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

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Universal mature ministry criteria

I was in a meeting the other day where the topic of ministry maturity came up. One comment was made that each church is so different there could not be criteria across all churches. I was just listening into the meeting so didn't comment, but nothing could be further from the truth. Just to prove that point, here are a list of some criteria I came up with, just off the top of my head, that would be applicable to any church, that they could use to measure their own ministry's growth toward maturity. These could also apply to one's church generally.

Maturity criteria
  1. Friendships developed with persons with disabilities
  2. Persons with disabilities present in all church social activities
  3. Persons with disabilities present in the regular worship service
  4. Persons with disabilities present in men’s groups, women’s groups, senior’s groups, etc.
  5. Pastor addressed issues related to disability from the pulpit
  6. Persons with disabilities integrated into regular Sunday School classes – children and adult
  7. Persons with disabilities sought out and invited to church – children and adults
  8. Church membership offered to persons with disabilities
  9. Integrated ministry which includes persons with disabilities
  10. Persons with disabilities provided opportunities for service (greeters, children’s ministry, security, etc.)
  11. Persons with disabilities are in leadership
  12. Homes where persons with disabilities live are visited
  13. Church network supports persons with disabilities with employment opportunities
  14. Church network supports persons with disabilities with living opportunities
  15. Persons with disabilities invited to recreational opportunities (ball games, concerts, etc.)
  16. Church culture changes such that persons with disabilities experience integration
  17. Church reflects on traditions to determine whether they are discriminatory towards persons with disabilities
  18. Helps ministries developed for persons with disabilities living in poverty
  19. Parents of persons with disabilities are offered respite on a personal level
  20. Persons with disabilities are invited to family activities like Thanksgiving dinner or children’s Halloween activities as adult observer
  21. How a persons with disabilities is doing in her personal life (friendships, finances, other needs) is known and addressed.
These are only a start, but EVERY church could be engaged in growing in these areas.


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.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

"I feel like I have been brought to repentance"

In my work with the Joni and Friends organization, I have been given wonderful opportunities to travel and teach about disability, ministry to and with persons with disabilities and the Bible and theology as it relates to disability. In most situations the folks are like the proverbial "deer in the headlights." They have lived their lives as Christians, attending church, perhaps attending Bible college or seminary. But, sadly, they have not heard the kinds of things we share.

This past Spring in Singapore, we were hosted by a wonderful pastor. Brilliant young man with a heart for those with disabilities, but no real training in the area. He described himself as a kindergartner when it came to these issues. He attended all the sessions, even doing some himself. He remarked that to him it now seems that most of the Bible is talking about perhaps disability, if not devaluation of persons. At the close of the conference, he said "I feel like I have been brought to repentance." He related that it was like he was doing something wrong but he didn't know he was. But now he understands and hence the desire to repent.

Later during the Summer, we spoke to leaders for World Vision's WASH program (a really wonderful program, look it up!) from 7 countries in Southern Africa. The leaders were pastors, WV country directors, state agency workers and folks with disabilities. We shared similar information to that that which we did in Singapore. When a time for feedback was provided to the leaders, one man, a wonderful, older pastor said, "I feel like I have been brought to repentance." The exact words we had heard in Singapore. He related many of the same observations as did others in the group that people related to the information in Singapore. Once again it was so exciting to be a part of this.

I have had similar experience to these in other places in the world. A powerful one was once in Ethiopia. I shared about how the church has excluded people. The translator translated, I then said "God forgive us!" She translated, then the 100 pastors and leaders in the audience boomed out "GOD FORGIVE US!"  It was an incredibly powerful moment.

I hope the same kinds of feelings are happening in the US. I have often said that the starting point for disability ministry is repentance. We begin by going to people and asking for forgiveness for how we have treated them, how we have excluded or segregated them. After that, we can ask if they will be involved in ministry with us.

Finally, I once spoke at a conference in Melbourne, Australia. It was a group of about a hundred folks. Wonderful people and a challenging time. In the midst of one presentation, I said,
"I really have no right to say this to you, but I would like to apologize to any of you who might have been excluded or not treated as you should have been because of disability. Please forgive us."
Immediately there was this woman who just started crying and weeping uncontrollably. Once she regained her composure a bit she said, "I have been waiting for this!  I have been waiting for this apology!"

A true Biblical understanding of people, particularly people who have been devalued even unintentionally, should bring us to repentance.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Woman removed from her social network by a caseworker

Well it happened again...
A woman who attended our Light & Power Company ministry, living in a local group home was moved by her case worker to a different group home about 20 miles away. The woman who was moved was very sweet and very connected to a variety of people at church. I have mentioned her in the past in this blog as someone who I could count on to pray for me. Although she had severe intellectual disabilities, we were beginning to teach her to use her gifts of praying which brought her great delight.

When we asked the group home owner why she moved, the response was basically just that her caseworker decided to move her to a different home in another city. I will be attempting to contact the caseworker to inform her that if she was actually interested in the welfare of those she claims to serve, she should take notice of the social supports someone has developed rather than just unilaterally moving someone.

