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

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

We are not teaching our pastors/leaders what to do

I have visited and read about many different ministries for persons with various disabilities. Often these ministries are not integrated. That is, they are separate from the larger congregation. They do their own thing almost entirely separate from the rest of the church. Occasionally representatives from the ministry will perform a song or intersect with the congregation in ways that are comfortable for the congregation. I could write another whole post about these opportunities which have a large downside. The ministries themselves do good work in attempting to help those with various disabilities come to understand the things of the Lord related to the plan of salvation, Bible memorization and Christian behavior. All of these are good things. But as I look on these kinds of ministries it is clear to me that they are not fully addressing what disability is. Disability is not just something housed in individuals who have some type of impairment. It is also a characteristic of the environment. It is also a form of discrimination. But I don't think that leaders of ministries or church leaders/pastors understand this.

I had an interesting conversation with a church leader recently. In that conversation it became clear that aspects of disability ministry aimed at changing the culture of the church in terms of its acceptance of persons with disabilities down to simple things like trying to facilitate their being chosen as friends was not something that she had thought about. She was about sharing the Gospel, and helping those with disabilities to come to faith in Jesus; both really good things. However, the response of the congregation to those with disabilities in terms of loving and accepting them wasn't something she had really thought about. When I shared about the social isolation often experienced because people are not chosen as friends, it caused her to pause as if this was a revelation. Almost as if this was not something that should or could be expected of people. Do you get that? The expectation from the leader was that there would not be social interaction between those with and without impairments. Perhaps we in ministry have taught congregations and leaders that fact by the way we have designed ministries, or perhaps our ministries reflect the fact that we have bought that lie. Either way, we cannot continue to do ministry in that way. We need to choose a different path that will no doubt lead to confrontation if only in a confrontation of perspectives.

We might hear things like, "I thought you wanted it this way!" reflecting the way in which we have segregated those we claim to serve.
We might hear things like, "We can't do that because that is not the way things are done!" reflecting our discriminatory traditions which we have chosen not to confront and are therefore complicit in.
We might also hear something like, "You are absolutely right. I feel like I need to come to repentance (see previous post). Can you help us to move in that direction.

Our leaders, I believe, really don't know what they should be doing in large part because we have not had the confrontive, in a positive way, conversation about the cultural change that needs to happen. Our being complicit in segregation does not facilitate the change in church culture that is desperately needed.



Unknown said...

I find it very hard to comprehend the disability right act in the church. I do understand that like most people we do not address an issue or concern that does not directly affect us. As a pastor or a leader in the church it can be difficult to expect every person to have a passion or a fire for disable ministries. I know that God has given many people a calling to a particular group thus they have been trail braziers of awareness and bridging the gap. I find this to be affect however it means the process is slow. My personal experience in my church with those of disabilities that we are called to love people therefore, if God places a child or person with a disability in our church it is our goal to meet their needs. God is all about meeting the needs of his people so we strategies and come along side the parent to provide support. It difficult for me to separate my love for people my love for the disabled. I think they are one in the same. However, if I did have someone with sever disability I would make every effort to help befriend them. I think its not wrong for people to be unaware or be criticized for not having full understanding. We often do not understand what we do not personally experience. I am grateful the the passion of this ministry to make known the things that are hidden to some.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with this post and that the leaders and congregations of churches are not fully equipped or informed or really just understand the importance of integration in the church when it comes to those with disabilities. I think that these day’s different churches will have a lot of programs and individual activities or meetings for those with disabilities because they believe that it is best for them or just what they want. I think that church leaders lack the knowledge of what is best for those with disabilities and how they can actually get them involved in the church. I believe that in their mind they truly think that they are doing nothing wrong and just getting them involved with the church. But what they do not understand is that keeping them separate and segregated from the other church members brings more harm than good. It is amazing that church leaders want to help those with disabilities grow and develop a solid relationship with Christ. I think that these programs and classes are not all bad because I do think that a major part of a Christian’s life should be their walk with the Lord, but I do believe that there is a way to have these programs and classes and at the same time integrate those with disabilities into the larger church community. A major focus of any church leader should be how they can help grow and develop the church body’s desire to love and accept those with disabilities into the community.

annabelle said...

I definitely agree with this post that most church leaders and pastors do not know and are not thoroughly and properly prepared or taught how to meet those with disabilities in the church and bringing them fully into the church in a healthy way. It is easy to forget or not think about situations when they are not prevalent or do not arise often in the church visibly, and this seems to be the issue with bringing those with special needs into the church and making them feel comfortable and welcomed. However, I do not fully think that the reason the church is not doing a good job with including those with disabilities in the congregation is entirely because they are discriminating against those with disabilities. Oftentimes, it is just simply the lack of knowledge. Not many know what the best way to accommodate for each individual is, and many of those who have disabilities need different ways or levels that work best for them or that they need. I believe all those in leadership in the church should be educated on different disabilities and how best to work with them and love on them, but also be taught to ask questions. If they reach out to the individuals on a personal level and ask them what they would love to do or how they would like to be involved, so many of the segregation issues could be solved. Or if the individual with disabilities cannot answer, ask someone close to them like a parent or caretaker how they would want them to be involved at the church. Once they see the people with special needs as individuals and as their friends, the effort will go so much further.

Chris Werly said...

I absolutely believe that ignorance, regardless of intent, is one of the biggest factors when it comes to the segregation of a population. The segregation of people with disabilities is a perfect example of this and it's a shame that it is the case even within the church, a community that should be based around the acceptance and inclusion of all people. The argument of "I thought you wanted it this way" is pure ignorance, indicating that this person has never even bothered to inquire about the preferences of another individual. The argument of "but that's the way it's always been!" is intentional ignorance in that it's basically saying "someone else (a long time ago) decided that this is how it's going to be and it's easier for me to just keep things this way". The key factor of this argument is the ease that it places on the "normal" population who feel entitled to the level of comfort, in whatever situation they may be in, that they are accustomed to regardless of any discomfort it places on the marginalized population. We can only hope for more people who are willing to acknowledge this ignorance and make changes for the better and that these actions can inspire change in those around them.

Anonymous said...

Hello Professor,
I agree with your post. My husband recently read an article that said that the churches that most people are drawn to are the churches that have a good nursery and also a good disabilities ministries. My husband is the youth pastor at our church and I read him your post. We were able to discuss our own church and where we stand with people who have disabilities. He even admits that he does not know what to do when it comes to creating a culture for these people. We also talked about a man that we have in our college group who has down syndrome. It has been a blessing having him there because he is treated like anybody else is treated. We feel that he has been around so long that everybody just feels like Josh is one of us. But our church does not have that culture like our college group does. We have someone who runs our children with disabilities program. They are put in their age group and they have a shadow that watches them. I know this because I talk to the lady who runs it but if you were to ask our pastors what she does, they could not tell you what she does. I do feel that this program is beneficial for families to go to church and not have to worry about their child but it makes me think if we had older people with disabilities in our church (like Josh) and how they would be treated. I know that our church would be welcoming but would they really feel like they fit in and were apart of something? I do not think they would which is sad to say. I agree that leaders in the church should be taught about how to reach all kinds of people and creating a culture that makes everybody feel that they belong.