As I wander about I get to meet quite a few pastors and leaders of churches. You won’t be shocked to learn that I manage to work in this question: do you have a disability ministry?
I would get three responses:
- A description of what they are doing.
- A description of what they hope they would do in the future.
- Looking at their shoes and saying they didn’t do anything.
Number 3 happened more than 1 and 2 combined. Frankly, that wasn’t very encouraging! It was also something of a conversation killer.
But I stumbled across a different way to phrase it which has given me more insight into churches that is far more encouraging:
Tell me about your members with disabilities.
Sometimes they still look at their shoes and admit they don’t have any members with disabilities. But more often will come a grin (at the delight they have in their members with disabilities) or a sigh (at the tremendous burdens and suffering they see in their members with disabilities), and then a story or two or three.
People are being served in many churches without any sort of formal disability ministry, and because it isn’t formal it often isn’t recognized as ministry. But when I hear about individuals or families experiencing disability being served or having their gifts being used by the church, I am encouraged and hopefully speak encouragement into those pastors and leaders!
These individual efforts are worth pointing out and honoring because it is valuable in itself and it might be the beginning of something much larger. Most churches that have a recognized disability ministry began with a few people just doing what needed to be done for other people in the congregation. In fact, I can’t think of any that didn’t start that way.
And some pastors don’t even know what service is happening in their churches! I had an experience where a pastor looked at his shoes after I asked about members with disabilities, then later in the evening one of his own members talked about how happy they were that a child with a disability was welcome at that same church. That pastor may not have known the specifics of all his people, but he’s obviously creating a culture that is welcoming for that family. And that’s something to encourage and to be encouraged about!
So, what do you think of my change in phrasing? Is there an even better way to ask about what is happening in churches?