This happened once before to a dear friend who was moved to a different apartment. His caseworker once again just moved him without any effort to interact with his social network in the community or the church. He was cut off from people who loved him and enjoyed being with him. For him to interact with those folks changed from a walk down the street to a long walk to public transportation leading to several hours of travel if he wanted to meet with friends.

If you are a social worker or some other caseworker for persons with disabilities who are attending a church, you should talk to the people in the social network. Persons with intellectual disabilities like my friend who just moved can be very easily led but those who really know them will have a better understanding of their likes and dislikes.  The gal who was moved loved going to church, loved the women's activities she participated in as well as the other parties and activities we facilitate with our group. I am confident in her new placement there will none of these options if only because of the somewhat limited opportunities for persons with severe disabilities to attend church. I am confident she will experience the social isolation that comes from living in a typical group home.

This points out potential problems with human services where they can be absolutely out of touch with the social network benefits of church participation. Church participation should actually be a significant aspect of what they are trying to facilitate in the lives of persons with disabilities rather than short circuiting it as was done in this case.


Monday, October 02, 2017

"Guard dogs who cannot bark"

Dr. Timothy S. Laniak's While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks: Forty daily reflections on Biblical leadership is a wonderful resource, using the world of shepherding as the metaphor for understanding leadership. One of the reflections I particularly liked is entitled "Dogs." Here is an excerpt from that section which is particularly relevant to our work in facilitating the inclusion of persons with disabilities in local churches.  It begins by quoting Isaiah 56:10.

Isaiah 56:10 "Israel's watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are all mute dogs, they cannot bark."

"Israel's watchmen are "all mute dogs that cannot bark." While the prophet's condemnation of a particular generation of leaders is negative, he presumes a positive role for spiritual watchdogs. Perhaps Isaiah had in mind the ruling elite here, but the metaphor of a guard is especially suited to prophets. Ezekiel, for example was appointed explicitly as a "watchman for the house of Israel." Prophets were heralds of coming judgment, sounding an alarm when the community drifted from its covenant obligations. They "barked" when they sensed danger. Though typically unpopular, prophets told the truth about the present and the future. In contrast, false prophets were more interested in popularity and superficial peacekeeping. They slept while danger approached.
...I've reflected often about the marginal role of prophetic watchdogs, perhaps because I've found myself sounding a continuous warning that others decided was misplaced. They saw peace and I saw trouble. But I've also ignored dogs whose warnings were grounded in irrefutable facts; the truth was just too inconvenient. God gifts the church with prophets who "see what's coming," but I'm afraid the majority of us resist the caution and tire of the incessant yapping. History has exposed a church slow in responding to warnings about racism and materialism, to name just two threats.
...Has God called us to make noise about a specific issue? Has our intensity waned because of a growing reputation that we bark too much? The destiny of a prophet is to sound the alarm when necessary, and for as long as necessary. Often alone... The community cannot be left with...guard dogs who cannot bark." (p. 147-149)

Partners in ministry, many of us have been "barking" for a LONG time. For myself it seems like almost every conversation I find myself in somehow revolves into a discussion of the critical place of persons with impairments in the church and community and how they have experienced exclusion. I am confident people tire of me and that subject. But that's ok. I am responsible for my "bark" as are you. To be satisfied with the way things are when you see they are not as they should be, is to be in need of being awakened to the injustice. Have you ever wondered why you see the injustice when others do not? That question alone should make you pause. Why do you see it? I am confident that you see it because you are called to attempt to do something about what has been revealed to you. Please don't tire of your work! Keep barking!!


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Christian model of disability

People will at times attempt to understand what disability is through the construction of models. One hears of the medical or individual model, the social model or the moral model, each of which tries to explain or understand what disability is. As I have thought of these models in concert with what the Bible says about people in general and those who are devalued in some way by society because of characteristics such as impairment or disability, I have wondered what a Christian model might entail. I plan to unpack this much more, probably in the form of an article at some point soon, but I thought I would share my current thinking hoping to perhaps get some feedback from others who have been thinking about these issues. So here is my first stab at what might be called "A Christian model of disability."

