Monday, November 4, 2013

Would Your Church Miss You If You Weren't There?

Brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, I beg all of you to agree with each other. You should not be divided into different groups. Be completely joined together again with the same kind of thinking and the same purpose.
~ 1 Corinthians 1:10, ERV ~

Would your church miss you if you weren't there?


It's easy to become frustrated or angry with "The Church".  Too few of us are able to find a church home where we are accepted, loved, and included, along with our unique children.  Statistics are questionable, but anecdotally, less than 25% of churches nationwide provide any sort of Sunday School accommodations for children with physical or cognitive special needs.  Over the years, I have probably heard as many stories of families being asked to leave a church because of their challenged child as I have stories of remarkable inclusion.

When families raising a child with a diff-ability do find a church home, it is often still extremely imperfect.  Suffering from "compassion fatigue" or lacking in resources, families are frequently heartbroken when their church does not reach out to them in crisis.  Sadly, those who do find an inclusive congregation or one with special needs programming can also be inclined to walk away from the church when they feel ignored in their darkest hours.

Yet, what if we flipped that concept on its head?

When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, he was trying to mend all sorts of false teaching and divisions between this new congregation.  His first letter attempted to bring these fledgling believers back to what is important in an effort to unite them.  Paul stressed love and the value of each part of the Body of Christ.  

With that in mind, what might happen if those who feel the need to be served actually extended themselves to serve?  What if rather than expecting the church to reach out to us, we realized that we are the church and reached out to those around us?  How would a congregation look if we asserted ourselves as the disability community, educating those who have no clue how we face challenges in our ordinary lives?  What if we showed the mercy and compassion of Christ by educating those in our church who feel ill-equipped to figure out how to include us and our children?  What might it look like if we were instrumental in growing our local church into an inclusive community where people weren't all just pigeon-holed into a women's ministry or youth ministry or singles ministry, but were instead integrated into a loving community mutually attuned to the needs of all its members?

Now, that would be revolutionary!  Imagine how we would put people at ease with disability when they see us serving right alongside them with our unique kids.  Suddenly, people wouldn't see the challenge as much as the child.  Our fellow church members might actually get to know us, so they might be more inclined to help when we do experience a crisis.  We might find all that we are craving in spiritual community...  if we just served instead of having to be served.

I know.  I may have offended you with this notion.  However, before I apologize, let me tell you that the Lord doesn't excuse those of us dealing with special needs from service.  In fact, He tells us in 1 Corinthians 12: 22, "No, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are actually very important." (ERV)  The church needs our families or the Body is not complete.  We point people to hope that lays beyond our circumstances.

Get in there and roll up your sleeves!  Reflect God's glory to church goers who need to see you involved.  Then you can feel certain, your church will miss you if you aren't there. 

PRAY:  Father, forgive me for my sense of entitlement.  Lifter of my head, focus my eyes on Your glory and Your commands.  Help me to get beyond my own circumstances and serve just like Jesus did.  Holy Spirit, go ahead of me and beside me as I venture into church community.  I can only do it by Your power and Your guidance. 

Photo Image Courtesy of 123RF

 

4 comments:

  1. This is tremendous. Seems like you're touching on a larger problem that impacts the entire church.

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  2. Barb, Even though this is hard to do it is true! This is what our families that have special needs children what our job is essentially is. To teach others. Its not easy. We want others to help us but quite frankly they don't know what to do. Its our job to reach out and show others what to do and support our special children within the church community. THey need to be visible. I brought meghan to our youth group the other night to stuff boxes and even though there was very little she could do she was there. She was visible part of a church community just like all the others. Thanks for the eye opening article like always. Jennifer

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  3. (Written in parts due to word limit)


    The subject of your article is very timely for our family. Our family has three children with invisible disabilities. Our kids appear normal on the surface, but all have brain injury/nervous system disorder caused by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum disorder and diagnosed in their late teens. Just as the diagnosis was surfacing, our son broke into our church building to use the phone and was subsequently arrested with charges later dropped. We used the dramatic incident as a springboard and wrote a letter to the congregation asking for prayer and explaining that all of our children were going to be tested for FASD. In addition, we used the opportunity to educate our church body. I created a Face book group to share information about FASD in an appealing, easy-to-digest manner and invited as many members of our congregation as possible. Our pastor indicated that our church leadership was willing to learn about FASD, so I sent the same material to him so that he could share it with the leadership. It seemed that a difficult experience with our children was evolving into a positive turn of events. If fellow believer grew in their understanding of our struggles through education, then I felt as though our family would finally find its place among the fellowship.

