Where Church and Disability Meet – Resources

One of the greatest passions in my life is to see the Church embrace adults and children with disabilities. Not out of pity or out of service, but out of a genuine understanding, acceptance, and celebration of their life.

church and disability

It seems right to start this post with the same words I wrote at the beginning of my last post.

This Church, this body of Christ – with all of its broken pieces along with its many gifts and talents – is beautiful. But it can also be so ignorant that it pushes away the most vulnerable

When I wrote about the Church forgetting us – families impacted by disability – I knew it was a real need. The Church needs to see us, embrace us, include us. The last few days, many of you shared your stories, your experiences, your heartbreak, your disappointment. I have prayed for each one of you, I’ve seen your pain, I’ve felt it.

But you have also shared the beautiful side of the Church, and how it come along your side to embrace, encourage, and love your child and your family.

And as church leaders you have responded too. You have admitted you don’t know where to start, or that you didn’t realize it was a need. Before I became a special needs mom, I was also unaware of the need, but let me encourage you, because now that you know you can do something about it! If you wonder what you can do, my husband and I want to help you find your starting point.

As we continue to have these conversations, let’s remember to extend grace and forgiveness. We all need it. And as we work together, we can help the Church recognize and embrace disability. What a beautiful body of Christ we can be!

The 80%

Some of you have asked about the 80% statistic of families and adults impacted with disability that do not regularly attend church. This statistic came from Joni and Friends. A few years back I had a series of phone conversations dreaming with them how to bring disability awareness to our Christian denomination. I wrote down a lot of information, and the 80% came from their statistics (I was shocked to hear that). I searched their website to link it here, but they do not have the statistics posted. They do, however, provide those if requested, and I have requested their disability information and statistic resource.

Someone mentioned that this statistic is also found in The Center for World Missions in CA. I was unable to find that on their website as well.

But here is another way to look at this: 20% of the population has a disability (and this is a true statistic, you can find it in government sites). So at the average church, are 20% of their members people/children with disabilities? No? Where are they? They are certainly not sitting in church!

Awareness

Like all things, change begins with awareness.

Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?”

Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do.

John 9:1-3 (The Message)

Disability is not a result of sin

Even back in Jesus’ day there was an inaccurate perception that disability was a result of sin. But what did Jesus say? “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins, this happened so the power of God could be seen in him.” (John 9:3 NLT)

People with disabilities don’t need healing

Is God in the healing business? Absolutely! And he often times does chose to heal. I believe that wholeheartedly.

But there is a fine line between sickness and disability. They are not the same. For example, my daughter is not sick with Down syndrome, she is actually a pretty healthy girl. Down syndrome is part of her genetic makeup, much the same as the color of her eyes, hair, and skin.

I know in the John 1:1-3 story, Jesus goes on to heal the blind man. What I don’t understand is why we have decided that God wants to heal everyone with a disability while we journey in this life. The only time God actually promises complete healing is in heaven. While Jesus walked among us, he gave us a little taste of what that will be like, perhaps we decided by those examples that this is the way God chooses to always work.

And God’s power is not dependent on our faith. Let’s be thankful for that!

God has a purpose for disability

Jesus said it, look for what God can do. God wants to show us his power, we just need to be willing to see it.

I wonder sometimes if our view of God is so small that we fail to recognize how and where He is working. Perhaps we have forgotten that He can see the full picture of our lives, from beginning to end, and we struggle to accept that his greatest blessings often come through our hardships and challenges.

We are part of one body, the body of Christ. And I can assure you, people with disabilities are important members of the body. We need them as much as they need us. We all need each other.

Now what?

We know that a disability focus is much needed within the Church. This is our unreached people group in our own backyard, so what can we do?

Organizations

There are great organizations out there committed to help churches reach out to the disability community.

Joni and Friends

Joni and Friends is built on Biblical truth and the foundation of Jesus Christ. They are about advancing disability ministry and changing the church and communities around the world. They help equip churches for a disability ministry (for all ages).

The Inclusive Church

The Inclusive Church believes that every church needs a plan for inclusion. Amazing resource for church leaders; from creating sensory rooms, to creating intake forms, to training volunteers. You can also check out their Facebook page.

Key Ministry

Key Ministry is committed to help every child with a disability find a church. They seek to come alongside pastors and volunteers with relevant tools and resources to enhance their ministry. They have created an online Resource Kit with a variety of articles, forms, ideas, and how-to guides to take your ministry to the next level. You can explore their Key Ring Binder, Inclusion Fusion Library, The Workbench, FREERESPITE, Special Events, Party with a Purpose, and Key TV modules to find new ways to reach families affected by disability in your own community!