A Christian model of disability  - all scripture applies to all people
There might be 5 general aspects to be considered.
  1. The individual with impairments in relation to God
    1. Created in His image (Genesis 1:26)
    2. In need of salvation (Romans 3)
    3. Not the result of personal sin (John 9:3-5)
    4. Not the result of a lack of faith (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)
    5. Complete in Christ (Colossians 2:10)
  2. The individual with impairments in relation to themselves
    1. Created with a purpose (Exodus 4:11)
    2. Specifically created (Psalm 139:13)
    3. Evidence of the works of God (John 9:3-5)
  3. The individual with impairments in relation to the community
    1. Indispensable and worthy of special honor (1 Corinthians 12: 22-26)
    2. God’s sovereignty for the community (1 Corinthians 12:18)
    3. Reveals neighbors (Luke 10:25-37)
    4. Reveals lack of understanding (James 2:1)
    5. To whom much is given (Luke 12:48)
  4. The community in relation to God
    1. God’s sovereignty for the community (1 Corinthians 12:18)
    2. No favoritism (James 2:1)
    3. Reveals wrong traditions (Mark 7:8 & 13)
  5. The community in relation with itself
    1. The Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-31)
    2. Love your neighbor (1 Corinthians 13:1-13)
    3. Greatest commandments (Luke 10:27)
    4. Who is not my neighbor? (Luke 10:29)
Conclusions based upon the above and other passages might be...
So the individual is…
´ Created in the image of God
´ Created with a purpose
´ As they are that the works of God might be seen
´ Impairments not the result of personal sin
´ Impairments not due to a lack of faith
´ Complete in Christ
´ Seems weaker but actually indispensable
´ Thought less honorable but actually worthy of special honor
´ Reveals character of those around
So the community…
´ The Body of Christ is God’s design for people
´ People are the way they are under the sovereignty of God for both themselves and for the community
´ Within the Body of Christ there should be no favoritism shown to one group or person over another
´ If the community truly was as it should be, disability would be very different
´ Inside or outside of the Christian community, everyone is a neighbor
´ Should focus on relationships over programs
So God…
´ Is love and loves people
´ Has purpose in disability
´ God makes people “deaf, dumb or blind”
´ Additionally, because God is all powerful, he either causes or permits disability
´ God may heal people, however, it is related to his sovereign purpose, not to someone’s faith
´ Promises his grace and that it will be sufficient in difficult times

´ Reveals things about himself through disability, eg. His power is made perfect in weakness

Thanks for looking this over. As stated, any input would be gratefully received.


Monday, September 11, 2017

Disability ministry may trump other aspects of ministry

I met with a dear friend and colleague, Dr. Chris Chun yesterday. We were discussing a variety of topics when we landed on a discussion of disability ministry. As the parent of a beautiful daughter who also experiences a disability, Chris said that for his family, one of the most important if not the most important criteria for choosing a church for his family was whether there was the desire to include his daughter. That might begin with a disability ministry. Of course solid preaching and teaching are critical as is the ability to be in small groups, etc. But these things being somewhat equal across many churches, the aspect of a church life and ministry that trumps all else for many families like Chris', is the presence of persons with disabilities being served by and included in ministry.

This is the kind of observation that should cause churches and church leaders to pause. In America, nearly 20% of the population experiences some form of impairment. If you have this large a group of people (which is even larger when you consider the families of such folks) who might agree that disability ministry trumps other forms of ministry, you would think the desire to promote such ministry should move to be a significant priority.

Over the years, the pastors of my church have often told me of how often families who chose to attend Trinity Church came because of our desire to include people with disabilities or be in a church that includes persons with disabilities. Even folks of other religions, like Mormons, will at times send their family members to our church because of the opportunities presented there. People can be desperate for a place where their family member is included, loved and taught the things of the Lord. Unfortunately, that is something that is to often difficult for families to find. But when it is found, it is a truly beautiful thing!


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Radically normal

We regularly have folks visit our Light & Power class which includes adults with disabilities. Recently a friend visited from Canada. After attending the class and then interviewing some class members, he indicated that there was something different about the way we did things.

 I asked, “What did you observe that was different?”
He thought a moment and then responded, “Light & Power is radically normal. People are treated and interacted with like any other adult would be interacted with.”

I embrace that characterization. Many ministries look far from normal in terms of interactions among adults. But the question to ask is, “Does this reflect who adults with disabilities actually are, or are we projecting on them who we perceive them to be?” You see, the lack of typical interactions is probably a reflection of misunderstanding of who people with disabilities are.

If I had a son and raised him to act in an immature manner, that is how he would act. That is, if the culture around a person consistently and persistently indoctrinates a person to be a certain way, they will likely reflect that programmed outcome, whether that outcome is positive, appropriate or desirable.  I would argue that our culture almost relentlessly socializes people, particularly people with intellectual disabilities to be a particular way which is not necessarily a desirable way. When people then become who we have socialized them to be, we then say that is who they always were, not who they were socialized into becoming. If we believe that, then people can be socialized into becoming something different. Adults with intellectual disabilities, for example, needn’t behave or be treated in a juvenile, age inappropriate manner. Once again, if this is the case, it once again reflects the biases or perceptions of the socializer not who the people themselves were.

So who are you socializing persons with disabilities to be?
How are you socializing the social environment to be toward persons with disabilities?
Are you reinforcing the idea that persons with disabilities are somehow different than other people?
Are we reinforcing that persons with disabilities are so different that we cannot help but reinforce these perceived differences?

No, my friend. We need to be radically normal in our interactions with persons with disabilities. Don’t support the pejorative perceptions about who people are that society tries to indoctrinate us into believing. Romans 12:2 really applies here.

Step back and reflect and you may need to renew your mind.

Monday, July 17, 2017

360' Video of lesson 8 from The Light & Power curriculum

I have long wanted to do a video of a lesson from our Light & Power company where you could view the whole class during the lesson. In that way, you would see not just what the teacher is doing, but the class as well. With the help of my son, we recently did a 360' video of a lesson. If you are unfamiliar with 360' video, that means that on your computer, you can move the perspective that you see to view anyplace in the room. If you have the youtube app on your phone, you can move it around to see the entire room as if you were there. The quality of the video is a bit lacking as you will see, but it still gives you a feel for what our class is like.

