What Churches Are Doing
Almost every pastor says their church is involved in at least one of five different ways to care for those with disabilities and their families.
Three in 4 pastors say their church encourages volunteering in community events, like the Special Olympics, for people with disabilities.
Most say they provide financially for families with ongoing needs or provide respite for family caregivers to give them a break .
Half of churches provide an additional teacher to aid a person with special needs in a class.
Fewer pastors say their church provides classes or events specifically for people with disabilities.
Larger churches are more likely than others to say they help in many of these specific ways. That gap is particularly pronounced when examining which churches provide an additional teacher for the individual with special needs.
While three quarters of churches with worship attendance topping 250 say they provide such assistants, 54% of churches with 100 to 249, 46% of churches with 50 to 99, and 35% of churches with less than 50 say they do the same.
Many churches likely wont have the resources to provide classes or events specifically designed for only those with disabilities, but they will still have opportunities to help those individuals participate in the life of their church, said McConnell.
What Emerges From This Discussion
This paper is an initial summary of the biblical and theological resources that are often brought to bear on questions of disability and inclusion. There is far more that could be said or explored on any of the points raised here, and such discussion is underway in the disability theology literature. In addition, each church will encounter a different mixture of disabilities within its community and fellowship, requiring particular practical responses and action in terms of access and communication, not addressed here, but indicated in the introduction.
Nonetheless, starting with the theological and biblical points raised here, a number of positive suggestions can be made towards moving our church fellowships in a more inclusive direction:
A significant starting point is to begin to identify and discuss with honesty our own, often unexamined, normate theological and practical presumptions about disability and about Gods attitude to disability. This should include open discussion about the often different frame of reference we find in the Bibles references to various disabilities.
On the assumption that what we believe and what we do affect each other deeply, the theological and biblical assertions indicated briefly above need to become an integral part of our expression of the gospel, not an occasional reference. Similarly, the practice of inclusion in worship should become habitual and the norm, rather than occasional.
What Is An Inclusive Ministry
An inclusive ministry is one which enables, empowers and engages all persons within the worshipping community, regardless of ability. This stems from a belief that God has created us as equally-valued people in His image. Let us create man in OUR Image . The image of God is best reflected in community. Together we live out the mandate of Luke 4:18-21, proclaiming the year of the Lords favour to everyone.
An inclusive ministry is not a program. It is not about creating a special class or a separate ministry or even identifying the disabled as an object of ministry. It may be summarized in the motto ministry and with people with disabilities, in contrast to ministry for people with disabilities. It is opening the doors of the Church to include those with disabilities to fully participate in the life of the Body of Christ. As Paul expresses in 1 Corinthians 12:22 , the parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. All of us are looking for a place to belong, to be valued, to know and be known. Being part of
All of us are looking for a place to belong, to be valued, to know and be known. We all long to be part of a community that brings meaning, purpose, and opportunities to contribute as well as to receive. We are seeking a place that provides for a corporate expression of our faith in Christ that communicates I am not alone in my journey.
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Barrier : What It Means To Declare And Respond To The Gospel
We are often very linear in our approach to the gospel. Receiving the Good News is often viewed as verbal and intellectual assent to certain doctrines or beliefs. However, those with cognitive disabilities may have difficulty in understanding the gospel in this form and people with physical challenges may not be able to communicate it in a way that is expected. So, we need to discover other modalities of what it means to declare and respond to the gospel. It may mean that we need to explore how to preach a tactile gospel one that employs an array of senses touch, smell, sound and the sensory atmospheres. In addition, we need to ask the question what is the person learning about the grace, mercy, gentleness, acceptance and salvation of God? by how they experience us in relationship with them as a community. Again, the benefit to the community is that we come to appreciate the fullness of the gospel that Christ did not come only for those with a certain IQ or communication ability. As we come to accept this, we come to accept the grace of God in our own lives in a new and powerful way.
Want To Start A Disability Ministry In Your Local Church Heres A New One
Friends at the Jesus Club in Bethesda Church Bukit Arang enjoying a Christmas event together before Covid. Photo courtesy of Jesus Club.
Have you ever wanted to start a church ministry with, or for, people with disabilities but felt ill-equipped to do so?
Church leaders and members in this predicament can now turn to a locally-written handbook for insights, as local disability ministry advocates move to provide more comprehensive resources suited to the Singaporean context.
Enabling Hearts: A Primer for Disability-Inclusive Churches explores not just the theological introduction of disability but also different aspects of disability ministry, such as how to disciple the differently-abled into disciple makers, develop an inclusive liturgy and build churches that are accessible to all.
