Ministering Outside the Comfort Zone

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Perhaps you experience fear or lack confidence in some ministry situations. Perhaps you don’t want to come alongside some people because you lack knowledge about them or their condition or fear how they will respond. That sounds normal. Here are some helpful hints:

How do you act when you meet someone who is “differently-abled”?

  • Don't assume that a person with a disability other than the hearing loss can't hear. Often we respond to a person with a disability by talking louder.
  • Don't assume that people with speech, hearing, or physical problems have cognitive problems as well. In other words, don't treat them as if they were less intelligent than you.
  • Don't apologize for not understanding their speech, or say you understand their speech when you don't. Just ask, "Will you say that again?" Or "Run that by me again, please."
  • If the speech is difficult to comprehend, listen carefully for the subject of the conversation. Pick out nouns and listen for action words to help focus your understanding.
  • Respect the person by speaking directly to him and not through a companion or a family member. 
  • As you learn someone’s world, the communication problems will diminish. After a while, the comprehension level will increase and the friendship will grow. 

When speaking, avoid the words cripple, crippled, deaf and dumb, slow, crazy, invalid, acts funny, afflicted with, a victim of, and suffers-from. Also, avoid saying the disabled, the retarded, the cerebral palsied, the paraplegic. Instead, say Jim has cerebral palsy, the child has autism, persons with disabilities, or Anne has a vision problem. Say Fred uses a wheelchair rather than Fred is confined to a wheelchair, Joyce uses sign language instead of Joyce talks with her hands. When stating that a person does not have a disability, stay away from the word normal.

What about shaking hands?

  • The general rule is to share the same social courtesies with the person with a disability as with those without disabilities.
  • If the person uses a hook, has a missing right hand, or whatever makes shaking hands awkward, extend your hand anyway. The person may use his left hand, touch your shoulder, or do whatever he does when greeting others.
  • Ask the person what he wants you to do.  For example, I have a friend whose paralysis starts at the shoulders.  He asks me to put my hand on his shoulder where he has feeling so the greeting means that much more.

If you are with someone who uses a wheelchair, remember

  • The wheelchair is an extension of the person. Don’t place more attention to the chair than you would to eyeglasses or a hearing aid.
  • If your conversation is going to last for more than a few minutes, position yourself on eye level. Don't lean over in a patronizing manner, but sit down, or kneel. 
  • Don't lean on or hang on to the chair.
  • If the person needs help, ask the user's permission before pushing the chair.
  • Before you push, be sure the person is secure and the brake is off. If you aren’t sure how, don’t be afraid to ask.
  • If you are entering an elevator, back the chair in so that the person is not left facing the rear wall.

What about communicating with the person who is deaf?

  • If you don’t have eye contact, get the person's attention by waving or tapping him on the shoulder.
  • Face the person to give him a good view of your face so he can possibly read your lips.
  • Remember, a hearing aid amplifies every sound, not just speech.  Make the environment as quiet as possible. Do not speak louder unless requested.
  • If you can, use some basic signs.

If you are with someone who is blind…

  • Identify yourself and anyone with you. For example, “This is David Apple. George Brown is on my left.”
  • It's okay to ask, did you see the game last night?
  • If you move, inform the person. either by continuing to talk as you move, or by saying, “Excuse me, I'm moving to your left/right.”
  • If providing assistance seems appropriate, ask if you may help.  If the answer is No, don't get upset. But observe, again, if help really is needed, and repeat your offer of help. If he says yes, offer your elbow, and lead.
  • If you come to a narrow passage, move your elbow back.  This movement will indicate to your friend that he should step behind you.  Stopping before a step or curb will let your friend know a step or curb is ahead or you may say step or curb.
  • As you are walking, warn of any upcoming danger, such as a low ceiling, a break in the sidewalk, or an obstacle in the path traveled.
  • If your friend has a work dog, don't pet it. Wait until the dog is not working, and ask for permission.

Knowing the correct way to act or speak in unique situations will be a great help in your ministry. What are you going to put into practice first?

Adapted from Jim Pierson’s No Disabled Souls.

Posted in:
  • Deacons
  • Disability Concerns
  • Resource
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