The video is of Lesson 8 which is entitled, "Praying for other people." Here is the link should you want to check it out!

Lessons from The Light & Power Company: Lesson 8 Praying for other people

I have also added the link under "video links" at the right.


Sunday, July 09, 2017

New curriculum on the Psalms from The Light & Power Company

As many readers of this blog will know, I have taught an adult Bible class at my church on Sunday mornings for the past 27 years. This class is somewhat unique in that it includes adults with various disabilities. I have collected those lessons and at times have made some of them available on the internet. Well, finally I have compiled some of them into a curriculum which is now available for purchase. It is entitled, Lessons from the Light & Power Company: The Psalms. The curriculum includes 40 lessons drawn from the Book of Psalms. These lessons were developed, then taught, then revised, then taught again, then revised again over a period of about 10 years. I would invite you to visit the following link to purchase the book. It is also available on Amazon.

This is the first in what will hopefully be a series of curriculum books. If you have followed this blog over the years, you will know that Kathi and I have a very specific approach which is age appropriate treating adults with the respect they are entitled to. The material covered in these lessons are the same types of concepts you would teach any group of adults. 

Soon, there will also be some videos to accompany the curriculum. You will be able to see how I teach some of the lessons. 

So please take a look a the curriculum. It might be useful to you in your ministry.


Monday, June 26, 2017

Loving your neighbor

"The love which Paul describes goes out to our brethren and to our fellow men. "Love suffers long." This first stroke of the brush shows that we are to be given a portrait of Christian love as it finds itself amid the sins, evils, and trials of a fallen world...
Paul does not describe love to us in the role of performing great, wonderful, and astounding deeds; he prefers to show us how the inner heart of love looks when it is placed among sinful men and weak and needy brethren. He does not picture love in ideal surroundings of friendship and affection where each individual embraces and kisses the other but in the hard surroundings of a bad world and a faulty church where distressing influences bring out the positive power and value of love."
(Lenski, R.C.H. (1961). The interpretation of I and II Corinthians. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, p. 554-555).

This commentary is in relation to 1 Corinthians 13:4. To begin by saying "love suffers long" (KJV) leads to the implications made by Lenski above. If, as he says, love were in ideal surroundings, it would not suffer. However, it does suffer because of the difficult surroundings love finds itself in. So love has to be patient, love has to resist being unkind, boastful or rude. The environment would have the tendency to push it in that direction, however, it must resist. These resistances to reaction in and to a hostile environment are the successes of love. We face these challenges to love in the "sins, evils, and trials of a fallen world" as well as a "bad world and a faulty church."

Obviously the church is not perfect and will never be until redeemed by Christ himself as his bride. But we expect more from it. Perhaps we expect faulty love, but we still expect love nonetheless. But faulty love can be improved upon if we desire to improve upon it. When aspects of our faulty love are pointed out to us, one would hope our response would be more along the lines of "Thank you and I will try to respond better" than a response of "Whatever?" Sometimes the faulty love we evidence is most clearly demonstrated in our response to devalued people who have always experienced faulty relationships, faulty caring and faulty love expressed toward them as a matter of course. It is no wonder they often will not trust us when we try to be more loving toward them.

I see the lack of love in myself toward others. Anger will sometimes trump love. Comfort will sometimes trump love. Impatience will sometimes trump love. It isn't that I have refused to do something spectacular from a love perspective. No, it is more that I have refused to love more mundanely through phone calls, spending of time, being patient. My relationships with people take place in a "bad world and a faulty church." Will I contribute to continuing the bad world? Will I be the evidence that the love of the church is faulty? It seems to start with me.


Thursday, June 08, 2017

Presence of persons with disabilities in the Christian community

"If nothing else, people with disabilities can at least have presence."
I have written quite a bit about presence in this blog. People will say this kind of thing about others that they haven't taken the time to know, to see their gifting. There is a laziness about this statement.  But there are those with very severe disabilities for whom people having the best intentions will say the above. We say these kinds of things often because we are unable to figure out a person with a very severe disability's gifting. It is as if they are reduced to presence. Now I'm not saying that all a person has is presence, but if you think about it, it alone could be a pretty incredible thing. Particularly when you consider that it is not facilitated for them. Yes as a starting point, but perhaps more broadly, the most important thing for someone with a disability, or anyone for that matter in a church community, is presence. Presence changes things. Presence reveals things (as in the Good Samaritan). What is the thing that people with disabilities need more than anything else? Presence. What does the church need from persons with disabilities more than anything else? Their presence. Presence implies being among, being seen, being a part of something. Presence can also make demands. Perhaps in part that is why the presence of persons with disabilities is often not facilitated and at times rejected. Presence can be powerful and make demands.