Nathaniel’s Hope

Nathaniel’s Hope is dedicated to sharing hope with kids with special needs (VIP kids) and their families. They help churches establish buddybreaks, or free respite for families with VIP kids.

Books

Same Lake, Different Boat: Coming Alongside People Touched by Disability
by Stephanie Hubach (affiliate link)

When the church attempts to function without all of its parts, the body of Christ becomes disabled. This work is designed to renew our minds to think biblically about disability. This is perhaps my favorite book on disability.

Leading A Special Needs Ministry
by Amy Fenton Lee (Founder of the Inclusive church) (affiliate link)

This books serves as a practical “how-to” handbook for the family ministry team working to welcome one or 100 children with special needs. Easily referenced guidance is offered for expressing care for parents who are learning that their child has a diagnosis all the way to developing programs, policies and education for volunteers working with children with disabilities. Example ministry documents are provided throughout this resource guide.

Walking With Tension
by Jenny Hill (affiliate link)

From the book: What kind of God hears the desperate cry of a little girl to be physically healed…and says no?
Learning how to walk with cerebral palsy was hard, but learning how to walk alongside God was harder. In Walking with Tension, Jenny Hill shares her journey to seek healing from her disability. When healing doesn’t happen, she begins to wrestle with God over some big questions. “Is God really good?” “Where is He in the midst of our struggles?” and “How do we love God when we don’t understand Him?

Where do I start?

If you are a church leader (or someone that wants to start a special needs ministry), you need to first recognize where your church is at in the process.

Do you need to first educate, bring awareness, and show there is a real need for the church to focus on disability? You might want to start by reading Same Lake, Different Boat by Stephanie Hubach.

Is there just one or two kids in your congregation that have special needs? The Inclusive Church can be a great resource for you with lots of different ideas of how to meet the individual needs of the child.

Is your church ready to start a special needs ministry? Dig in to Key Ministry.

You are still not sure or you just need to talk to someone? Amazing how God works! My husband and I have been passionate about this, and God used your recent stories to make us move forward to the next step in our ministry. We are excited to help your church find the right solutions for your specific situations. For now, and until we have this better established, send me an email. ellen at ellenstumbo dot com

For the families and the adults living with disability

Joni and Friends helps families and adults impacted with disability find the right church. They have a large database of churches that are actively serving the disability community. Check out their “Find churches with disability ministries” link.

Not Alone: Finding Faith and Friendship for the Special-Needs Journey is a blog written specifically for you! Full of encouragement, understanding, and community. Written by special needs parents for the parents. Check out their Facebook page too.

And friends, keep your stories coming. Your voice is important, your experience matters. And our voices, united, can make a difference.

This beautiful Church will get it.

About the photo: I wanted to show you the two precious girls that fuel my passion to see the church embrace disability. What a privilege to be their mom!

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15 Comments

  • Reply April 5, 2014

    Helena

    Ellen – I’ve been reading your blogs for about a month now. Enjoy them. I’m one of the 80% and we have been blessed to have McLean Bible Church nearby which we did go to for a while but I struggled since I was raised Catholic. They have a beautiful community and have an Accessibility Summit every year. I believe it’s this weekend. The lead pastor has also started http://www.jillshouse.org – a place where special needs families can get respite and the kids get to have a sleep over. Just thought I’d share wonderful resource in the Northern Virginia area.

    • Reply April 5, 2014

      Ellen Stumbo

      Helena, I wish I was there! Lots of great people are there this weekend. And thank you for this resource!

  • Reply April 9, 2014

    Sean Durity

    My wife and I have the same passion to help our church (and others) minister to families with special needs. And you are so right – the church needs us, too. How does God teach compassion? What does endurance look like? So many folks have talked about how our daughter has been a blessing to them, and she has never said a word! God uses her in a beautiful way.

    Can I mention a couple resources, too? We have found the ministry of Rising Above (Tenn and N. Georgia) to be helpful (http://risingaboveministries.org). They share similar stats as you mention above, especially about divorce in special needs families. I’m particularly mad about “dads” who check out from their families when the going gets tough.

    We are at our church (Burnt Hickory Baptist in Powder Springs, GA) because of their special needs ministry. We will never forget our first visit when one of the ushers actually lifted our daughter’s wheelchair out of our (non-adapted) van. Blew us away…

    • Reply April 10, 2014

      Ellen Stumbo

      Sean, I am blown away that someone would have done that too! The kindest person I have encountered was at a parking lot! An older man that ran to help me get the wheelchair also in my non-adaptive van. While he did that I was able to get my daughter in the car.

      Thank you so much for sharing this resource!

