“Hey, I didn’t think you were going to be here today. I heard you were drinking in Florida.” Those were the words I was greeted with one Sunday morning not long ago when entering Hidden Treasures, our Sunday morning ministry for adults with disabilities at First Christian Church. On this particular morning I was running behind. My wife wasn’t feeling well, and I was responsible for getting the kids ready for church. When my friends beat me to church it is amazing what kind of stories they come up with as to why I might not be there.
On this same Sunday another rumor was sweeping through the halls of our church like wild fire. A different friend from our Hidden Treasures class was telling people that my family and I were selling our house so we could build a home closer to the church and he was moving in with us. He lit up as he talked in vast detail about the live-in suite that we were building for him.
Both of my friends spoke with great conviction. Both of my friends could be pretty convincing if you didn’t know either of them or myself very well. Of course both stories were untrue.
What does this have to do with disability ministry?
An effective disability ministry is built on trust and integrity. Trust is something that is built over time. You can’t microwave trust. Trust is developed more like a slow cook crock pot.
These stories from both of my friends were accepted by those that heard them as just that, stories. Why? Because over the course of 13 plus years at First Christian I have earned a lot of trust chips. Even if wild stories are being cooked up, people know that I can be trusted because I have put in the time and earned the respect of others.
If you are starting a disability ministry one of the most important things you can do is to focus on building trust. Remember, trust is built over time. You need to prove to your community that you are going to be around for the long haul. You need to prove to your community that you are in it for the right reasons. You need to spend time earning those trust chips. Before we formally launched our disability ministry at First Christian we intentionally invested in our disability community by repeatedly blessing them for over three years. We recruited coaches for Challenger Baseball and Special Olympics. We gave away space in our church, rental free, to groups in the disability community. We hosted dances and banquets in our church. We showed up at events in the community. We met with leaders, parent groups, etc. communicating this simple truth… “We want to be a blessing – no strings attached.”
Where is this most difficult? You will often find this more difficult at the church leadership level than you will in the community. Why? Because in the ministry world it’s often all about metrics. Church leadership wants to see that a ministry is growing or it might not make it into next year’s budget or strategic plan.
Remember, trust is built over time. Trust is foundational to an effective disability ministry. If built over time your community will buy in when they are ready. It is difficult to write that up in a budget proposal or for a strategic plan. But, if church leadership can buy into the big picture vision it will set you up for success for many years to come.
If not, you may actually find yourself drinking in Florida.
Ryan Wolfe is the Disability Ministry Pastor at First Christian Church in Canton, OH. Click to read Ryan’s full bio.