Is the church missing vital members?
I once taught a Sunday-school lesson on poverty. In the group was a homeless man I had known for several years. Although the information I was sharing about poverty from the Bible was all good and truthful, as best as I could discern it, the presence of a man living on the streets made me much more circumspect. After all, there was an expert, so to speak, listening.
The presence of this person changed the dynamic of my delivery, changed the context for those listening and possibly had an impact on the individual himself: Those listening had the potential to provide him with significant resources.
Just as it was difficult for me to talk about poverty in any kind of glib manner that day, so will I speak with more humility about the sovereignty of God if the front row of my church is filled with people with disabilities. I won’t cavalierly say that we all just need to “trust God” in the midst of our difficult times.
So, one of the benefits of inclusive churches—in which people with disabilities are integrated—is the way those churches are changed by the presence of individuals who are generally devalued by society. That presence not only changes the pastor but also has the potential to change everyone in the church.
Integration starts with simply taking a position—saying, “We want people with disabilities in our church—this is our value.” Once we say that, the rest is just logistics. Until we say that, however, it becomes, Oh no, here comes an autistic kid, what do we do? Oh no, a person in a wheelchair, now what do we do? We see nothing but difficulties before. But once we’ve made the decision, it just becomes a matter of logistics.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the logistics become simple. It does mean that people are more willing to try different ways to meet a need than they would be if the decision had not been made already.
Including our indispensables
First Corinthians 12 talks about the indispensable parts of the body of Christ. If we included all the indispensable parts, how would those parts of the body change what our church is like right now? When we start to integrate people with disabilities—especially intellectual disabilities—they change things. They’re uninhibited; they love one another; they’re potentially stronger in their faith because they’re not worrying about ideas like evolution.
So there’s an aspect of their presence that really changes things. It’s not, Let’s bring them in and we’ll minister to them; there’s a level at which their presence causes a corrective to us corporately and individually as we become whole.
To separate them from the rest of us is tantamount to taking off a part of my body, like my nose, and putting it in a jar somewhere. Without a nose, what would make me think there are aromas? I’d be missing so much.
We don’t have the foggiest idea of how the various parts of the body would change us, because we’ve never had the whole body of Christ together.
Jeff McNair and his wife, Kathi, are an instrumental part of the disability ministry at Trinity EFC in Redlands, Calif. Jeff is also the author of The Church and Disability, and his blog is called Disabled Christianity.