One of the strangest things for those in the disability community is reconciling the fact that while virtually nochurch outright says they don’t want people with disabilities, there is often a conspicuous gap in our congregations left hollow by those with disabilities who should be there. If Christ died to win the hearts of all people regardless of their disabilities, shouldn’t those with disabilities be present in our churches?
Last week Joni and Friends began releasing two brand-new training videos each Wednesday for four weeks. You can find last week’s post here. These short videos are designed to help churches close this gap and evangelize and disciple people affected by disability.
This week we have two videos that exploreChanging Church Culture and Removing Barriers for people with disabilities. But before watching these videos, allow me to tell you a story about a church that has been enrichedby the inclusion of people with disabilities.
Meet Kim Kira, pastor of Lighthouse Community Church in Torrance, California.
When Lighthouse Community Church began, there were no people with disabilities present in their gatherings. Today, they have a thriving Bridge Ministry for people affected by disability and a broad culture of inclusiveness.
Their formal disability ministry began when a single family called ahead of their first visit and explained some of the challenges that they had encountered at previous churches. Kim took their story to the elder board and they, without debate, agreed to devote church resources towards meeting this family’s need.
What motivated this response? By reading passages about the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12, the Great Commission in Matthew 28, and the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15, the leadership at Lighthouse had every scriptural admonition they needed to commit resources and efforts towards families impacted by disability.
As Pastor Kim puts it, “God’s economy is very different. Preaching is efficient; one person can stand up front and speak to hundreds of people. But special needs ministry is different. It’s one-on-one. It can be costly. However, we don’t see the cost of resources or manpower as a loss because of how much we gain by including people with disabilities. From scripture we see that we’re all needy, and we’re all needed.”
The elders of Lighthouse willingly made this commitment because of a deep conviction in the transformative power of the Gospel; the Good News that offers not only entrance into heaven, but powerful and practical hope for change in everyday life.
Most succinctly, Lighthouse chose to obey the leading of God’s Word. Including people with disabilities is a matter of accurately reflecting Christ’s heart for all people. And now, years later, Lighthouse has morereasons for why they make such an effort to include people affected by disability. Because of their commitment to people with disabilities, Lighthouse has reaped rich rewards. Key among those?
An increased evangelistic impact. Beyond having “special needs,” many of the families in Lighthouse’s Bridge Ministry have something else in common. Previously, many of these families were unable to find a church home. For some, Lighthouse is the firstchurch they’ve ever attended.
Witnessing God’s provision. Committing to provide a one-on-one shadow for anyone who needs this support is a big task. But when they said “yes” to God, the volunteers came. Some of their younger volunteers have chosen college majors and career paths as a result of their time working with people in the disability community! The church is being positively impacted in the present, but they’re also impacting the future of their church and the churches their volunteers may attend in the future.
Experiencing new dimensions of joy. For many in the Bridge Ministry, church is the absolute highlight of their week. The joy they so freely express is a call to worship for everyone! Every year Lighthouse dedicates one Sunday to talking about disability.It’s not just a highlight for those families in their Bridge Ministry, but a highlight for the whole church.
But above all else, Lighthouse has seen the gospel at work in the lives of people affected by disability. More than saying something about the church, this says something about Christ. If you are a pastor or leader and want to see the power of Christ at work in a new way in your church, reach out to those with disabilities in your neighborhood. A culture of inclusivity benefits the whole church, and the removal of barriers that keep people from Christ enriches the wholebody of Christ.
Fundamentally, it’s not just people with disabilities who need the church. It’s the church that needs people with disabilities. Without them, the church is incomplete.
Remember, “We are all needy, and we are all needed.”