“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” How familiar we are with Paul’s penciled words; Paul’s oft-used salutation rests upon God’s grace in salvation and peace that comes through the work of Jesus Christ. The subject matters vary: to the Romans, he wrote of unshakable truths for the Christian life; to the Corinthians, he sent a resounding wake-up call due to their pathetic pettiness, quarrelsome conflicts, and carnal compromise; to the Galatians, he wrote of freedom through grace by faith; and to the Ephesians, he provided truths about diversity, unity, and spiritual maturity. Yet most often these days, ministry concentrates on age or interest classifications in place of Christ’s call to all Christians—to be securely cradled in God’s grace and peace that He provides when we embrace Him.
So now, may I ask is this what you expected to read in a blog about disabilities? Raising my disabled son has transformed my life—its meaning, purpose, ministry, focus, as well as my faith. Central to my perspective is Christ’s view of us, without labels, classifications, judgments, and human-made rules. Remember, disability ministry is viewed as a topical issue about which most pastors feel ill-equipped and uncomfortable to address. Pastors, your ministry call is not to personally know it all, have it all, be comfortable with, or be invulnerable; it is to be saturated with God’s message of grace and peace and then to proclaim His truth from your soul.
For example, what does disability ministry mean, once removed from group and topical classifications? First, we need a paradigm that shapes our perspective, beginning with an accurate definition. Disability represents any condition which (1) removes a person’s independence, thereby causing him or her to depend on others for managing life; (2) requires a caregiver to provide physical, emotional, medical, therapeutic, practical, and/or spiritual support, (3) creates a crisis for family members, and (4) requires acquisition of new skills, changed beliefs, extensive family care, and healing hope wrapped in grace and peace. Notice, there was no mention of physical equipment, wheelchairs, or other symbols we associate with disabilities. “Equipment” is a small topic in the realm of disability ministry; it does not represent an entire disability ministry.
In grave honesty, those suffering with disabling conditions who have sought help from a church or other Christian organization report their greatest pain and deepest soul damage came from a neglectful Christian or church. Ninety-eight percent of these folks never return to church because of the painful rejection, severe criticism, pious statements, and biting gossip they received from these Christian entities.
But I believe revolutionary changes can happen in your church and in communities around the world. So where do you begin? Embrace the mind-set of grace and peace in serving those who suffer. We have grace because our gracious God has continually ministered grace to His creation—first and foremost is that of Jesus Christ, who came to us and lived among us. God gives us peace with God and with others through acknowledging, surrendering, and humbling our lives under the lordship of Jesus. Pastors and church ministry leaders, here is your necessary, core challenge as you endeavor to provide ministry to the disabled and suffering.
1) Experience the disabled world by choosing to do two or three of the following suggestions:
- Rent a wheelchair from any hospital or medical facility. For three consecutive days, stay in the wheelchair . . . everywhere you go and in everything you do. Personal hygiene, shopping, cooking, cleaning, office and home responsibilities should all be done while remaining in the wheelchair.
- Spend a day at a facility caring for disabled aging people. Locate such a facility in your area, and ask for permission to come and serve for a day. You may speak with them as to your purpose, and then follow through. Suggestions: wash feet, change bedding, clean bathrooms after accidents, offer to bring lunch or feed a person, or clean the face of someone with a runny nose, watering eyes, or dripping saliva.
- Spend one or two days in a hospital ward . . . cancer, heart disease, stroke victims, or emergency rooms. Just sit and listen, or meet family members without preaching to them . . . just listen.
- Ride for several hours on a public bus for the disabled.
- Spend a day in a facility caring for those with mental or emotional disabilities.
- Go to a family’s home (with clear permission), and provide care in daily tasks, learning the responsibilities of disability support.
2) Keep a journal:
- Start it off with your thoughts about accepting these challenges. Write down your feelings . . . your fears, anger, embarrassment, reservations, and so on.
- Write about your experiences.
- Finally, reflect and write on what happened inside your soul as a result of this first disability project.
May grace and peace be with you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.