But what is it that is rejected when presence is denied? Arguably it is an aspect of God's own image. People rejectors are God rejectors. James 2:1 says, "My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?" (NLT). Apparently, there is a connection there. Presence of persons with disabilities is minimally a starting point because of where it leads.
It leads to excluded people having their gifts discovered and expressed.
It leads to changes in traditions which we have come to syncretise as part of faith or theology.
It leads to changes in understanding the breadth who human beings are.
In some cases, it leads to worship and other aspects of church attendance becoming more service oriented.
It leads to caring and advocacy which can be demanding.
We come to realize that not everyone has the same experiences in life that we do.

I have often said that in my life, God's in his sovereignty has allowed me to have health, a good job, and nice place to live, a beautiful family and so on and so on. I am incredibly grateful for these blessings. But when people struggling with muscular dsytrophy, or mental illness come into my world, I learn that the way God's sovereignty is expressed in the lives of others is different from my own and demands from me  a response. Their lives are they way they are for them, but they are also the way they are for me as a fellow body member. Their presence opens my eyes to human variety and what should be the logical Christian response, human interaction. I see God being real to them in their life circumstances as he is to me in mine. They also reveal aspects of the character of God that I will not see if they are not present. So presence is not a minimal thing. It is foundational to so many things related to Christian faith for all.


Tuesday, June 06, 2017

A response to suffering

Maybe part of life is joining clubs you never wished to be a part of, 
then walking others through them too.

That is a quote from someone I once knew in response to suffering they were facing. Such a response is so incredibly difficult, but also so very incredibly wise. It helps a bit when we can get the slightest glimpse of purpose in our suffering. It is only with faith in God as a backdrop to your life that you are able to say things like the above. God brings purpose to life. Without God, there is no purpose and suffering is all pain and completely meaningless. The above is the juxtaposition of tears and trust. Trust tempers the tears. It is a juxtaposition of strength and sadness. Sadness remains, perhaps forever. But strength is provided to face the sadness. I am so grateful that this friend had the Lord Jesus in their life who gave the courage to even say the above. May God also continue to give them the strength to live it, which is the more difficult part.

The above statement is a prayer. A paraphrase might be, "Lord, by faith and in obedience I join this club of suffering, but please don't let it be without meaning. Will you use the strength that you gave me to make this statement, to also live this statement."

I am reminded of the passage from 2 Corinthians 12:9 when the Lord says to Paul, " My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Weakness can lead to statements like the above. But God's grace also brings the incredible power evidenced by such statements. It is his grace promised and then provided that shows a way through the things which debilitate us. I don't know how people face suffering without the Lord. Paul then responds by saying he will boast in his weakness. This is a much further step to take. It is saying that it is God who takes me through my weakness. I did not take myself through. God gave me strength. I did not have the strength within myself.  But please do not misunderstand. This is very hard. My suffering surrounds me but as I weep, I choose trust in God. I pray that I will choose trust in God. My strength fails me, but in complete weakness I choose to trust in God. With the little strength that is my own, supported by God's spirit, I pray to trust in God. I respond to waves of sadness that threaten to drown me, with waves of trust in my Lord.

I would say to anyone who might read this and is suffering, in a courageous act of your will call on God to show you his grace. Ask him to keep to his promise to provide grace. Ask him to walk through whatever you are facing with you. Perhaps begin with the simple prayer, "Help me!"


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Talking to your church leaders about starting disability ministry

In the great book, Lead like Jesus by Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges, there are many great insights. One struck me as I was rereading it recently. On page 191-192 they state,

"Whenever we are asked to do something different in life, the change agent - whether a manager, a spouse, a parent, a sibling, a colleague, or a friend - usually starts off by attempting to convince you of all the benefits of the change you are being  asked to make. Yet it's been found that the benefits - the impact and the "why" of change - is the fourth-ranked concern people have during change. People are first interested in information concerns. "Tell me what you have in mind. What is needed? What is wrong with the way things are now?" When you have information concerns, you don't want to be sold on the change; you simply want to understand it. Next, people are interested in personal concerns. "How will doing this affect me? Do I have what it takes to integrate the suggested change in my life?" Here the focus is on the details involved in making the change a reality. Third, people have implementation concerns. "What do I do first, second, third, etc.?"

This is an important set of observations for us who who are endeavoring to facilitate change within the church. I immediately saw myself as jumping down to the number 4 concern about the impact in my interactions and I think that I would agree with the authors that that is a mistake. Just to help to see the progression, let me list the questions in order.

1-Tell me what you have in mind.
  What is needed?
  What is wrong with the way things are now?
2-How will doing this affect me?
  Do I have what it takes to integrate the suggested change in my life?
3-What do I do first, second, third, etc.?
4-Here are the benefits of the change that I am asking you to make.

Think through this progression before the next time you are attempting to influence someone about the benefits of inclusive ministry.


Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Definition of disability ministry

I wanted to post the following mostly to receive input from anyone who might be interested. Here is a first draft of a definition of disability ministry.

Disability Ministry

Disability ministry is the label given to efforts to address disability (definition provided in a separate document), in the Christian community.

Ministries first endeavor to create greater confidence in Jesus Christ among persons affected by disability (definition provided in a separate document) by discipling Christian individuals…

1). So that they understand what the Bible says. For those with intellectual impairments, that they comprehend at their level of understanding.

