57 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. reflected on the tragedy that “11:00 on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours, if not the most segregated hours in Christian America.” He remarked that “any church that stands against integration and that has a segregated body is standing against the Spirit and the teachings of Jesus Christ, and it fails to be a true witness.”
The type of church MLK is referring to might also be called a resistible church – not just to God’s image-bearing creation, but to God Himself. And the conviction goes beyond racial diversity—in America we have “big church,” “small church,” “old church,” “young church,” “hip church,” “lame church,” “black church,” “white church,” and just about everything in between.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the integration of people with diverse abilities into the church, it’s that it acts as a resistance to the resistible (the homogenous, look-like-me, think-like-me, growth-stifling model of church). The byproduct: a more irresistible church.
Now, it’s not just the presence of people with diverse abilities, or even the ministry that happens to or for them that makes a church more irresistible; it’s the reciprocal, mutual ministry that happens together, as one body. Of course, there are wonderful and important benefits for ministry to persons with disabilities: discipleship and care; resourcing and networking; relationship and belonging. But let me list a few significant things that come from doing ministry with people affected by disability:
A greater expression of the Body of Christ.
Have you ever taken a moment to attempt the functions of daily life with just the use of your thumb? No other bones, muscles, or even organs allowed—just your thumb. I know it sounds silly, but it may be an accurate illustration of how many church bodies function. Our friends with various abilities bring in so many of the body parts we’ve been missing; in fact, they bring in some of the most vital (or indispensable) parts (see 1 Corinthians 12:22).
Resisting our fast-paced, augmented, performance-driven culture in order to slow down and remember what matters most.
As Jean Vanier so often and articulately wrote, life isn’t about accolades or how much you can accomplish—it’s about love. As it was for Vanier, this lesson is often taught through relationships with people of different abilities.
Helping us wrestle with real questions.
Nobody has everything figured out. Having a diversity of abilities and stories in our church family gives us the courage to ask God “why?” and resist the “I’m fine” (insert smile) culture. This is where growth begins!
Helping us get over ourselves.
The more consistently we spend time with people who are “different,” the more we’re faced with the question, “Why does that bother me?” Our annoyance usually boils down to a self-centered, consumer-driven attitude we often carry into church. The more we practice ridding ourselves of that attitude, the more equipped we will be for heaven (see Revelation 7:9)!
Helping us expand and empower our witness.
If we learn how to love ‘the weak’ and are known in our communities for this ministry, there will be an irresistible draw for more hurting people to come, meet Jesus, and find their place in His body.
Through it all, we are made more like Jesus.
*Please note: The video link shared in this blog post was created simultaneously with another video for the “Overcomers” ministry at Faith Church, which ministers to and with people who have “life-defining illnesses” (e.g. cancer, M.S., Alzheimers, etc.) and their caregivers. As a church, we desire to take people out of the margins and place them in the loving family of God. While we use words like “suffering” and “trial” in these videos, we don’t assume that everyone is suffering (in fact, many are thriving)—but many still see them this way. So, these videos are for those “many.”
Vinnie Adams is the Reflectors Special Needs Ministry Director and Campus Worship Leader at Faith Church in Dyer, Indiana. He and his wife, Kate, currently live in Crown Point, Indiana with their sons, Jakob (4) and Josiah (1).