Teddy loves to play guitar, Mark loves to sing and Heidi, she loves to fellowship. However, the truth of the matter is Teddy doesn’t know how to play, Mark sings off key and Heidi not only loves to fellowship but she would talk through service if you let her.
Teddy, Mark and Heidi are all students who have special needs; they were born with a disability. They are the single largest minority group in America. They are our children, our siblings, our friends and neighbors. And tomorrow, they could include any of us. There are more than 50 million Americans with disabilities.
We are but one chromosome, one accident and one brain cell away from being disabled ourselves. A population of people who Christ himself personally reached out to. Yet, a large majority of people with disabilities feel that the Church has shunned them.
It’s not saying that church leaders don’t have a heart for those individuals who are living with a disability but they sometimes turn a blind eye to the reality of the situation.
Church leaders often say, “sure everyone and anyone is welcomed at our church” yet the next time you are in service look around, how many people do you see in your church that have a notable or visible disability.
The problem is that many of those that are living with a disability do not have the necessary transportation to get to a church service and many more lack an invite. Few buses operate on Sunday, cabs can become expensive and a large majority of individuals with a severe disability do not have a driver’s license.
The church of all places should be a welcoming station where individuals feel welcomed and included. Christians have been called to empathize and to reach out to families affected by disabilities. To bear the burdens of someone with a disability fulfills a command of scripture (Galatians 6-2).
Fortunately, many churches are beginning to include individuals with disabilities. They have found that we are made whole as we embrace those who don’t always “fit” into the normal patterns of social life.
Paul speaks of our “mortal bodies,” subject to the power of death and beset by weakness (Romans 6:12, 8:11; 1 Corinthians 15:53.). At the same time, Christians celebrate and affirm the resurrection of the body. Bodily existence is not something for this life alone. Our bodies matter so much that they will be raised in the life to come. This importance of the body is what leads Paul to summon believers to “glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20). In welcoming persons with disabilities, the church necessarily confronts the joys, sorrows, limitations, and beauties of its embodied existence–tasting the mortality and weakness of life in the body.
For it is only in practicing such welcome, that we ourselves will find our own deepest welcome before God. A fully welcoming encounter with persons with disabilities will almost inevitably lead the church into the very center of the gospel, and deepen the church’s capacity to follow Jesus.
The gospel has the power to transform every life thus the church’s ultimate goal is to incorporate the strengths and weaknesses of every individual and invest in them in order to live out the gospel.
“If the church did this well, it would be so radical that the world would sit up and take notice.”
Is your Church set up to accommodate the needs of individuals who have a disability? Are the ushers attuned to things such as finding a good spot for a person who uses a wheelchair or can they accommodate a person who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and is unable to sit through a church service in its entirety?
As Christians it is our privilege to care for the poor, defend the weak and to speak up for those who have lost their voice.
The Church and the Church body is an amazing structure and people like Teddy, Mark and Heidi should always feel welcomed. Kudos to churches everywhere, that are opening up their doors and finding ways to include individuals that are living with a disability.