Does Your Church Welcome in the Disabled Sinners?5 min read

Disability. It’s a term all of us have heard at one point. We know what it means. We might even know what it looks like. We’ve seen people with disabilities in our own communities, our own churches, perhaps in our families. But do you know the facts?  The numbers that comprise the largest minority in the world, and the largest underserved community?

According to a 2015 Center for Disease Control publication, 22% of the United States population reported having a disability, whether that disability was physical or developmental. Because the percentage of people with disabilities is so large, shouldn’t there also be an equal or greater need to minister to people in this group?

Speaking From Personal Experience

I know full well the term disability. I know what it looks like, how it sounds, but most importantly, how it feels. I’m a woman living with a disability. I was born at 28 weeks, and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 10 months old. I’ve probably been told dozens of times a litany of things I wouldn’t accomplish, and yet I’ve seemed to exceed expectations. I’m married, have 2 perfectly healthy children, and have had the opportunity to advocate for people with disabilities on many different levels.

You’ll notice, though, that my disability is just something that’s happened to me. It’s not who I am or how I define myself. I’m a wife, mother, friend, advocate, sister, daughter, and a believer of Christ. I’ve lived with a disability all my life, and I’ve chosen not to be angry, because I am as God created me to be.

Not Someone Who Needs Fixing

As a child of God, a huge part of naturally nurturing my faith has been attending worship services. I go like anyone else, as a broken sinner. I arrive at the foot of the cross knowing I’m not perfect but that, through the grace of Jesus, I’ve been forgiven.

There have been times, however, when I’ve had people tell me that they’ll pray for my healing, or that “miracles happen.”  I’m already a miracle, and so are you! That’s the good news of Christ. Psalm 139:14 reminds us, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” I, like anyone else, welcome prayer. I’m humbled that people would want to pray for me. But I’m also certain that this is the design God has for me and others like me. Because I’m enough as I am. And that has to be OK.

A Bigger Purpose

Recently, I went to an event sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation called A Night to Shine. It was a prom put on for youth and young adults with developmental and physical disabilities. I was amazed by the sheer number of people there (over 400). Because the prom was held at a church, there was a wide-open opportunity for all in attendance to hear God’s Word and the good news that Christ died for them. After the prom, hundreds of kids gathered to hear music and the message that they are just as God created them to be—in His image. It was a wonderful testimony to the power and opportunity that lies in this particular area of the population, one that we need to grip firmly and with the notion that we are called to witness to all of God’s children.

Moving Forward

How do we reach out, when moving forward might require stepping out into unfamiliar territory? Simply through faith. “When you ask, you must believe and not doubt because the one who doubts is like the waves of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” James 1:6 reminds us that, in any trial or new situation, we’re protected by faith, that God leads us by design. The first step, then, is to trust in God and take a step forward.

One of the simplest ways to include people with disabilities in the congregation is to treat them as people first. Not disabled people. Just people. Recognize that all of us, able-bodied or not, have been gifted with unique talents and capabilities. Some are just easier to see then others. This means that we might have to initiate an invitation. An invitation to hear God’s Word as one body, not in an “us vs. them” mentality.

Another factor to take into consideration when striving to include people with disabilities is accessibility. Inviting someone to church does no good if they can’t get inside or feel like they’re in the way. Making it a point to worship in a place that is physically accessible can allow people with disabilities to focus on worship, rather than worrying that they are the focus of others.

As you can see, there’s work to do. A congregation, a ministry, is not perfect. It’s pock-marked with sinfulness and selfishness, and it may be content in just doing what is most familiar. But if we never took steps of faith, how would we grow? How would we know we’re doing God’s will? People with disabilities need to be reminded—they need to know—that they are people first and foremost. And to come as they are.

The LCMS task force that addressed ministry to people with disabilities assembled a variety of resources that can be used to increase awareness in a congregational setting. These resources can be found here.

Photo by Christopher Futcher/iStock

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About the Author

Kelsey Kleimola is an active member of the disability community and was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Michigan 2014 and fourth runner up for Ms. Wheelchair America 2015. She currently serves as a council member for the Statewide Independent Living Council and is passionate about advocating for those with disabilities. Kelsey is a member of St. Paul, Ann Arbor.

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