2). By teaching and modeling Christian behavior so that people can produce Christian behavior (including worship, prayer, evangelism, service, and discipleship).

3). By facilitating people’s understanding and expression of their individual gifting in loving service.

Disability ministry also works to facilitate the discipling of Christian environments…

4). To begin with repentance, recognizing that historically the Church has not always loved its neighbors with impairments.

5). To see all people as who the Bible teaches they are.

6). To actively facilitate the expression of everyone’s gifting.

7). To assume persons with disabilities are to be fully included in all Church social environments and then to work towards that inclusion.

And finally…

8). To advocate for cultural change within the Church to reflect all 8 of the above.

Thank you for any input you might provide!

Friday, April 28, 2017


I have been receiving much positive feedback on my juvenile fiction novel called Meowoof. It would be great for young people or adults interested in exploring what it is to be different in some way. Here is what I wrote about it last November when it was about to be launched. Please consider picking up a copy! 

Meowoof is a new book from Jeff McNair. It would be great to give to a young person who feels different in some way, someone with a disability, or parents of a child with a disability. It is juvenile fiction so it is easy reading and fun. But there are very deep ideas behind the engaging story. Great also for a discussion group interested in discussing differences in people.

Here is the description that goes with the book.

Meowoof invites you into a world of dogs! Of course it is filled with licking, sniffing, biting and chasing. It is no doubt a fun and amusing place to visit. But life is not without its challenges. 
Barney, a beagle, and his mate Inky, a dachshund are just a young couple looking to start a family and live a typical life. But there is something unusual about one of their pups. He is like no pup they or any other dogs have ever seen before. Skip and Rosie, friends of the family do their best to support them as does His Howliness, the leader of the Moon Howlers, but they are up against attitudes deeply held by doggy society. Barney and Inky find out how those around can change when someone is not like everyone else. Those who understand the experience of being different will fearfully whisper about how dogs are taken over by the Grumble, an evil living inside of everyone. How does one battle against something everyone has inside of them? Dogs like Skip and His Howliness refuse to be put off by differences in others and will bear their teeth and fight the Grumble. But the Grumble is not that easily defeated. 
What is it to be different? What happens to you and those around you when you are not like everyone else? You are different. In a truly unique way, Meowoof begins a story about those who are different and what their lives are like.  
  • If you are a little different you will see yourself in this story. 
  • If you love someone who is different, you will more fully understand your experience. 
  • And, if you struggle with those who are different, perhaps you will begin to understand why.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Treating persons with intellectual disabilities in an age appropriate manner

Last year, I spoke at a conference attended by persons interested in theology, disability and disability ministry. Many were arguably disability ministry leaders. The main topic of my presentation was related to age appropriateness in ministry approaches to persons with intellectual disabilities.  I have to admit I was surprised when I received a lot of push back from the group about treating adults with intellectual disabilities as adults. You see, when you treat adults as children, this reveals more about who you are then about who they are. So these leaders reflected more about who they were which was what was somewhat shocking to me. Like any form of discrimination, actions can reveal discrimination. You have a characteristic which in most ways should be considered irrelevant to my interactions with you. I, however, see your characteristic as something which I feel I should elevate to a level which I feel allows me to act toward you in ways I would never act towards others.

Without naming specific programs, there are those who attempt to celebrate the lives of persons with intellectual disabilities by treating them in age inappropriate, demeaning ways. Imagine any group who has been discriminated against in some way by the larger society. The larger society then recognizes that those individuals have experienced discrimination. So in "repentance" they celebrate you in the same ways in which you have historically experienced being demeaned. This happens with age inappropriateness. Society has treated adults with intellectual disabilities as children. But when it comes time to try to celebrate them, they actually denigrate them by treating them as children. Once again that reveals who they are, not who those with disabilities are.

Now I recognize that people will do these things with the best intentions. Segregated ministries are developed similarly, with the best intentions. However, intentions when leading to flawed programs or activities do not justify the flawed programs or activities. I would like to care about your intentions, however, I am more interested in what you actually do. In the same way that if you segregate people with the best intentions and are dead wrong, if you treat adults as children because they have an intellectual disability you are wrong. If you want to read more on age appropriateness, see these past blog entries.

My wife Kathi and I have facilitated ministry at local churches for 40 years. In the past 27 years of our group called the Light and Power Company, we have made every effort to ensure that adults are treated as adults. I remember one visitor to our program commented, "Your program is different in that you treat them as if they were your peers." Well Lord willing, we do not treat them AS IF they were our peers, we treat them as our peers because they are our peers. They are adults and therefore should be treated as adults. Once again, if I do not treat adults as adults, it reveals things, negative things, about me. Such treatment is not reflective of anything about the individual with intellectual disability.

I am working on an article at the moment on age appropriateness. As ideas develop I will share more here.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Prayer by persons with severe disabilities

It might seem obvious, but a critical aspect of ministry is to teach people to pray. In assisting adults with intellectual disabilities to grow in their faith, one thing we have desired to do is to teach them to pray. Too often the prayers we hear from people are full of words, full of directions, as if God isn't really sure what to do so he needs us to tell him what to do.
I have addressed this a bit in a past post called Help Me.

