I want to talk to you about disability ministry.
Already, I realize that I have initiated one of three typical reactions to my introduction: I imagine you are excited, scared, or apathetic. Some readers didn’t even make it this far. But you did, so let’s continue.
Though I was a junior in college, I could still pass for twelve years old as I headed to work as a counselor at a summer camp. I was reeling from a breakup, and at the time, I would’ve described myself as having been “dumped.” In the errant wisdom of my youth, I swore off relationships with girls altogether, setting a timeline for myself of one year that I would spend pursuing other activities and interests. But on the very first day that my fellow counselors and I arrived at camp, I met her. And her was named Virginia. And with Virginia, my short girlfriend fast was officially over. Of course, she didn’t yet know that, nor did she know my name or that I even existed, but I am nothing if not optimistic.
Over the course of the next eighteen months, I spent numerous hours on the phone and in the computer lab at school (kids, that’s where the only computers used to be on a college campus), seeking to get to know this particular girl of whom I was particularly fond.
We have been married almost fifteen years now, and I promise you that not a day goes by that I don’t pinch myself in disbelief that she chose to spend her life with me. When I think back on those eighteen months between our meeting and our wedding, there is one word that sums up that time period—pursuit. I pursued a relationship with Virginia because I wanted to know her.
Christ has pursued us in love, and we are to pursue others with the truth of the gospel and the love of Christ. Active pursuit.
Scripture is emphatic about our responsibility to love those around us. We are to “go,” to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). We are to proclaim the good news to a thirsty world. And we are commanded to love others in a sacrificial way, while loving our fellow brothers and sisters so well that the world actually knows that we are Christians by the evidence of our love for one another.
These imperatives from Scripture can be summed up as pursuit. Christ has pursued us in love, and we are to pursue others with the truth of the gospel and the love of Christ. Active pursuit.
Yet, too often, I am reminded of anything but pursuit when it comes to my many experiences of the way churches engage persons with disability. A different word comes to mind, in fact—accommodation. That word should sound like nails on the chalkboard to any church, and it is certainly a stain on the bride of Christ if it describes a church’s work with various persons in their community.
Imagine how ministry would change if the church decided it truly, actively wanted to get to know persons of all shapes, sizes, and abilities.
I certainly don’t accommodate my wife. I pursue her. It would hurt our marriage if I stopped treating her like someone I actively want present in my life and started treating her like someone who just happens to be in my life.
The gospel has pursuit over accommodation in mind when we engage persons in our community. Imagine how ministry would change if the church decided it truly, actively wanted to get to know persons of all shapes, sizes, and abilities. That’s the call of Jesus. And we have some work to do.
You can read more about Disability Ministry and what not to do here.