The cover of Enabling Hearts features a painting by the artist Hyatt Moore, based on the banquet in Jesus parable in Luke 14. Every individual featured in the painting is a real person with disability who posed for the photo. The painting was commissioned by Joni and Friends, a leading disability ministry based in the US. Photo courtesy of KIN.
On top of that, it also takes a deep dive into how churches can be more inclusive of people with different types of disabilities, and also includes real and practical insights from leaders who have been running disability ministries for people with autism and the deaf.
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Embracing Our Mutual Similarities
One final objective presents a daunting challenge: the church must become more proactive to reflect Gods intended diversity by embracing first its own weakness and then the weakness and brokenness of others.
On a denominational level, most evangelical churches have never shown the slightest intention of moving in such a proactive direction. Numerous mainline denominations, on the other hand, have had budget-funded national offices dedicated to ministry toward people with disabilities. Unfortunately, most of those churches have defunded such offices in recent years due to austerity requirements. But a department for disability awareness can never affect change unless grassroots education of the leadership takes place.
Jesus calls us to go to those who have nothing to offer: the outcasts, the lonely, the broken, and the weak.
May God extend the tent pegs of such ministry models for the glory of Christs church. And may that church boast not in its sparkling exterior of wholeness, power, and influence, but may it boast in its weakness so that the power of God may be displayed through it and God receive all the glory.
This article is adapted fromDisability and the Gospel: How God Uses Our Brokenness to Display His Grace
Setting Out The Challenges
Many of us first encounter disability theology around questions of access and inclusion in church life, and indeed that is the genesis of this paper. Before long, the many facets of the question become apparent. In practical terms, disability encompasses a wide range of life situations, many of which are completely unrelated to each other. We might attempt some broad categories as follows:
those with physical or mobility needs, for whom physical access is the priority
those with learning disabilities or intellectual impairment, where communication and understanding also need to be addressed
those with sensory impairment or sensitivity , where environment and means of communication might need to be adapted
those with invisible disabilities related to internal organ function or mental health.
These factors can interact in complex ways, all of which also affect families and friends, as we consider how to enable people with disabilities to be present, to participate, to worship, and to give and receive the grace and wonder of the gospel.
In theological and biblical terms , behind the immediate, presenting questions of access and participation are deeper questions of inclusion. These include:
Inclusion in the image of God . Here we are seeking a basis for asserting that those with disabilities are of equal worth in Gods eyes as well as our own.
Inclusion in the body of Christ . Here we return to questions of worship and church life.
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Traditional Biblical And Theological Perspectives On Disability
Eiesland identifies three theological themes that have created obstacles for PWD. The first is conflating disability with sin. The belief that disability indicates punishment for wrongdoing and mars the divine image in humans has often barred those with disabilities from positions of leadership or stigmatized them for their presumed lack of faith.
The second theme views disability as virtuous suffering. Disability has been identified as suffering that must be endured in order to purify the righteous, a teaching that encourages passive acceptance of social barriers for the sake of obedience to God.
The third theme perceives PWD as cases of charity. Although charitable activity for PWD is at times a means of creating justice, it subverts justice when it segregates PWD from society and keeps PWD out of the public eye rather than empowering them for full social, economic, and political participation. The outcome of all these themes is what Eiesland has referred to as a “disabling theology.” The Bible, which is the major source of Christian theology, illuminates this further.
Should People With Disabilities Seek Healing
When believers become ill, the Bible encourages them to seek healing19. However, how should ill or injured people view scripture when healing and relief from suffering does not come? Mark 1:32-39 and Luke 9:12 provide insight. In Mark 1:32-34, we see Jesus healing all the sick and demon possessed and many who had various diseases. Very early on the next morning, Jesus went off to a solitary place to pray. When the crowds returned with more sick and disabled people, the disciples went to look for him. When they found him, they exclaimed: Everyone is looking for you! Jesus replied, Lets go somewhere else to the nearby villages so I can preach there also. That is why I have come
It is not that Jesus didnt care about the cancer-ridden, blind or those with disabilities it is that their illnesses were not his sole focus: the gospel was. The Lords message was: Sin will kill you, hell is real, God is merciful, His kingdom will change you and I am not only your passport but I have come to live abundantly in and through you. Whenever people missed this, and they started coming to him to have their pains and problems removed, the Saviour backed away. Gods purpose in redemption was not to make peoples lives happy, healthy and free of trouble His purpose was to rescue them from sin then conform them from the inside out to the image of His Son by the power of His Spirit.20
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Each Human Being A Gift
51. All life is a gift from God, and there is an integrity to this creation. We read in Genesis that after creating all of heaven and earth and every form of life, God saw that “Â indeed, it was very good.” God did not say it was “perfect”. With the breath of life, God has imbued each person with dignity and worth. We believe that humanity is “created in the image and likeness of God,” with each human bearing aspects of that divine nature yet no one of us reflecting God fully or completely. Being in God’s image does not just mean bearing this likeness, but the possibility of becoming as God intends.
