Arriving to church and closing the car doors, I continued to sing the song left unfinished on the radio when the ignition was turned off. “I can only imagine, what my eyes will see when your face is before me. I can only imagine.” Earlier in the morning, Brian had gotten dressed all right … in his swimsuit. He was finally coaxed into putting on his church clothes paired with the reminder that we would go swimming that afternoon. Brian would be oblivious to the water being as cold as icebergs.
Brian walked briskly towards God’s House as if on a mission. With my Sunday dress on, it was difficult for me to keep up his pace. Fearful that he wouldn’t look both ways, I sprinted in my heels to the invisible crosswalk at the intersection. I placed my arm in front of Brian to alert him to the oncoming car, but he pressed through my barricade. Thankfully, the car came to an immediate stop. I waved and expressed my thanks to the annoyed driver. Brian reached the finish line before me as the greeters opened the door to God’s House. The enthusiastic couple spoke in one accord, “Isn’t it a great day to be in the House of the Lord?” In an audible whisper thanking them, I summoned a genuine but stiff smile. I muttered under my breath, “If you only knew the barriers to overcome just to come to church.” My smile had vanished but the song continued, “Surrounded by your glory, what will my heart feel? Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still?”
Ahead of us, kids were scampering between the strollers and toddlers. The lobby was filled with excitement, laughter accompanied by lots of families in lines. The song in my head was replaced with thoughts pinging around my brain like multiple text messages, “It’s not worth the hassle. You should have stayed home. Turn around; it’s not too late. You don’t belong here.”
Already exhausted, I mustered up a huge breath of air as if I were going to dive to the bottom of a pool. Brian doesn’t do well with lines. That’s when the invisible disability of autism became visibly apparent. The sea of moving people suddenly stopped. Everyone was frozen in space excluding Brian and me. We were moving quickly through the islands of cold icebergs.
The good part of people stopping and staring is that I was able to check in and get our nametags. The meltdown continued but we were getting closer to the special needs ministry. Singing ever so softly, “Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall? Will I sing Hallelujah, or will I be able to speak at all?” The doors to the special needs ministry opened wide before we reached them. We walked through the doors with great relief where we knew we are understood and welcomed unconditionally. HALLELUJAH!
PERSONAL, INCLUSIVE AND INTERDEPENDENT
Families touched by special needs or disabilities require adaptations because of their families’ unique needs. For the most part, these individuals deal with their “thorn” with grace. This unique population does not want your pity or to be labeled as a mission project. As you minister to the unique needs, allow them to be ministered through as well. Encourage them to minister to you and your congregation.
True ministry involves all. Naturally, because of the diversity of people this means a host of varying, unique ministries. 1 Corinthians 12:4-5, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord.” The biblical nature of ministry is individualized and inclusive.
CHURCHES: DO WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE
Churches, be ready to lift the hopeless, soften the hardness of indifference, listen and demonstrate unconditional love to ALL. Churches need to do ministry: responsibly, do what needs to be done … timely, do it when it needs to be done … excellently, do the best that can be done … consistently, do it that way every time.
Churches have been reluctant to reach out to those with disabilities. Why? Less than 15 percent of American churches have an intentional program for those with disabilities. Two in every seven families have a family member with a disability. If a family has a family member with a disability that the church does not minister to, the entire family doesn’t come. If churches don’t minister to the needs of the disabled, they’re missing an entire family. Eighty-five percent of marriages end in divorce when a child with a disability is present.
Churches have an urgent responsibility and an obligation to these very people who are desperate for the Good News. Responsibilities for extraordinary ministries begin with the pastor. When the pastor embraces the ministry and its people, the congregation will as well. Churches, encourage priority be given to those with differing abilities and share the vision to break down those walls of exclusion.
Once you commit to the ministry you must stay focused on the right direction. Be ready to stay the course. You do not have to have all the answers to why this may have happened. What are you willing to invest and risk in truly making a difference in these lives? What imprint will you make for eternity?
SERVE ONE ANOTHER
According to the Greek term, dikonos, to minister is to serve one another. Ministering and receiving the ministry is relying on mutual assistance, support, collaboration and communication between one another. God uses us to reconcile the world to Himself through Christ. Ministry is hard work and has no hierarchy. Matthew 23:11, “But the greatest among you shall be your servant.” Matthew 25:40, “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’” Ministry is interpersonal and is interdependent.
Jesus began the concept of extraordinary ministry. Putting God’s work into word and action is service—the purpose of ministry. The members of the Body of Christ are equipped to serve and minister to the community. Ephesians 4:12, “… for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” Paul speaks about the ministry he received in Acts 20:24, “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.
I CAN ONLY IMAGINE!
Jesus walks into your church. What does He see? Who does He see? I can only imagine.
* Mercy Me: “I Can Only Imagine”
Who are we missing in our churches?
Included in the category of disabilities:
- physical disability
- sensory disability (sight, vision, auditory)
- intellectual disability
- self-care disability
- homebound disability
- behavioral disability
There are over 41 million people considered disabled living in the United States, over the age of 5 and not institutionalized. (Resource: www.disabilitystatistics.org)