    Though our pastor initially showed a positive response, and I was excited to educate among our church body, half a year passed and I became increasingly discouraged by the utter silence and lack of response. Despite our congregational letter and information shared with leadership and church body at regular intervals, four months of silence passed before a single soul came to me and made inquiries about our family's experiences. No feedback was given in the face book group, no leaders made an effort to inquire about our well-being, and the congregation was silent. In conversations, we openly made reference to our situation to help others recognize that we were comfortable to have discussions about it. Our frustration grew as these attempts resulted in comments towards us that either minimized our situation or placed the blame at our feet. Between church body and leadership, we were told that our kids looked normal and were acting like normal teens (i.e. it must be us that has the problem), our kids just need a kick in the pants, and that everybody has problems and our situation is not as bad as others that exist in the church. It has been suggested that support is given in proportion to a member's involvement in the body, and that my husband and I should be serving other hurting people before we ask for help. One member simply turned and walked away when I broached the subject of our kids' brain injuries.

    My excitement and fervor to educate and share our struggles increasingly disappeared and began to be replaced with anger and bitterness. When I mentioned that we were struggling with trust among church body and leadership, our pastor asked for details, and I gave him specific examples which had worked to erode the trust. He replied with a very admonishing email, and that Sunday, much of what I had shared with him in an email was repeated in the sermon almost verbatim. Increasingly, my husband and I began to emotionally retreat from our congregation as we learned that every attempt to educate and reach out would result in hurt. This was reaffirmed when prior to an annual home visit, our district elder told my husband that we "can tell them what we expect" and then they would share what they expect from us. At the visit, the elder made it clear that our "problem" was not his problem and that involving the congregation to provide respite and support would be too complicated. He balanced his position by reassuring us that we could ask him for a hug if we ever needed one.


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  4. (part 2): Coming to terms with our children's diagnosis and dealing with the daily stresses of their behaviours was greatly compounded by the increased feelings of isolation. My husband and I have become increasingly depressed and can hardly cope beyond routine daily events. Over the past year, one of our children has displayed very concerning behaviour which involved numerous malicious lies against me. When it finally became too much, I hesitantly reached out to our pastor and asked for prayer for the situation. He notified our district elder who then visited us and our daughter separately to interview both parties. During our visit, his comments showed skepticism, and the blame was implicitly directed at us. Over the next month or so, we watched in complete dismay as the confidential prayer request turned into a witch hunt as he shared it his wife who then discussed it with another member who discussed it with my daughter in order that the elder might "get to the bottom of things".

    This betrayal of confidence essentially broke any last remainder of trust that we may have had. We feel completely emotionally and spiritually depleted let alone have an ounce of energy to try to reach out to others in a church from which we feel completely detached. Our church leadership is sincere in their tasks and generally handle matters well, but the needs of a family like ours seem to be completely beyond their capabilities. A family like ours who is dealing with mental health and brain injury is approached as a family who needs moral/spiritual correcting rather than prayer, words of encouragement and deeds of love.

    At this point, we are realizing we may have to switch to another church, but just in the last week, God has impressed on my heart two things. The first: only God is 100% faithful and trustworthy. As special needs parents, if we find ourselves disheartened and discouraged by the lack of response within our church body, we must ask as with every trial, "What is God teaching me?" True, we may be convicted to reach out to others, educate, use opportunities to draw our children into the fellowship, but primarily, God wants us to look to Him to fulfill our needs. I have made every attempt to educate and involve others so that our children would benefit, and at the end of the road as we find ourselves flat on our face, God finally has our attention where He wants it: on Him alone. Even the best Christian will fail us, and change and decay is inevitable everywhere we look. Only God remains secure, and we begin there.

    Secondly, a much harder lesson that has just begun: forgiveness. The bitterness and hurt that has grown in my heart over the last year has become part of my nature, and I hardly know how to function without it. It feels natural to revel in the hurt and to mull over our experiences in order to affirm our position. It does not feel natural to follow God's prompting reminder that His Son forgave even His murderers while on the cross. Granted, our experiences could be used as a teaching tool and perhaps, in the end, it is better for us to move on to another church, but I sense that a weight that still presses on me will be lifted the more I look to God for wisdom and help in the process of forgiveness.

    God's ways and thoughts are certainly higher than our own, and at our darkest times as special needs parents, we must cry to Him to strengthen our faith and keep our eyes focused on Him alone who is able to keep us from falling.

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