Thinking theologically about disability is a massive need in today’s church. That’s one reason I’m thankful to the Lord for recently bringing the Beyond Suffering Bible onto my radar, and into my life and home. In addition to many “Connection Points,” application of biblical truths to personal suffering interspersed throughout, and devotionals written by Joni Eareckson Tada, a wealth of resources is contained in the appendices. One appendix is called, “Becoming a Welcoming Church: God’s Urgent Call to Disability Ministry,” written by Steve Bundy.
Steve begins the appendix with a very personal story of how the Lord used their son to open their hearts to the need for disability ministry in the church. He then calls us to new awareness. Since there are “over one 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 positioned to come alongside these families.”
In Luke 14, Jesus “gave us a new guest list for dinner parties: ‘the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind’ (Luke 14:13).” Steve goes on, then, to challenge us: “If we have the heart of the Master, we will welcome, embrace, and include people affected by disability. This is not only an issue of salvation but of discipleship, fellowship, and full participation.”
The U.R.G.E.N.T. Call
Here are six steps that Steve gives to help our churches get started.
- Understanding the Needs – “An inclusive church is an understanding church. It begins with learning the details of each person’s story and accepting that person regardless of his or her physical or intellectual abilities. Remember that God created each person with a unique design.”
- Relating Individually – “People with disabilities are not problems to be solved—they are relationships to be embrace. God’s love is expressed through his body—the church.”
- Giving Opportunity – “God’s intention is for everyone in the body of Christ to be fully included, giving and receiving from one another.” According to 1 Corinthians 12:12-26, “though some parts [of the body] have more visibility and seem more important, those parts that seem least important could actually make the greatest impact.”
- Encouraging Others – “At times, families become overwhelmed by life circumstances and need a word of encouragement.” Encouragement comes in many different ways. “Providing some time away” for parents, or “letting them know they are doing a fine job” can bring refreshment.
- Networking for Support – “The church has a unique role in the community, reconciling humanity to God and people to people….There are significant resources within the church that can help parents with finances, support groups, counselors, and therapists.”
- Training for Service – “Churches that welcome families affected by disability need to be churches that are willing to learn—to be trained and to train.” Start small “and allow God to grow the ministry in his timing.”
For additional suggestions about how to help start a disability ministry at your church, visit the Joni and Friends website.