Sunday, July 15, 2018

Challenge to the Churches

One in five persons in the United States has a disability which affects how they are able to live their lives.  Think about that. Twenty percent of Americans are challenged by a physical, mental, psychological or medical limitation.  Do we see this reflected in our churches on Sunday morning?  If not, why not?

Almost eight years ago God led me to serve those with disabilities in the country of Guatemala. Here, if you are different, you are excluded--obviously rejected.  And for eight years I have fought, along with those I serve to allow these folks to be fully included in the daily life of Guatemala.  We are making slow, pain-staking progress, one small step at a time.  But that's not what this blog is about. (If you'd like to know more about how we are serving and empowering those with special needs in Guatemala, you can go to Guatemala Journey for more information.

What I have realized in this time is that inclusion of people with disabilities in the United States is also not what it needs to be.  And THE CHURCH is often the least inclusive place for those with special needs and their families.

Does that sound harsh?  Well, for these families the reality IS harsh. Far too often they are given lip-service welcome with no actions to back that welcome beyond "allowing" those with disabilities to attend worship.  If they're lucky, maybe they can attend Bible Study, though no one really expects them to contribute much.

(Sidenote:  have you ever noticed where most people with disabilities are forced to sit during worship--usually it's behind the back row.  Now I challenge you.  Sometime sit in the back row of your church.  And I mean SIT.  Do not stand, even to greet people.  Stay seated and I believe you will find that most of what you will see are the backs  of the other members of the congregation.  To me it smacks of "sitting in the back of the bus."  But I digress. . .)

Do I think churches are consciously ignoring this unreached people group?  Consciously, no.  As one pastor explained to me, churches are so overwhelmed with all they are trying to do that they just don't have the resources for these people who often present significant needs.

While on the surface that seems reasonable, when I look at this through the eyes of someone with a disability, what I see is that I am not as important as Men's Ministry, Women's Ministry, Youth Ministry, Choir, Orchestra, and even Recreation Ministry.  I don't matter as much because I cannot do as much.  If I do matter, why am I not invited to and included in these ministries?

Please know that I write this as someone who served on the staff of a large mid-western church for almost ten years.  It is a good church, a caring church, a church in which out-reach is essential.  And a church in which those with disabilities are conspicuous by their absence.  And I write this as one convicted, that after more than 30 years of working with the disabled in the public sector, I did not speak out more forcefully for people who have a special need to be fully included in the life of the church.  For them to be discipled, equipped and enabled to become fully functioning members of the Body of Christ.

This is why I am writing now.  Not to condemn any church or person, but to open our eyes to how we unconsciously and subtly exclude those with disabilities from our community of believers. How we fail to reach out to those with special needs outside of our church walls.  To look at those who are different, who might make us uncomfortable, through the eyes of Jesus.

I hope to go a step further and equip church leaders and church members to know how to embrace these special individuals as brothers and sisters in Christ.  To encourage and train churches to disciple them and welcome them into service in the church, utilizing their unique giftedness to build up the body.

I am asking you to join me to help open the eyes of Christ-followers to this neglected area of ministry.  Please share this blog with your church leaders and fellow Christ-followers.  Together we can do better to bring about the prayer of Christ that "all many be one."

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