So your church is considering a ministry to the disabled. As the baby boomers reach their senior years, more people need specialized ministry than ever before.
But how is disability defined? I could be a poster child for the term. I live in a nursing home, use a wheelchair except for short distances, and can’t climb stairs, all at the comparatively young age of sixty-one.
But the disabled community is so much larger. Deaf, blind, mentally challenged, mental illness, progressive disease? Although this article is geared toward physical disabilities, several the same principles apply to all who have special needs.
Physical access for the disabled has improved greatly since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. I confess that when I visit a new church, I check it out. Is there a ramp for wheel chairs? Disabled parking? How about the bathroom? Can I get to classrooms?
At the same time, unless a church is in the middle of a building program, there will probably be problems with accessibility. Many churches go above and beyond to accommodate special needs. Six members aided my quadriplegic friend in her baptism: getting up the stairs, immersing in the water and coming back out, getting dressed. When I couldn’t climb the stairs to the choir loft, my church set up a chair by the piano.
Apart from the physical plant, how can your church become “disability friendly”?Realize disability doesn’t define the person.
Realize disability doesn’t define the person.
People living with a physical ailment have personalities, gifts, and interests as varied as the general population. Even the amount and type of assistance needed varies from person to person.
Take time to get to know the person. When you welcome them to your service, draw them out with questions in addition to a handshake. When you bring communion, prepare to spend a few minutes of conversation after the sacrament is completed.
Involve the disabled in your church’s ministry.
If a person is able to attend church, check if they are interested in any of your ministries. What have they done in the past? What are they interested in doing now? Maybe they can reach out to others over the phone. Maybe they can teach, or work in the library. Brainstorm a fit between their abilities and your needs.
I’m a writer, a musician, and a skilled speaker. On year, I wrote Lenten readings for Sunday worship. I play piano at the nursing home when churches hold worship services. Another resident keeps the church up to date on prayer needs within the nursing home.Provide transportation.
Transportation is one of the greatest gifts you can give, starting with transportation back and forth to church. Use a vehicle that the person can get in and out of easily. Taking time to drive through their favorite fast food restaurant or spend an hour at the store is a rare treat.Take church to them.
Take church to them.
Your congregation may already go to nursing homes to sing, hold Bible studies, or serve the Lord’s Supper.
Think outside that box. The person may be able to host a ministry from their home. My quadriplegic friend said, “I’d love to take part in your critique group, but you’ll have to meet in my house.” She continued to serve as our hostess until she died ten years later.
A mother’s group held a Valentine’s party here—and I read aloud to the children. They’ve already enlisted my services for their next visit.
Bible studies, reading groups, interaction with children—seek ways that your disabled member can contribute to your church from their own home.Enlist them in your prayer ministry
Enlist them in your prayer ministry
Not everyone with physical limitations will feel called to a prayer ministry, but it is a ministry uniquely suited to people with a lot of downtime. Provide tools to help, not only names but the needs associated with them. Share answers to prayer. A member directory, the names of ministries or missionaries that your church supports—keep your member current with all of their information.Set up a buddy system.
Set up a buddy system.
Let’s be honest: The kind of ministry I’ve described takes time. For the disabled community to minister to your church, they need people from the church to help them do it. The members of my church’s outreach committee help me, and the elders bring communion.
People with the gift of mercy and encouragement may be uniquely suited to this ministry. People with a certain amount of free time.Run errands.
Even in a nursing home, with people available to help 24/7, I need help from outsiders. My son lives two miles away; but with four children and a busy job, he isn’t always available when I need. How much more needy are those without family or who live on their own?Banks, doctors, stores, the post office, hair salon—make a list of the place you go over the course of a month, and your friend may need that help.
Banks, doctors, stores, the post office, hair salon—make a list of the place you go over the course of a month, and your friend may need that help.
Be an advocate.
For those disabled people who receive government assistance or live in a nursing home, they need advocates to seek their welfare. Is a vital service missing? Are they being mistreated? My pastor spoke on my behalf to the administrator, the director of nurses, the corporate office, the state “ombudsman.” If you see the need, step into the gap.You may find yourself receiving as much as you give.
You may find yourself receiving as much as you give.
The ladies group of the church I attended when I first entered the nursing home took good care of me. They came in a large group and brought me gifts for Christmas and my birthday. When I changed nursing homes, two of them came to visit. I love sharing what God is doing for me with visitors. By the time they left, I heard one of them say, “I expected to encourage her, but I’m the one who was encouraged.”
While you exercise the blessing of giving—accept the blessing given.
Best-selling author Darlene Franklin’s greatest claim to fame is that she writes full-time from a nursing home. She is an active member of Oklahoma City Christian Fiction Writers, American Christian Fiction Writers, and the Christian Authors Network. She has written over fifty books and more than 250 devotionals. Check out her website and blog, follow her on Facebook, take a look at her author page on Amazon, and purchase her incredible books here.