“When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.” Luke 14:12-14 NLT
One of the primary barriers to beginning a special needs ministry is the perceived cost. Most pastors and church leaders want to know the potential cost of implementing any new program or ministry in their church and when it relates to special needs ministry, there seems to be a heightened sense of anxiety surrounding the budget.
Creating a church that is truly inclusive will come with a cost. There are many expenses to consider when developing an inclusive church. Some expenses are likely to include a few of the following items:
Special Needs Ministry Staffing
Training and development for leaders and volunteers
Equipment and designated spaces
Outreach and marketing
As a pastor I understand the challenges of effectively managing church resources.
Stewardship and Return on Investment
Pastors and other church leaders often understand the financial health of a church in ways others do not. Pastors closely watch giving and attendance patterns. The cost of staff salaries and repairs to church facilities are also closely monitored by pastors and church leadership. Ultimately pastors and church leaders want to be good stewards of church resources and they want to feel assured that using church resources to create new ministries will yield a return.
Wanting a return on investment is not inherently wrong but when it comes to the fear of being able to finance a special needs ministry, the most important thing to focus on is where the repayment will come from.
I think Jesus understands the need to feel financially capable of creating an environment that welcomes all people. In fact, Jesus spends quite a bit of time explaining how to build such an environment at a dinner party where he healed a man with a disability.
The gospel writer Luke shares that after Jesus excuses the disabled man from the party, He tackled a tough issue that He observed. Jesus noticed that the entire banquet had been built on the wrong foundation, starting with the invitation list.
“Don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back and that will be your only reward.”
Jesus cuts straight to the heart of the matter. When we are building our churches, we start by inviting those we think can bring a return on our investment. We are concerned about the cost. And while Jesus doesn’t deny this reality, he does have a slightly different perspective about how we can afford to build a better banquet.
Jesus says to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind and then God becomes responsible for the return on the investment.
The discussion about the cost of special needs ministry at its core is a question about value. When financing the ministry becomes the ultimate barrier then the only reward we will ever see are the very people that Jesus tells us not to invite. With statistics currently showing an astonishingly low number of persons with disabilities who regularly attend church services, I think it is safe to say that we have received our reward for not including them.
While I’m not suggesting that our churches become exclusive to the disability community, I do believe that Jesus takes a strong stance on moving past the challenges of cost and looking into the value of true inclusion. According to Jesus inviting the disability community to the table first adds the value of God’s blessing, and that is something that can’t be bought or budgeted.
Making special needs ministry a priority at our churches may begin with a conversation about cost but in reality, it is not about money. It’s about building a God-honoring community called the church.
Cost or Value?
I’m reminded of the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts chapter 5. After selling some property on their own accord, they gave a portion of the proceeds to the church while lying about the real value of the property they sold. When Peter confronts them both, he clearly states that the property and the proceeds were both theirs to do with as they wished. What was exposed in their deceit was their value for the community that God was building. They weren’t fully invested, and it ended up costing them in the end.
What if we replaced our concerns with cost with an appreciation for true value? What if we budgeted believing that our churches are better because of the presence of the disabled? What if the best investment we could make as churches is to invest in being radically inclusive of the disabled because inviting them is also an open invitation for God’s blessing?
When you listen to Jesus and the story of Ananias and Sapphira we learn two important lessons.
Value who God values.
Be fully invested in the community God is creating.
The bottom line is yes, doing disability ministry will cost us something. On the other hand, not doing it may very well cost us everything.
Dr. Lamar Hardwick is an author and the pastor of Tri-Cities Church in Atlanta, GA.
Visit his website www.autismpastor.com