listen to a free podcast on autism and Christianity might want to listen to "Why is there Autism? A Christian Perspective" at www.mic.mypodcast.com They are put out by Midnight in Chicago.