52. This includes all people, whatever their abilities or impairments. It means that every human being is innately gifted and has something to offer that others need. This may be simply one’s presence, one’s capacity to respond to attention, to exhibit some sign of appreciation, and love for other people. Each has something unique to contribute and should thus be considered as a gift. We cannot speak about this “giftedness” without also speaking about each person’s limitations. They are the basis of our need of each other and of God, irrespective of the labelling of our abilities. Living in this interdependence opens us to one another and to a deeper, more honest, self-knowledge, and so makes us each more fully human, more fully people of communion, more fully realising the Imago Dei we bear.
International Christian Organizations Serving People With Disabilities
Joni and Friends International Disability CenterPO Box 3333, Agoura Hills, CA 91376, USAPhone: 818-707-5664 Fax: 818-707-2391. www.joniandfriends.org
Through the Roof Britain Office:PO Box 353, Epsom, Surrey, KT18 5WS, UKDirector: Paul Dicken
Christian Ministries Disabled Trust, New ZealandDi Willis, DirectorPO Box 13-322, Onehunga. Auckland, New ZealandPh: 636 4763
Christian Blind Mission International U.S.A. 450 E. Park Avenue, Greenville, SC 29601, USAPhone: 800-YES-CBMI 864-239-0065 Fax: 864-239-0069E-mail: Website: www.christianity.com/cbmiC.B.M.I. is the leading provider of eye care programs and services for people suffering from blindness and other disabilities around the world. It supports more than 1,000 projects in 107 countries primarily in Asia, Africa, Latin American and in Eastern Europe. C.B.M.I. seeks to recruit medical, educational and rehabilitation professionals for foreign missions opportunities.
World Vision800 West Chestnut Avenue, Monrovia, CA 91016-3198, USAweb: wvi.org/World Vision sponsors rehabilitation projects among the blind, deaf and paralyzed around the world. Often World Vision is able to provide direction and resources for local rehabilitation projects among the disabled. For more information contact:World Vision International Liaison Office6 Chemin de la Tourelle, 1209 Geneva, Switzerland
American Leprosy Mission120 Broadus Ave.. Greenville, SC 29601, USAPhone 800-543-3135
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What About The Cost
One of the reasons that many churches resist establishing inclusive ministries is the fear of what it costs. While there may be costs associated with making the physical building accessible an inclusive ministry does not need to be a separately funded program. Nor does it necessarily need to increase workload or tax already overstretched resources. In fact, in many cases the opposite can be discovered as the skills, gifts and talents of a group of people previously overlooked and willing to serve are unlocked. There is no role that people are precluded from simply because of their disability. We have seen people with even more significant cognitive disabilities actively contribute in the roles of greeting, ushering, church cleaning and maintenance, helping with setting up, teachers helper, worship team participant, and prayer.
Ways Your Church Can Welcome People With Disabilities
The class of 4-year-olds marched into big church with giggles, wiggles and flushed faces. Parents strained to find their children as the hesitant young performers began their first, well-rehearsed song. Melissa and I craned our necks left and right searching for our son, Caleb, knowing he would likely be in the back row, with his head down. Given his developmental delays and autism, Caleb usually tried to avoid the spotlight. When we couldnt find him on stage, I anxiously rushed to his classroom to see what was wrong. I found Caleb safe and sound. Relieved, I asked why he was in the classroom while all the other children were performing. The volunteer said that he had been told to stay with him, because Caleb didnt need to participate. The unintended message: Caleb doesnt belong.
Unfortunately, scenarios like this play out every Sunday in churches everywhere. Whether its exclusion from an event or from the church overall, families affected by disability are deeply wounded, and many leave the church altogether as a result. Such exclusion is not usually intended to cause harm. Often its simply a lack of awareness. But with more than 1 billion people in the world affected by disability, pastors and church leaders must recognize the urgent need for outreach and disability ministry. And churches are uniquely designed to come alongside these families.
A Family Weekend Retreat
Philippians 4:13-14 says, I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. It is always good to share in the troubles of disabled people and their families. Depending on the resources of families in your community and the availability of hotels, plan a two-day retreat for families that include a disabled member.