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


Thursday, January 24, 2019

Disability ministry perceptions

So often, when we consider the development of ministry to persons in some way affected by disability, we focus on our perceptions of the situation. We have customary ways of doing things that have become comfortable and ingrained. Then someone comes to us who either cannot or will not participate in those customary practices. During the times when we don't reject them, we tend to think about our perceptions of the situation. What do I need to do? How am I feeling? How can I help these people? It strikes me that although these are good questions to ask ourselves, they only reveal half of the equation.

I wonder what people with autism perceive when they come to church? What do they perceive when they enter a social situation? It would be interesting to begin by trying to understand their perspective.

Imagine someone with a disability, say autism or intellectual disability, riding in a car on the way to church. What are they thinking? As they get out of the car and walk toward the door of the church or the ministry, what are they anticipating will happen or are hoping will happen? As they go into the worship service, do they understand what that is about? When people around them are singing and raising their hands, what do they perceive that activity to be? If we were to explain to them what worship is, would they feel they have worshiped? Do we know the answers to these questions. When the class/ministry/church experience for the day is over, would the person say, "Yes, I received today what I was hoping to receive from my experience at church."

In part, the answer to this question goes to the culture of the church or ministry. If people have different perceptions of the world due to disabilities that impact their intellect, are the activities that impact those without those types of disabilities touching them in the same way?

Take for example something as "intuitive" as friendship. I have a man who is a friend of mine who is autistic. He seems to be constantly always on the lookout for a friend. He will attempt to reach out in friendship to others, people with intellectual disabilities, and although they might respond in a friendly manner, they seem to not be providing what he is after. His perception or understanding of friendship seems in some ways to be different from theirs. And like many people without disabilities, they either don't understand what he is after or are not interested in engaging in the type of completely appropriate relationship that he is seeking.

I think it would do us well in ministry to attempt to understand how those we are seeking to serve perceive us, what we are trying to do, and whether to them, we are being successful. What we learn would not only impact what we do in ministry, but potentially also impact recommendations we would make on how these same individuals might be socialized in their upbringing.

McNair



12 comments:

Anonymous said...

It is very intriguing hearing how you described the interactions between people with and without disabilities in the church setting. As I was reading through it, I stopped and thought about how I had done this when my mom and I hosted Friday nights for our old Special Ed ministry. I was more concerned with my own feelings and did not stop to think about the children’s feelings. Like you had stated in the post, it is with good intentions we ask these questions. However, we do need to take into consideration the questions people with disabilities are asking. Is church what they are expecting? I am baffled as to why we do not care what our members with disabilities think about us. They too have their own opinions and feelings towards us. I am someone who does care about people’s perceptions. I sat down and reflected on how I do not place a strong emphasis on their perceptions of me. I am going to spend more time within my own life to really think about their perceptions. I want to know how people with disabilities feel about my church and whether or not they feel comfortable with our interactions.

SugarBear_travels said...

This is an issue that not only places like church have an issue with, but in Institutions such as school and other service for individuals with disabilities. They are being served, however not asked how they feel about their services. The difficulty is to understand, but the reach out to make the connection with the individuals is necessary to make sure the person is comfortable and knowledgeable what is being provided such as a ministry. The individual with the disability should be entitled to their perceptions and have a platform or time to voice their opinion on any matter. This could be done at appropriate moments such as intermissions during ministry to collect feedback of the awareness of what is being told during each service of the ministry. This would be efficient to have a goal of what the ministry is trying to accomplish during a sermon for the day or concepts of month trying to be presented. A ministry for people with disabilities needs preparation and an agenda to be successful. Also, needs to includes evaluation and re-evaluation to see if the comfortable and understanding is heading in a positive direction. Lastly, depending on the varied types of disabilities need to be considered and accounted for to reach each person to the best matter offered.

Anonymous said...

It was interesting hearing how you described the interactions between people with and without disabilities in a church setting. While I was reading this blog post I kept on stopping and thinking about how I have done this in my work when working with disabilities. Like you have stated in this blog post, it is with good intentions but we often ourselves these questions. I also think that we need to take into consideration the questions people with disabilities are asking. I am someone who highly cares about people with disabilities I work with them every day and sometimes I am wondering what they go through their mind but then again working with them everyday I am able to figure out what does go through their mind.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this post, and found it interesting to see this topic from another point of view. I have worked with special needs children in High School. I often did not take the time to think about their feelings and watch how my actions were towards them. I would think of my feelings rather then focusing on theirs, which was very selfish of me, I know. Also my interactions with disabled peers, I would treat the ones with disabled peers the same. However, as i gained a deeper knowledge about these disabilities I began to change my actions towards those with disabilities. As I have taken this into consideration I now have a shift with my perspective on how to think about others feelings, other than my own. It is hard to watch others not see your point of view because they often have the same response and actions that I had once. It is important to always take a step back and watch your reactions and think before you do. Despite others disabilities no matter what everyone deserves to be treated with just as much love as another. Each of us all have the same purpose in life and were all created by the same God. Our goal here is to be Christ-like and if that is the case, God treats everyone the same and loves us all equally, and this is vital that we do the same.

The Mephibosheth Project said...

Reading this, I can't help but wonder how often we ignore, squash or are oblivious to autistic perspectives. It is naive to think that everyone sees things the same way. Sometimes I wonder if we are actually stopping to hear the voices of people with disabilities or if we are merely assimilating them to conform to our own forms of worship. I have often wondered what church would look like if individuals with autism were able to be heard and find their own way to worship. I wonder how much we miss because we don't hear the voices of people with disabilities or try to understand their perspective.

