Diversity in Our Churches and Christian Ministries Should Include People with Disabilities

The Lord knows we can all be pretty darn self-involved. The illustration a recent guest pastor at my church gave to make this point cracked me up. He said if he and his wife hold hands while sitting in the front seats of their car they hear a big “NOOOOOO” from their two-year-old in the back seat. Even if Jay Catanus, a church planter in Chicago who was the guest speaker, simply puts his arm around his wife’s seat to stretch he will hear a “No papa!”

Why? Because his son doesn’t want to share his mama! Aren’t we often selfish like that? I know I am.

My home church is studying Ephesians and Pastor Jay exposited from Ephesians 2: 11-22. In this passage the writer, Paul, tells the Gentiles to remember that before Jesus “broke down the wall of hostility that separated us” (NLT translation) we were separated from God and also from God’s people, the Jews. BUT because of Jesus we live in a new reality with Him and, said Jay, “God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ makes us a new kind of community.”

Instead of hostility between people of different ethnic backgrounds, different income levels, different ability levels or really whatever differences we come up with, we are now one new people. “The more diverse our stories are the better,” said Jay, who happens to be Pilipino. He pointed out many similarities our church (suburban, wealthy, mostly white) has to his church even though they may look quite different.

Frankly, it was wonderful having him teach us.

The one thing that I wish didn’t so often get left out of the conversation on diversity, though, is neurodiversity. As a parent of a non-verbal son with autism and a friend of folks with varies disabilities and their families I’m not sure why this happens.


So many of my friends who have children of all ages—young kids to adults—with disabilities, not only advocate for their own children, but others in this whole population as well. God gives us the heart and desire to seek equality, justice and help for others with special needs in the midst of caring for our own loved ones who have a disability.

I’ve worked for a parachurch organization on college campuses, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, for 25 years. It’s an amazing ministry; one that helped me grow immensely in my faith as a college student. IVCF has grown, often with pain, struggle and tears, when it comes to strategically reaching out, including, and working alongside many minority groups. We have LaFe, which is InterVarsity’s Latino fellowship, Black Campus Ministry, Asian American and in more recent years, Native ministry.

So why not ministry that strategically reaches out and works alongside those students with disabilities which, according to the National Center of Education Statistics, make up 12% (2 million) undergraduate students in the U.S. alone. And that’s not even including graduate student figures.

While I loved hearing the sermon on the new kind of community that Jesus dying on the cross and rising again created, it made me sad that those with diverse ability levels were left out.

I don’t think it’s always an intentional slight but to me that even makes it worse. Because it often means that we don’t truly see this wonderful people group.

On the up side, Robert Burdett, my supervisor in InterVarsity, (whose son-in-law Brian Bell played on the U.S. Paralympic men’s basketball team that won the gold medal in 2016) has freed me up to advocate for students and faculty with disabilities by writing blog posts, Bibles studies and other resources for our organization.

And, my home church has a thriving ministry with those who have disabilities. So maybe the next guest speaker on a Sunday morning could be a woman who happens to be a wheelchair user? Hopefully that’s not just a selfish with on my part, but a woman can dream right?

Check out more from Deb Abbs on her blog.