  • Reply April 15, 2014

    Calcy

    Hi Ellen,
    I am a Children’s Pastor in Oregon and I am working on developing our department to being more friendly towards all children and their families. I am also currently working on a research paper and I was wondering if you had received the information regarding this 80% yet? It seems to me that these are “the least of these” that we are called to love on. Thank you for your blog!

    Calcy

    • Reply April 15, 2014

      Ellen Stumbo

      Calcy, my contact in Joni and Friends is trying to get to the bottom of this. There are quite a few places that quote this, yet non of those have a direct source. Mine came from Joni and Friends. but, like I mentioned there, if you look at it from the 20% standpoint, you see something is not adding up.

  • Reply April 16, 2014

    muchalone

    Thank you for this challenge. After being called names and/or told to leave 4 churches in as many years, we found ourselves unchurched because I was too distressed to try again. After several months of TV church, I tried again after a recommendation from my son’s public school principal. It was a large church, and they had resources to deal with our 2 sonns with special needs, as long as I took a turn with my oldest son. It was a decent arrangement, especially compared to our previous experiences. One Sunday, the Pastor noticed me balancing on crutches, and boomed out in a big crowd for people to “MOVE! We got a CRIPPLE back here!” I felt SO humiliated! Church #5…not so great…
    We moved across the country and found a church with a wonderful Children’s Pastor, and my boys had a 1-1 helper for the Sunday School hour every Sunday. The church provided this for them throughout elemetary school, but was unable to continue it into youth ministry. By that time, we were able to access services and send helpers in with them.
    Our Children’s Pastor recently moved on to a different job…and we are losing the amazing ministry he established…it is returning to a ‘big crowd’ emphasis, and if only a few kids have a certain need, it is no longer important. I am sad.
    The comments people make are hurtful: our kids are adopted, so we have been accused of ‘weakening’ the church by bringing them in…our kids have challenging behaviors, and it scares people…they often shake their heads in wonder, but they generally keep their distance.
    While remaining in church continues to be hard work, I feel like I am fortunate in my situation, because we are still there, and it’s working okay. And we have been tremendously blessed by Joni and Friends, where we are privileged to spend a wonderful week at Family Retreat each summer. For anyone wishing to be better equipped to welcome people with disabilities into church, I heartily recommend that they volunteer to serve at a Family Retreat. They will be given an amazing day of training, followed by 5 days to learn, help and be blessed by the way God uses some most unlikely vessels for His glory.

    • Reply April 17, 2014

      Ellen Stumbo

      I cannot believe you were told you were “weakening” the church, I am so sorry. And I have heard nothing but wonderful things about the Joni and Friends retreats! My family actually considered attending this year. It won’t work out now, but next year we hope to attend :)

  • […] Another great blog about life raising a child with special needs is Ellen Stumbo. I would recommend starting with her post Confessions of a Pastor’s wife – The Church is Forgetting Us and then When the Church and Disability Meet – Resources […]

  • Reply May 13, 2014

    Josh Galgan

    I stumbled across your blog searching for churches that have a disability Ministry. I work for a very unique service provider called Bethesda Lutheran Communities. Most people have not heard of Bethesda just like I had not even while serving as a pastor in California, Idaho, Wisconsin, and Oregon. My position is Ministry Consultant. I get to work with 120 adults living in the Portland, OR metro area that have Intellectual and developmental disabilties. I get to come along side of these great people to understand what their spiritual desires and needs are and then make sure that they are supported in those. But the other part of my job is to help equip the church at large to minister with people who have disabilities. I am not a Lutheran and was specifically hired by Bethesda so that I could have an impact in connecting with, resourcing and equipping non-Lutheran churches in the Pacific NW. I just wanted to share with you a little about Bethesda because we may be able to be a help and resource to people that you connect with. There are 22 ministry consultants with Bethesda throughout the United States. Bethesda also has an institute that is developing curriculum and resources for churches. Each summer the Bethesda Institute conducts a summer institue on theology and disability. I know this is a lot of information, Sorry! I just wanted to you to know that we are here if families and churches could use support.
    Please let me know if I can be of any support to you, your church or others that you minster with.

    • Reply May 14, 2014

      Sean Durity

      Do you have any connections in Atlanta or Georgia?

      • Reply May 20, 2014

        Josh Galgan

        I am not sure, but I would encourgae you to email our eastern division corporate director. His name is Ben Stuckey and I know that he would love to help you out.
        Ben.stuckey@mailblc.org

  • Reply May 27, 2014

    Amy

    We switched churches about a year ago mainly for their special needs ministry. There aren’t a lot of them here so we were thrilled to find one and absolutely love the church.

    • Reply May 27, 2014

      Ellen Stumbo

      It really makes a difference, doesn’t it? So glad you found a church that works for your family!

  • […] Here is the follow-up post about church and disability with resources. […]

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