"Church Family"—Who of the steady Sunday service crowd hasn't heard this expression before? We know that there is such an implication within Christian community, but we often forget where it originates.
God refers to His body of believers as family in the Bible through many references such as...
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:10, NIV)
God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. (Ephesians 1:5, NLT)
Jesus, who makes people holy, and those who are made holy are from the same family. So he is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters. (Hebrews 2:11, NCV)
Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:17, NIV)
Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. (1 Peter 5:9, NIV)
WHAT FAMILY LOOKS LIKE
If we stop to consider for a moment how we interact with our families at home, it might give us a stark reality check when reflecting on church inclusion. For starters, we are there for the most critical times in the lives of our fellow family members. We would never consider failing to attend our own child's class play. Nor would we typically fail to show up at our sibling's wedding. Baptisms, graduations, holidays, birthdays, funerals, we're there with family through every big occasion.
We do life together with family. The long, daily ins and outs are the moments we share. Ugly stuff like making meals, grooming the dog, and cleaning the house comprise our common responsibilities.
Family is there when the chips are down. In our family, we call ourselves "Team Dittrich." When one of us is riding low, the rest of us encourage that family member. We cheer one another on through the toughest challenges.
There is no walking away when life gets ugly for a family member. We don't abandon mom when she is diagnosed with cancer. We stick together when dad's job is eliminated. And we stand together in unity when we discover our child has a disability or chronic illness.
This all begs the question: How much does this resemble the Body of Christ when a family member has a disability or chronic diagnosis?
ARE THOSE WITH DISABILITIES PART OF THE CHURCH FAMILY?
It is more than a fair assessment to say that the vast majority of individuals living with a disability, rare disorder, or chronic illness do NOT feel like a welcome member of the "family" when and if they are in a church. Neither do many of their immediate family members. With most churches still treating inclusive or special needs ministry like an afterthought or something they are too busy to address, families with a disabled love one still crave the ability to attend church services regularly, have their child in a Sunday school class, participate in a Bible study fellowship, or receive adequate pastoral care during a crisis.
We, the Church, need to seriously ask ourselves, ARE those with disabilities part of the "church family"? If so, then we need to do some intense confessing, repenting, and researching on how to remedy the way we interact as a church family.
I can recall having to be off of my feet with two little children while I was pregnant with my third. I had little help from my immediate family, so my church family made all the difference. People took turns bringing meals. One friend helped clean my house a couple of times. Others occasionally helped me with my energetic toddler and preschooler.
As our family life became messier, with more diagnoses, that sort of "doing life together" waned. "Church family" looked more like dysfunctional family as one child didn't fit the mold with Sunday school or another child didn't fit the mold with youth group. Despite cries for help, we continued to be pushed further and further away. Sadly, it soured my children who love Jesus toward His Church.
We tend to make church inclusion harder than it needs to be, while at the same time wanting a quick and easy solution. Ironically, it is as easy and as hard as loving your own family. If the "church family" treated those with disabilities and special needs as they would one of their own family members, how different the Body of Christ might look, especially to the outside world.