The class my wife and I facilitate at our church is called the Light and Power Company. At times, we have hosted an all church prayer meeting. The meeting are sparsely attended by around 30 people, but they are always a great time.

In preparing for the event, it occurred to me that prayer would be a great leveler of persons within the church. As stated above, God is not honored by many words repeated. Our prayers are equal. For me to go on and on about the surgeon's training and hands and whatever else comes to mind does not make my prayer any more effective than that of someone who simply says, "Help Sally get better" or even more simply, “Help Sally.” At the same time, however, who knows if the faith of persons with intellectual disability may cause a qualitative difference between my and their prayers.

Perhaps consider instituting a prayer session sponsored by the persons with disabilities in your church. It gives teeth to the lesson that we really are all equal at the foot of the cross. It also should raise the esteem of persons with disabilities in the eyes of other members of the church. There are people who will literally not be prayed for if not for the prayers of persons with disabilities. We had a class member who would ask every week that his bus driver and his teacher would be prayed for. These were two very important people in his life. So we prayed for those people every week. We have no idea the ramification of those prayers, however, one has to believe that they made a difference.
Teaching persons with severe intellectual disabilities to pray is very powerful. I have often been told by someone, someone with a severe intellectual disability, that I was prayed for by them. One friend would greet me every week by saying, "I pray for you Jeff! I nice to you Jeff!" I would always express my appreciation for his prayers. He delighted in praying for me and I delighted in being prayed for by him.

In my work, I do a lot of international travel. I used to ask our class members as a group to pray for me in just a general announcement. One day a woman named Amber came up to me and said, “I pray for you Jeff.” So I sat down before her as she placed her hands on my head. She prayed, “Help Jeff. Help Jeff” several times. She then closed by saying, “I’m trying to be a good girl.” What an incredible prayer. Since that time I always seek her out to ask her to pray for me when I travel. When I am facing challenging times in my life I will also ask her to pray. Sometimes her prayers will be different. One time she actually wept as she prayed for me. Another time she suddenly said, “Devil get away from him!” That was a little frightening. I relish her prayers. At times now, now that she knows she has "permission" she will just approach me and say once again, "I pray for you Jeff." I stop what I am doing, hold her hands or she puts her hands on my head or shoulder and I submit to her ministry of praying for me.

A couple of last comments about prayer. First, when I humble myself before Amber, I honor her and provide her the opportunity to express her gifting by praying for me. Her prayers for me are real to me and valued by me. But I also demonstrate her gifting to those who are observing. Forgive me, but at times I deliberately ask her to pray for me in locations where there are other people around. I want them to see how I value her prayer. Perhaps it will cause them to reflect on who she is in God’s sight as well.


Monday, March 06, 2017

More on the Good Samaritan: "Who is not my neighbor?"

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I find the story of the Good Samaritan very very rich. Particularly, I find it rich as it relates to ministries that include persons with disabilities. Here is a link to past posts where I have discussed or mentioned the Good Samaritan passage.

But I love to learn new things about any passage which has become familiar to me. This happened recently in a conversation with a colleague, Dr. Chris Morgan. Chris is the brilliant Dean of Christian Studies at CBU. Hopefully I am representing Chris' comments correctly, but he indicated something very interesting to me about the story. Chris said that the question asked of Jesus by the Lawyer was not really to identify who his neighbor is, but rather who his neighbor is not. That may have been obvious to you but it sure wasn't to me, at least not in that way. It also says he was trying to justify himself. Why would he be trying to justify himself? He wanted to see if his non-neighbors were the right group. The Lawyer's assumption obviously implies that in his mind, that although there were people who were his neighbor, there were people who were not his neighbor. So he just wanted to see if those who he didn't see as his neighbor were the same ones that Jesus wouldn't see as his neighbor. I hope I got Chris' point correct.

As I thought through his observation, it also seemed to me, that Jesus was then providing an illustration for the Lawyer of what it looks like if you don't choose an individual or a group of people as your neighbor. Both the Priest and Levite did not see the man who was beaten and left half dead as their neighbor, probably for a variety of reasons. In contrast, the Samaritan saw people of a different ethnic group, who were considered "enemies", who were in great need, who potentially put him in danger, who could do nothing for themselves, as his neighbor. This is much more in line with the Leviticus 19 passage which the story references (Leviticus 19, especially verses 9-18). Jesus asks the Lawyer, "Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" The Lawyer responded "The one who showed him mercy" possibly responding that way because he didn't even want to use the word Samaritan. He was still trying to separate people into the two groups of

1- My Neighbor
2- Not my Neighbor

I think we can sometimes do that in reference to persons with disabilities. We ask the question, "Who is my neighbor?" and then answer it "Those with disabilities are not my neighbor" justifying (like the lawyer) our lack of concern for persons with the characteristic called impairment. I have actually heard people say that people with disabilities are not a priority for ministry, ie. they are not my neighbor. So this is a real distinction which may at times continue today.

