Thursday, October 22, 2015

Special Needs: A Gospel Litmus Test for Churches

“To the angel of the church in Sardis write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.” 
Revelation 3:1-2 (NIV)

"Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." 
Matthew 7:21 (NIV)

"He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’" 
Matthew 25:45 (NIV)


I’m known for being vocal about it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.

In fact, I’ll stand on my soapbox and shout it until I’m blue in the face.

If I die tomorrow, somebody please carve it out in big letters on my tombstone.

If the gospel isn’t good news for all, then it’s not good news at all.

And when I say “for all,” I mean even the ones who don’t fit into the nice little churchy categories we’ve created. You know, the people who look like us, act like us, speak like us. 

I’ve written about my own negative church experience, about how my son was rejected, but what is staggering is the number of comments I receive on my blog from people all over the world who have experienced the same or worse.

Why are so many churches rejecting the disabled? 

Why are pastors, ministers, lay leaders and church members ignoring an entire population of people as if they are not also human beings created in the very image of God? 

Why are faith congregations throwing their hands in the air, saying “we’re just volunteers,” and then washing their hands of a people group in as much need of the gospel as anyone else?

We may never know the answers to these questions. But we can speculate. 

Here’s my best guess. (You might want to sit down.)

Churches aren’t ministering to people with special needs because it’s hard.

Yes, you heard me right. It’s hard. 

As if those of us who are living with special needs ourselves don’t already know that.

And yet time and again, this is what the issue boils down to. If push came to shove and you demanded an answer from all the churches who have turned the disabled away, they would have to admit their reasoning: 

It's. Too. Hard.

Therein lies the problem. 

If we truly are gospel-preaching, good-news-believing churches, then why would we expect things to be easy? Jesus specifically told us to expect trials and hardship and not to be surprised by it. 
  • The first century church did not have it easy. Far from it. Just being alive and being a Christian was hard. 
  • Faith is hard. 
  • Non-conformity is hard. 
  • Spiritual discipline is hard.
  • Denying yourself and taking up your cross to follow Christ daily is downright hard.

And yet for some reason, too many of our churches are willing to sacrifice the disabled community upon the altar of “it’s too hard.”

It’s a whiny excuse and a flimsy one.

I’m going to make a bold statement here, but it’s one I support with every fiber of my being:

I don’t care how much a church preaches and teaches the Gospel; if they are turning people away from Jesus Christ, then they are not a gospel church. They are, like the Revelation church of Sardis, spiritually dead and in need of a dire wakeup call.

Because turning real human hearts away from Jesus, refusing to make room, accept them, and let them in. . . well, that’s about as far from the gospel as you can get. 

And if you’re not a gospel church, then you’re a dead church.

In fact, if you want to know if a church is truly alive in Christ, I suggest this simple litmus test: look at how they minister to those with special needs. The false positives will be exposed every time.

How we treat the disabled is a gospel issue. 

Therefore as a believer in the Good News of Jesus Christ, I would be remiss if I let it slide by and never said anything.

So I will proclaim it here in this forum and out into the blogosphere for everyone to hear: If the gospel isn’t good news for all then it isn’t good news at all.

Churches, put that in your pipe and smoke it. It’s time to wake up.


Father, how I pray for our churches. I pray you would open our eyes and the eyes of our pastors and leaders to see just how much of a gospel issue disability really is. Give us the mind of Christ, a spirit of humility and eyes to see every human being as worthy of love, grace, and inclusion. Help us to remember that all are welcome at the Lord’s table, and that to deny entry to the least of these is to the Lord Jesus Himself. Empower us to be people and churches who are not just hearers of the Word, but doers. Strengthen us to be your hands and feet to people everywhere.

photo credit: The Chemistry Of Inversion via photopin (license)


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Mike! It's good to know there are others who share this soapbox!

  2. I want to welcome anyone in the DFW area to come visit my church. I am the Director of Special Needs (all needs all ages) and I would love to welcome your family with open loving arms!

    1. There are many churches who are doing it right, so thank you!

  3. Does all mean ALL or just people with disabilities?

    1. It means ALL. And that includes people with disabilities.

  4. This is so well surmised!