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

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Ministry shapes the church

How will our involvement in ministry shape the church? It definitely shapes us as individuals. Each of us knows people who are are involved in foreign missions in a variety of ways and that shapes everything down to their dress reflecting their nation of interest. People who are involved with poor and homeless individuals will also take on a particular persona. Some churches who have made that segment of society a priority also change in the way they appear. I know of a church in Riverside California that is very intentional in serving persons who are homeless. They have a daily free lunch program. That in itself shapes the types of people who will be in the neighborhood every day at noon. Other examples might be provided. But you can look at a church and to some degree see who they are in terms of their priorities for ministry. Even the location, whether centrally located or remote communicates something to the community. In our time of ACCESS (in California at least where someone with a disability can call to receive a ride to where ever they want to go) location is perhaps less critical, but there are still those who will struggle to access even slightly more remote places. This is also true because of how people will refuse to pick up others and take them to church.

Clearly there are some communities who are more "impacted" (I actually hate that word because it implies something being forced upon someone rather than them choosing to do something) because of their location. But there are people with some characteristics who are present in every community, like those with disabilities. They are also people who when present will cause the church and its members to develop in a certain way. Some pastors will say that their church is not "impacted" by people with disabilities. It is almost as if they say that with relief as if they were "impacted" they would have to change to become something different that reflects how that ministry will shape them. But if a church leader tells me that they are not "impacted" by disability that doesn't tell me that their are no people with that characteristic in the community. It tells me that there is not any interest in that church in serving people with that characteristic in that community. It tells me that there is not any interest in changing what that will ministry will shape you into if you served people with that characteristic. Do you catch how sad that is? It is literally the desire to skirt the responsibility for first of all loving a whole class of people who may be hurting because of their life experience. And second being unwilling to embrace the change that that form of ministry will bring.

AND...people with the characteristic "disability" are everywhere. So we are too often unwilling to change to become a ministry shaped church that reaches out to the nearly 20% of the population who have a disability and the much higher group that are affected by disability. Can you see how the changes forged in our churches by ministry to persons with disabilities would facilitate ministry orientated churches touching on a major concern of a large portion of the population, anywhere in the world? There is significant potential for a revival within the church if we would just embrace the changes that would come from being "impacted" by those in need of inclusive support. I believe that form of ministry would shape the church toward reflecting God's idea of what it should be.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Milky Ministry

Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn't talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren't ready for anything stronger. And you still aren't ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. (1 Cornithians 3:1-3, Life Application Study Bible).

I had lunch this past week with a friend, MD Sias. We always have great conversations! He is a man whose heart is for God. In the midst of our conversations about disability ministry he said something to the effect that we are not really prepared to do "solid food" ministry. I immediately got his point and recognized that in many ways we are still at the stage of what might be called milky ministry. So what do I mean by that?

Too often when I am interacting with people about churches including persons with disabilities, the conversation devolves down to a basic misunderstanding of our requirement to love our  neighbor. Now clearly that is not an easy thing to do, however, it is at the same time something that we know that we should obviously be doing. So if you are told that people with disabilities should be a focus of ministry, be included in the church, have their gifting valued, but you respond by saying things like, "they are not a priority for ministry" or "we are not impacted by people with disabilities" or one of myriad other responses given as a reason to not love your neighbor, one must speak to you as one who "belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life." We must take out the carton and fill the glass with milk.

But this also applies to some ministries. There are ministries that are entirely separate, entirely segregated such that there is little to no impact on the congregation. These are "milky ministries" as far as the church goes. You see I cannot expect the infants that attend to be willing to be changed, be challenged to love neighbors who are different from those who they typically interact with. I cannot expect them to think about providing special honor to others because they think they truly are less honorable (1 Corinthians 12:23). To expect that would be to expect them to eat solid food, something "stronger." Unfortunately these "infants" can be anyone from rank and file members up to the leaders of the church. Why are they not ready for solid food? Paul answers that question. "...for you are still controlled by your sinful nature."

To not love your neighbor is to still be controlled by your sinful nature. Now trust me, I do not love my neighbor as I should. But I know that I should, and I am trying to get better and by God's grace I will! I want to embrace the change that solid food would bring to me. I get visions of what I might be able to become if I could nibble and bite on solid food. I get visions of what the church could be if it would increasingly move toward a diet of solid food as evidenced in ministry related to persons with disabilities that would cause real change.

It is funny that when you get a taste of solid food ministry, you aren't as impressed with milky ministry. You are glad that folks are drinking milk rather than nothing, but you want them to experience the change that being filled with solid food brings.