There’s a struggling family or ministry in your church that needs your attention. They are isolated. Helping hands are in desperate need. Donations to these ministries lag. They are families and ministries living immersed in the daily details of disability. And I have to wonder, What if this was your lead pastor? You would likely be tripping over yourself to help.
THE CHRISTIAN POPULARITY CLUB
It may sound disturbing or crass, but despite Jesus’ mandate, churches are still an incubator for cliques. Every church has people attending who are “in” and those who are “out”; there the “beautiful people” and the regular shmoes like me who faithfully attend, serve, and participate, pretty much unrecognized; popular and unpopular determine if people will be heard by church councils or their needs accommodated.
This exact Christian popularity contest within church walls can influence whether inclusion is cool or not. If a wealthy, hip family in the congregation has a child using a walker, it seems people will be quick to help them. Meanwhile, the awkward, poor, extra-grace-required families are kept at arm’s length. A church inclusion ministry may be popular based on which one of these populations are actually engaging in it. If only the most marginalized are involved, it will likely garner little attention from the wider congregation.
Regardless of ability, pastors seem to have groupies among the faithful. And people often have the strange, subliminal belief that being in a pastor’s good graces equals being on good terms with God. As a result of this cult of personalities and also by virtue of being connected to such a vast pool of people, pastors typically get all of the personal help they need when they face challenges.
When a pastor has a loved one with a special need or disability, congregants and staff are at the ready to help. Sure, there is the fishbowl effect that every pastor feels in judgment when they have any sort of trial. Nevertheless, an army of assistance is there to assist and accommodate more often than not.
INCLUDING OTHERS IN HUMILITY
Sadly, the average person seeking God and wanting to experience Jesus in real ways in their disability journey usually finds themselves disappointed by the Church. Whether it be a physical challenge, a chronic illness, or a mental health issue, most individuals are not finding themselves loved like Jesus by His followers.
We church attenders each have to ask ourselves, “Am I treating this person/this family/this ministry with the same compassion I would treat my lead pastor in this same situation?” If the answer is no, we are operating within the church with bias.
While it is easy for us to justify our own bias, claiming that a certain people are due preferred treatment due to positions of honor, Paul warns against this in Romans 12:16:
“Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty [conceited, self-important, exclusive], but associate with humble people [those with a realistic self-view]. Do not overestimate yourself.” (AMP)
This is Christ’s mandate for us to us to include and serve every person of every ability in the church, regardless of their position or popularity. We are to treat them like royalty, just as if we were doing the same for Jesus himself. [See Matthew 25:31-46]
We need to remember that our entire Christian witness hinges on how we behave in the area of inclusion. People are watching. If we don’t get this right, if we don’t treat the least with love, nothing else matters.
Barb is the mother of three children, all of whom have a variety of chronic illnesses or special needs, Barbara Dittrich founded SNAPPIN’ MINISTRIES (Special Needs Parents Network) in 2002 and currently serves as its executive director. With a unique vision for serving parents of children with chronic illness, disability, or special needs, she has led the SNAPPIN’ MINISTRIES team in developing an innovative parent mentor curriculum. She lives with her husband of 20+ years in Wisconsin, writes and speaks nationwide, and is the creator of the blog http://www.comfortinthemidstofchaos.com/.