Anonymous said...

@ Jeff McNair

As I was reading this, I saw how our natural inclination to stereotype, categorize, and utilize our own biases in almost all situations has deeply affected our interactions with those who are perceived as different. Reading your post, I thought about how disconnected we are. Specifically, I remembered in class that you brought up how we tend to talk to older adults with disabilities as children or how we tend to avoid contact with the disabled person and only acknowledge their caregiver. These are just examples of how we think we help the situation, but indeed, only make it that much more disconnected. After reading your post, I felt it was a call to improve our relationships with individuals with disabilities to be a more authentic one. Although we may have good intentions, what we think is right to begin with, isn't always the best choice for execution. We must acknowledge that our actions and words should reflect how we would want to be treated. This means seeing and processing the world through the lenses of the "others." Because we do what is considered "right" as dictated by collective thought and culture, we fail to pierce that surface and understand that their is much more to these individuals than what meets the eye. Embracing individuals with disabilities wholeheartedly is the only way to truly see their worth and in turn, wire our brains to treat them as we do each other. Our engagement with these individuals must go beyond the surface. It is important not only for our own understanding but for the health and well-being of those with disabilities.

Anonymous said...

Reading this immediately activated a way of thinking I normally would not have in my own standard settings, and I believe that's the point of work like yours Dr. McNair. We often live within our set of standards or standards common with the "normal" that we lose understanding of what it may feel like to be outside of this standard of ours. We find ourselves saying that we keep an open mind and are considerate of other perspectives, and although I believe we do try to do so to our best of our abilities, the way in which we live our everyday lives has us having to get back on track towards compassion as we constantly engage with perspectives and solutions that challenge us with experiences and lessons towards becoming better people.

Anonymous said...

I found it interesting what you said about changing our perspectives on this topic. I think some people in ministry have a good heart and good intentions, but will often turn to Google to try to figure out how to cater to people with disabilities, when they should instead just start with asking the people in question how they are perceiving things. I think many people want to "love their neighbor as themself," but it is important to realize that people are different, and so someone with a disability is going to need some things to be different than the way we would do it. People need to be thoughtful and considerate in ways that they might not originally think.
I also am encouraged by you talking about your friends with disabilities. I think more Christians need to be actively seeking out people with disabilities who need Christ, because I think they are a people group that often times gets completely forgotten by the Church when it comes time to talk about outreaches.
Thank you Dr. McNair for your thoughts and passion for the disabled community.

Anonymous said...

Reading this forced me to think about how we think and perceive what goes on around us. As someone who serves people with disabilities, it is easy to take pride in the services, but not think about how these services may be making these people feel. it is very difficult to view a situation through someone else's perspective, but it is essential when serving in a ministry geared toward people with disabilities (or any ministry at all). What we do should benefit the people we serve, and if we do not take on their perspective, we cannot better understand how to effectively serve. This makes me wonder if people with disabilities are truly benefitting from they type of worship they receive and what types of worship they desire.

Anonymous said...

Reading this reminded me of when I went to my first women's bible study ever, which was only about 2 years ago. I had never gone to a women's bible study before. I had become a Christian about a year in a half before this particular evening of attending my first women's bible study. I had often been attending a different church on Sundays. I wanted to take a bigger step in my Christian walk and get more involved. The church I had been attending did not have a bible study that I was able to attend, so this bible study group was recommended to me by my Christian counselor. I just about made myself sick with fear, anxiety, and panic, along with some crying as I drove to this bible study. I was recently divorced after 22 years of marriage. My entire life had changed. My mind was full of thoughts that I would be the only divorced woman there, and the only woman that had to start her life all over at 49 years old. I felt ashamed and like a complete failure as a person even though nobody even knew me at this church. Long story short, I was completely welcomed and now have 7 sisters in Christ. Being an only child, this was especially huge. I am so thankful I went that night. I am also so thankful that God blessed me with these 7 women who immediately took me in and loved me no matter what. We never know what someone is going through or how they are feeling. Many people look and act fine on the outside, but are lonely, hurting, suffering, scared, full of worry, etc... on the inside. I try to always think of other people, but more importantly, I remind myself that we are all children of God whether we are disabled, not disabled, married, divorced, broken, happy, many strengths, not so many strengths, etc... We are to love and serve each other as Jesus would if he was here right now. Life can be very challenging, at times. Having friends, family, or brothers and sisters in Christ to support, love and serve each other can make all the difference. The world would be a much more enjoyable place if every person would take the step and be a friend to everyone.

Anonymous said...

This was a great read. I have never really taken the time to think about these things. Getting into the mind space of someone with a disability can be difficult but can be so beneficial for everyone involved in the ministry at church whether it is targeted to disabilities or not. Thank you for this article. It was very eye-opening.

Anonymous said...

I loved this perspective of something that we do not see everyday. Reading this got me thinking and taking into consideration as to what people with disabilities really do think about before, during, and after church. As someone who works wit children with autism, I have never quite put into perspective of how they feel. It sometimes slips our mind to look through different point of views when it comes to others. The question here seems to be Are these children or adults with disabilities really learning about God? I think yes because when I look at my cousin who has an intellectual disability and is very involved in the church. He goes to church every Sunday and even attends bible study. If you were to ask him any question about the Bible, he would be able to answer it. So from my personal experience, they do learn, we just have not put ourselves into their perspectives of maybe how they learn.