Are You Unleashing the Gifts of the Disabled Among You?

Seeing and equipping your church members

Jesus sees beyond what we are to what we can be. We might be a bunch of crooked sticks, but He knows how to draw straight lines with those sticks, so that He is ever more glorified.

Jesus sees us.

In Luke 13 Jesus sees a disabled woman present during Sabbath worship. She has been disabled for nearly two decades, yet she still comes to worship God. Most people ignore her. Jesus sees her.

During the worship service, Jesus calls out to her. He sets her free of her affliction, proving yet again that He truly is both Messiah and God. This miracle disrupts the expected order of the service, so the synagogue leader protests and tries to put this woman back in her place.

But Jesus refuses to sideline her. She is worthy of all the dignity that comes from being made in the image of God, and Jesus ensures that she will be treated as such.

God gives at least one gift to every single child of His with which they can serve the body of Christ.

As Jesus leads, we follow—not only seeing our sisters and brothers as image-bearers of God but also being richly blessed by them. After all, God gives at least one gift to every single child of His with which they can serve the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:1-11).

Unleashing the gifts in our midst

At New Hope Church (EFCA), some of the most potent gifts are at work in the last places you’d expect. In our Disability Ministry, we find a great many people like the woman Jesus healed. They come to church faithfully. They desire to worship God eagerly. And through them, the power of God is unleashed.

You will seldom find a more loving group of people. When everyone can see your disability yet they still wholeheartedly accept you, it creates a rare place of peace. There is no need to pretend, here.

Many churches ask how they might best minister to the disabled. It’s a good question, with a lot of good answers. We can provide them special places to worship God together. We can make our churches handicapped-accessible. We can acknowledge them from the pulpit and treasure their friendship.

Yet for the disabled to truly be part of the body of Christ, they must also be equipped to minister to others with the gifts God has given them. They deserve the same opportunities for growth as the rest of the body. The outcome may look a little different, but much of the process remains the same.

Part of the challenge of equipping the disabled results from their diversity. Some walk into the service on their own two feet, some use a walker and some a wheelchair. Some speak and sing, some make noises, and some are silent. Some digest every word of the sermon, some get the general idea and some struggle to retain even the simplest piece.

To equip such a diverse crowd, we need diverse methods. To begin addressing this at New Hope, we’ve launched a small-group fellowship within our Sunday-morning Disability Ministry time.

Building connections across our church family

Three times a year, each time for four consecutive Sundays, you’ll find our gym full of tables grouped into four quadrants. After a short devotional, members choose whichever quadrant they prefer as they dig deeper into the passage.

The first quadrant includes coloring sheets that depict the Bible story. The second offers a craft activity that reflects the theme of the same story. The third provides a worksheet, which helps participants find life application. Finally, the fourth quadrant facilitates a deep Bible study of that passage.

Not only is each member more engaged, but over time, most members have formed deeper friendships with those who share their same interests. There’s more of a family feel to the class, as God builds bridges between people who approach life in the same way.

For the disabled to truly be part of the body of Christ, they must also be equipped to minister.

One of our members, Barb, loves to sample everything on those Sundays, knowing that whichever quadrant she chooses, she’ll be learning the same lesson from the Bible. Amber, on the other hand, is particularly grateful for the Bible study. She brings her Braille Bible every week, eager to study. In the past, her blindness held her back. “I have been waiting all my life for a personal Bible study,” she exclaims.

Giving these members a chance to engage Scripture exactly at their level of ability energizes and encourages them like nothing else.

Ministering to the whole body

The excitement of participating and contributing gets under their skin. They begin ministering to each other around the table, with Bible verses and pictures, songs and smiles. Their gifts begin to grow. Before you know it, they’re using their gifts to minister to you.

Have you ever been led into worship by a woman who can’t speak? Kathy lacks the gift of speech, but God has formed in her a heart passionate for worship. When the music starts, her arms shoot up and she makes whatever noises she can. She will lead you into worshiping God through her sheer enthusiasm for her Jesus.

Have you ever been served by a woman so eager to help you that she races over to you? Jenny will help anyone with any project, however she is able. She gladly sits by strangers on Sunday morning, just to make sure they don’t feel lonely. She leads people by the hand if they need help walking. Most importantly, she serves people by praying for them, as God has equipped her to be a fierce prayer warrior.

However we draw near to God, with whatever level of ability we possess, He promises that He will draw near to us. This is what we have witnessed at New Hope Church.

As you begin crafting a ministry to the disabled brothers and sisters whom God brings, cherish the awkward moments. Embrace the uncomfortable feelings of stepping outside the familiar. The disabled won’t care if you’re awkward or uncomfortable. They only care whether you will love them and will draw near to God with them.

God has given you gifts that can bless them, and He’s given them gifts that will bless you beyond your expectations.

In the photo above, adults in one quadrant of the gym are studying a passage of Scripture, with help from several volunteers from New Hope’s Disability Ministry. Photo credit: Breanne Claussen

Revisit two powerful articles about special-needs ministry that published in EFCA Today magazine in 2011: “Without You” and “Waiting.” (Or access that entire issue, “Toward a More Beautiful Family.”)

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