Thursday, June 20, 2013

Privileging Disability through Mission, Vision and Value Reviews

I am grateful for churches who have developed special needs and disability programs.  In the last decade more have come into being, although not nearly enough.  But a caution to ministry leaders -- just because you have developed something, do not let it wither.  Strategic reviews are periodically necessary to ensure that it is still meeting the need of your community and the mission of your church.  If you do not intentionally look for your blind spot, someone else will find it for you. A great church in Southern California, with a successful disability ministry, missed something and has been called out on it publicly.  Be proactive and do not let it get to that point.  If Jesus could take time to wash the disciples feet, then we can take time to let our programs be subject to the personhood of people with disability.

So how do you avoid this?  By privileging disability.  Ensure that an intentional attempt is made to put those with disability in our line of sight.  Author Thomas Reynolds argues for this in his theological work Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality.  A simple purview of the New Testament will show that Jesus spent much of his public discourse with those who were either disabled in body or socially disabled within the community.

What does this look like in a church or pastoral staff meeting?  Every decision should be examined from a standpoint of disability. (Notice that even in my language here I did not privilege those who are unable to stand - ablist attitudes are unconsciously  interwoven into our thought and speech). Mission, Vision and Implementation statements should clearly welcome those with special needs.  Sermons, programs, and budgets should match the vision.

How can churches practically do this?  Here are just a few ideas.

  • Put the special needs information in the bulletin or on social media on a regular basis - do not hide it under layers of other ministries.
  • Assign a pastor, board member, or key congregational leader as the person with oversight and input -- and publicly identify them.
  • Feature disability prominently in your public mission statement - (example: Orchard View Alliance Church in Janesville, Wisconsin.
  • Ensure that persons with mobility needs are including in discussions of facility priorities.
  • Allow people with special needs to be fully included in all areas of the church -- even governance.
  • Invite a person with a disability to minister from the pulpit.

Privileging those with disability will allow us to embrace God's entire picture.