But from a disability perspective, Jesus totally blows up the restrictive notion of who our neighbor is. He describes the man beaten and left half-dead as our neighbor. Think that through a minute. He was a man who could do absolutely nothing for himself. He is not described as doing anything at all for himself, not even calling out. So once again the answer from a disability perspective to, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus describes someone with very severe disabilities at the moment and perhaps into the future.


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

"If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it"

1 Corinthians 12 talks about the Body of Christ as a metaphor for the church. Members are represented as hands, eyes and feet in order to illustrate our connectedness. We are a part of each other, whether we realize it or not, in the same way that your hand, eye or foot is a part of your body.

I have often remarked in reference to verse 28, "If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it", no we don't. I say that because I know of persons with disabilities who have been seemingly cut off or excluded from the Body of Christ, the church, and we don't seem to be participating in their suffering. A colleague of mine, however, said to me that we are actually suffering, but we just don't realize it. As he shared that perspective with me, I immediately thought about leprosy where the sense of pain is lost. But as I think about it, it is more than that perhaps. How can I be suffering and not even know it?

Maybe it's because I have lived my life in a suffering state for so long, I don't know what it is not to be suffering in a particular way. Suffering in that manner becomes the norm for me. So for example, I have lived my life since age 5 wearing glasses. I have seen the world, looking through lenses for 55 years. I have on some level become used to the scratched, smudged experience of seeing the world. I don't realize my impaired vision from wearing glasses until I get new glasses. Then for a while I have the clear vision experience (although I still am living my life feeling like I am looking through a window rather than having an unobstructed view of the world). But after a while, I ultimately go back to the imperfect, scratched, smudged glasses experience. I get to the point where I don't know what it is like to not be that way. But in regards to this Bible passage, how might the body be suffering and know knowing it?

Maybe I am suffering from accepting living in a form of the Body of Christ where we don't love our neighbors. I could live in a beautiful, though demanding, social environment but I don't because I have become accustomed to the way the social environment has developed and found its way into the Church. Even though I may have an idea of what life might be like if I and the rest of the body loved our neighbor I have never fully experienced it. So I suffer though I don't know what it is I am missing.

Then, maybe I suffer from missing out on what the social environment might be if everyone was provided the opportunity to experience their gifting. We speak in the Christian faith of purpose in what God does. So in reference to disability we would say that God either causes or allows disability. However, if the purpose in the way people are, the giftedness in what they are as they are is not given opportunity for expression then I suffer from an incomplete expression of the sovereignty of God. It would be as if there were no musicians in the world because people with characteristics leading them to become musicians were excluded from us. I don't know what I am missing because a particular gifting set (potentially) is never expressed. Once again, we suffer from missing out on that set of gifts. We suffer from no music because we have never had music. If we had music and then had it taken away, then we would suffer from the beauty missed. But if we never had music, we are suffering from something we were intended to experience but have never experienced because of our exclusive choices.

We also suffer from living in disobedience. Of course we are all the victims of our sinful condition in myriad ways, most of which we probably have no idea about. But with each step with which we grow in obedience, we may find out how we have been suffering, what we have missed out on by living in our disobedience. We experience this personally but we also experience this corporately in a similar way. When we as a group make decisions that are sinful in nature, like excluding people or showing favoritism, we lose something. We suffer something, although we may not realize what it is.

So yes, I agree with my colleague. Whether we realize it or not, we do suffer in ways we were not intended to suffer. Perhaps our awareness of these things will cause us to remember the pain, re-experience the pain and move away from the behavior that causes the pain.


Thursday, February 09, 2017

Are we loving or persecuting Jesus?

There is an interesting connection between what we do to people and what we do to Jesus. We have heard about ministry to devalued people is ministry to what has been called the "hidden Christ." Typically in this regard we think of the Matthew 25 passage which says in verse 40
"And the King will say, 'I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!'"
Then in verse 45 it says,
"And he will answer, 'I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.'"
It recently occurred to me that this sentiment is also stated elsewhere. In Acts 9, when Jesus appears to Paul on the road to Damascus, having persecuted Christians, and on his way to persecute more, verse 4 says,
"He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?" "Who are you lord?" Saul asked.
And the voice replied, "I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting!"
I mentioned in an earlier post, the passage from James 2:1 which says,
"My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?"
It is as if to say, when you favor one group over another, you love one group over another and Jesus is a part of both groups. So maybe by showing favoritism you are actually not loving him.

This favoritism is something we need to take to heart. It is not necessarily that some people are more valuable than others. However, it appears that the way we treat others is tantamount to the way we actually, not metaphorically, treat Jesus. When Saul is persecuting Christians, Jesus' question is not "Why are you persecuting my church?" or "Why are you persecuting my followers?" He asks why Saul is persecuting Jesus himself. When we help or don't help others, we are actually doing it or not doing it for Jesus himself. There is some kind of deep, spiritual connection between the Lord and his followers that perhaps we don't fully understand. If we did understand it, we would make greater efforts to love and include our neighbors.

This is an important message we need to take to heart.