An eclectic mix of people. All ages. Different backgrounds, upbringing and family situations. Some rich, some poor, some healthy some poorly. It is easy to think that it must be mad to put all those people together and expect church them to function as ‘one body’ as Jesus asks us to.
But often, there is one group of people woefully missing from that body…those with disabilities.
My challenge to church leaders is to look around your community and ask where are the disabled children and adults? Do you have a special school nearby? Do you have supported accommodation or group homes for people with learning disabilities. Are there day centres or support services in your area? Get in touch with social services if you don’t know – they will have a list.
Remember that many people with disabilities are cared for by their families. Some will live alone and may be isolated and lonely.
There is no excuse for missing these people. Prayer and seeking God is the beginning of all things for us as Christians and I urge leaders not to neglect praying for God to lead you to find the people with disabilities in your area.
And then what…?
Pray some more and go and visit them. Ask them why they don’t go to church.
I hear so many parents with children who have special needs tell me that church is difficult, stressful, and that they feel judged and condemned because of the looks and comments they are given. Come on! Of all the places where a family should feel welcome, accepted and relaxed is in a church! I am blessed to hear of churches that do well at this. Leaders…learn from others and take on board what they have learned to do well.
Training. One of the greatest barriers for people is not or misunderstanding a persons condition and so they judge behaviour and interactions completely wrongly. A sermon looking at Jesus’s approach to those with disabilities would be a good start and some basic research, looking at materials available from organisations that support disabled Christians, would help. http://churchesforall.org.uk/ may be a good place to begin. There are organisations and people who would come and talk to your church about inclusion and give good, practical advice. Fit them in, don’t let this issue get lost in the busyness of church life.
I read a great blog post this week that I think leads us to six great questions that church leaders could be asking http://communitymissionblog.wordpress.com/author/livabilitycommunityengagement/ please take time to read it and consider what your answers might be…or whether you need to start asking….
We pray for our churches and their leaders as they seek to share the gospel, build up the people in their faith and reach out to those who are in need. May we all be looking for those who find church difficult and inaccessible and find ways of adapting what we do to include them. We hope and pray that you bring the whole body of Christ together. In Jesus’ name.