I recently started attending a new church in my neighborhood. I wanted to be intentional and prayerful about where I got plugged in rather than rushing into it. The longer I attended the church, the more I noticed how loving and genuine the members were. They dove into people’s lives, not satisfied to be superficial church goers. There were families affected by disability there, too! They were active members communing with the body of Christ. There was even a man with a disability advising the church elders. It gave me deep joy knowing that my church was so accepting of people with disabilities. That was the beginning of God’s work in my heart to start a disability ministry.
You might be asking, why would you feel the need to start a disability ministry when families affected by disability are already welcomed and accepted? Believe me, I asked God the same thing. But when I learned that a friend and her family decided to join our church, I knew God was trying to get my attention. You see, my friend has a daughter with Down syndrome.
I tried giving God all the typical excuses including lack of training, time, etc. Finally, I shut my mouth and started listening to the Spirit. And in the quiet I sensed God’s gentle, yet firm, direction to just trust Him. I didn’t hear a voice giving me specific instructions, I just felt God’s authority in my life, supporting my decision. That’s all I needed. I didn’t need specifics, I just needed to start acting.
It hasn’t taken long for things to start falling into place. I knew I didn’t have the experience or time to run a full-blown ministry, so I decided to start small. Luke 16:10 came to mind, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much…” (NIV).
We are still in the early stages of launching the ministry, but I’ve already learned two important truths:
TRUTH #1: God never follows. He always leads.
Common sense, right? Through this process, I’ve realized I need a deeper understanding of following God. He had already prepared the hearts of church leadership to support my desire to start a special needs ministry. And then, God brought me a helper! Another woman at church, who is an applied behavior analyst, wanted to co-lead the ministry with me!
That’s when it hit me. God doesn’t follow us around like a puppy, happy to encourage us along our journey. No! God is in front of us, preparing the way for when we finally say “yes” to His plans. He’s cultivating the soil for seeds to be planted! So, when I finally decided to take a step of faith and say “yes” to God, He had people in the wings, waiting to jump on board.
TRUTH #2: God doesn’t follow direction. He gives direction.
Another obvious one, I know… As energized as I was to start the ministry, I have been quickly reminded that God still wants me to follow His plans and His timeline. God is leading our direction, but He’s had a couple turns in the road and some stop signs that we weren’t expecting. Although the church leadership supports our ministry initiative, they still have expectations and standards that we must meet. I soon realized that every church will “do” special needs ministry differently because all of God’s people are different. So, instead of trying to push my plan, I shut up and listened to the Spirit. He gently reminded me that God is still at work around the curves in the road.
We are still early in the process, and I hope to share with you what I learn as we continue. Have you started a special needs ministry? What have you learned in the process?
Rachel Roleder serves as the Supervisor to the Cause 4 Life, Global Missions and Internships Department at Joni and Friends. Rachel enjoys learning more of God’s design for His church as she leads teams of interns on disability ministry outreaches all over the world.