I have five thoughts for pastors who are eager to help fulfill Jesus’ mandate to bless people with disabilities (Luke 14) and to reach what some believe is the largest unreached people group around the world:
1. Go serve at Family Retreat. There simply is no substitute to immersing yourself in the world of disability for a week. Don’t send others… YOU go. If you’re not the senior pastor of your church, compel them to go with you (in this case, kidnapping is justified). I’ve now been to many—some years have been easy, others more challenging. But it is always rewarding, Family Retreats are indeed a slice of heaven on earth.
2. Bring others to Family Retreat. Bring teens, seniors, and everyone in between. There’s probably a Joni and Friends Family Retreat near you: it’s one week, and it’s not expensive. I’m not aware of any better parent-child activity, a better local missions opportunity, or a better way to help young people comprehend that they are not the center of the universe.
3. Get ready to become part of a global family. Involvement with Joni and Friends will acquaint you with saints from all over who are committed to sharing Christ with individuals and families affected by disability.
4. Be patient. Ministry to people with disabilities can be messy. This is mainly because people affected by disability are… a lot like you and me. They struggle with all the same challenges that everyone else does, only amplified by disability: emotional problems, financial challenges, medical issues, logistical puzzles, and more. Some of these families can be difficult to connect with, perhaps because they’ve had to advocate for themselves, or defend themselves, or assert themselves. Maybe they’ve been treated poorly, maybe they’ve even been spurned by a church. They can be a challenge, just like all of us can be. Be ready to exercise patience, just as folks have been patient with you.
5. Be blessed. Several years ago, I was moved by the gratitude of two moms at Family Retreat. As the week came to an end, they expressed their appreciation to those of us who came to serve. One of them, tears rolling down her cheeks, said, “I can’t believe other people would take time off from their jobs and use their own money to serve us at the only place my family can come for a vacation.” The other mom shared, “To my family, this place is better than Disneyland. At Disneyland, everything is fake. Here, everything is real.”
The people at our church are learning to overlook the sights and sounds, bumps and smells that can accompany disability so families are not made to feel like they’re under scrutiny simply for being themselves. We occasionally take time on Sunday mornings to learn about Rett syndrome, or autism, or how to relate to those affected by disabilities and those who love them. We’re just trying to be a good church family to people who may have been spurned by others but are loved by God.
There’s more to be done, and as a pastor I think I should help lead the way. What about you? Are you a pastor, and if so, what are you doing to embrace families affected by disability in your community?
Click here to read part 1 of this blog series.
Dale Meador has been married to his wife, Nancy, for 40 years and is a doting grandpa to 3 (almost 4) grandkids. He is pastor of Bear Creek Church in Medford, Oregon, as well as a chaplain to the Medford Police Department. He is a strong advocate for disability ministry in his community and volunteers with Joni and Friends Southern Oregon. Last summer, his church sent over 100 people (both families and volunteers) to the Joni and Friends Twin Rocks Family Retreat in Oregon.