Biblical and Theological Affirmations of Disability Ministry

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Disability Concerns believes that everyone should have the opportunity to participate, contribute and belong to our community. This is an overview of our theological perspective as a ministry. This information is from our book: The Inclusion Handbook.

What we Affirm as the Disability Concerns Ministry

An estimated one in five North Americans has a disability, demonstrating that disabilities are a natural part of life and can be acquired at any time. Whether physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory, many of the worst barriers faced by people with an impairment result from attitudes and environments that we create and could change, rather from the functional limitation itself. Such attitudes and environments exclude people from church.

We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to participate, contribute, and belong to our community. We also believe that people with disabilities positively affect and enhance human diversity and community life. Therefore, in keeping with biblical teachings, with our theological beliefs, and with decisions of our denomination regarding people with disabilities, we, as the Disability Concerns Ministry, encourage you to affirm the following as a church community:

1. We value people with disabilities as created in the image of God, as partners to the covenant, and as co-laborers in the kingdom of God.

2. We consider all people—with disabilities and without—to have gifts from the Holy Spirit, and we encourage everyone to enrich congregational life by practicing their faith and using their gifts in ministries of discipleship, leadership, and mission.

3. We will endeavor to integrate people with disabilities into all ministries and activities of the church. This includes worship, education, small groups, outreach, activities, etc.

4. We will seek to name, understand, and attend to the special spiritual, physical, and psychological needs of those of us affected by disabilities, including caregivers, and will offer training to respond appropriately to disability issues and to raise awareness in our congregation.

5. We will modify any policy, practice, procedure, or architecture that tends to exclude those of us with disabilities from any aspect of congregational life, and we will accomplish this through ample discussion with all parties involved.

Key Verses that support the work of our  Ministry:

Since all people are created in the image of God, all have intrinsic value that is based on who they are, not on what they can do. “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image…’” (Genesis 1:26).

The body of Christ, the church, has many parts but is ONE; therefore, each member of Christ’s body (each person) is essential for a healthy church. “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ…those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Corinthians 12:12, 22).

All believers are called by God; therefore, each believer has a mission to fulfill that has been given by God. “For we are what [God] has made us, created in Jesus Christ for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (Ephesians 2:10).

All believers have spiritual gifts; therefore, each believer receives from God the gifts needed to accomplish this mission. “Now there are varieties of gifts but the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:4).

All believers are invited to participate in God’s work; therefore, every member of Christ’s body fulfills an essential and unique function in the body. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good…” (Corinthians 12:7).

In healthy churches, everybody belongs. “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:8-9).

In healthy churches, everybody serves. “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10).

A Positive Shift in Our Approach to Disabilities

A person-first emphasis is more than political correctness. It recognizes that since all people are made in God’s image, we should honor their humanity and not define them by what they cannot do.  (Ex. of Person-first language: “person with a disability” “a person who is blind”)

In welcoming people with disabilities — sometimes considered “strangers” in our midst — the church’s motive should not be to “fix,” heal, or make them become like everyone else. In fact, welcoming the stranger is likely to make some feel ill at ease, calling for a hospitality marked by respectful negotiation that honors the person’s particular needs without making a public display. 

Instead of focusing on a “fix” or cure, loving communities of faith will encourage a different kind of healing: helping members with disabilities develop courage for what life brings, purpose and meaning in the midst of disability, openness to change, and connection with God and one another.

For churches seeking to engage people with disabilities, an appreciation for who they are and what they can offer is essential. Christian identity — for persons with and without disabilities — does not arise from what we can and cannot do, but from our union with Christ and with Christ’s church.

Whether Christians experience disability as an intrusion or as part of their identity, they often bump up against ultimate and distressing questions about a loving, omnipotent God’s role and responsibility. Orthodox Christian belief insists that nothing happens to us apart from God’s will.

Emphasizing God’s redemptive purposes puts a helpful focus on God’s sovereignty. When our “Why?” questions go unanswered or we fail to comprehend what God is up to, we still know that God’s promise is to bring something good out of heartache, difficult circumstances, or unimaginable situations. Such assurance stops short of explaining ahead of time what God has in store or why he permits events we would not choose. It also stops short of equating God’s redemptive purpose with God’s decree or God’s will in a mechanical, deterministic fashion.

Focusing on the providence of God also may prove more satisfying than insisting on answers to our “Why?” questions. God may not solve our troubles, but through his Spirit he will be with us to provide what we need most.

Just as the resurrected body of Jesus still showed its wounds, who knows whether our resurrected bodies will still bear the marks of our disabilities as well — not as limitations on our existence before God, but as the traces of divine grace, the signs of our deepest union with the Christ who shared our sufferings?

Practical Ways of Supporting our Community:

Establishing and Modeling  Boundaries

By Christine Guth, program director, Anabaptist Disabilities Network

Imagine a church where members are hesitant to welcome people with disabilities, especially mental illness, because they fear that needy people will overwhelm their caring capacities. By learning to cultivate healthy boundaries, such hesitation and fear can be overcome and actually provide an important step toward sharing Christ’s love. Boundaries help us know where our responsibilities begin and end. They equip us to care with persistence and resilience as we refuse to let ourselves be harmed. If I am unable to set boundaries for myself, your boundaries can benefit us both by allowing our relationship to thrive.

Healthy boundaries involve:

  • keeping vulnerable people safe
  • being realistic about my own abilities and limits so that I avoid exhaustion and resentment
  • knowing that I can control only what I do, not what someone else does
  • letting go of what I cannot control
  • setting expectations with a realistic view of people’s abilities and challenges
  • spelling out expectations clearly, always with a plan ready in case they are not met (My plan must involve only actions I can control and am willing to implement.)
  • modeling the self-care and respect I hope to encourage in others
  • adjusting to changing circumstances (If looser limits are not working, think about tightening a boundary. Signs of growth may allow me to relax boundaries that are no longer needed.)
  • assessing progress (When I am stuck repeating the same responses that get me nowhere, I need to reevaluate what I can and cannot control, and change my strategy.)
  • hard work

We depend on God’s grace for strength and insight to live within boundaries. Boundaries allow us choices and provide us with guidance. Our boundaries help us make adjustments and prevent extreme events that damage or sever relationships. They are gifts that help us welcome those in Christ’s body whom Christ himself has invited.

Respite Care: Caring for the Caregivers

  • Scheduling caregivers for persons with disabilities is an onerous and tiring job when performed week after week, month after month. Appoint a person occasionally to handle the scheduling responsibilities, thus providing respite for the scheduler.
  • Help to organize a “circle of support” or “wraparound” for the person and his or her family.
  • Help care for children during worship so parents can worship in a relaxed setting.
  • Be available for childcare or to take children of single-parent families on outings.

All information in this article can be found in:

The Inclusion Handbook: Everybody Belongs, Everybody Serves 2nd Edition

Edited by Terry A. DeYoung and Mark Stephenson

It is available for purchase through Faithaliveresources.org

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