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Ministries of Belonging2024-01-31T13:50:10-05:00

Inclusion is simply not enough. To include people in society is just to have them there. …There is a big difference between inclusion and belonging. To belong, you have to be missed. There’s something really, really important about that. People need to long for you, to want you to be there. When you’re not there, they should go looking for you. – John Swinton

What do we mean by “Ministry of Belonging?”

Overcoming Challenges in Inclusive Ministry2024-01-31T12:26:24-05:00

One of the potential challenges for churches is the wide range of physical and cognitive abilities that exist. A ministry approach that is principally based on belonging will be much more effective than a program-oriented one. Principles of ministries of belonging are not restricted to a Sunday school class or specialized programs, but are formative to all functioning and ministries of the Church. We do not want to create a ‘program’ that deals with disabilities, but a ministry that comes alongside all people loved and valued by God.

Why are Ministries of Belonging Important?2024-01-31T12:25:15-05:00

All of us are looking for a place to belong, to be valued, to know and be known. We all long to be part of a community that brings meaning, purpose, and opportunities to contribute as well as to receive. We are seeking a place that provides for a corporate expression of our faith in Christ that communicates “I am not alone in my journey.”

What Defines a Ministry of Belonging?2024-01-31T12:23:04-05:00

A ministry of belong is one which enables, empowers, and engages all persons within the worshipping community, regardless of ability. This stems from a belief that God has created us as equally-valued people in His image. “Let us create man in OUR Image” (Gen 1:26). The image of God is best reflected in community. Together we live out the mandate of Luke 4:18-21, proclaiming “the year of the Lord’s favour” to everyone.

Barriers to Implementing Ministries of Belonging

Why is our traditional, linear approach to the gospel challenging for individuals with disabilities?2024-01-31T12:42:57-05:00

Our traditional, linear approach to the gospel often involves verbal and intellectual assent to certain doctrines or beliefs, which may be challenging for individuals with cognitive disabilities. Additionally, those with physical challenges may struggle to communicate the gospel in the expected manner. This necessitates the exploration of alternative modalities to declare and respond to the gospel that go beyond verbal and intellectual dimensions.

Why is it crucial to treat individuals with disabilities according to who they are, not perceived stereotypes?2024-01-31T12:37:44-05:00

It is crucial to treat individuals with disabilities according to who they are, not according to perceived stereotypes. Regardless of the severity of someone’s disability, individuals have the right and the need to be responded to and treated based on their true identity. This involves ensuring that tones are not condescending, being mindful of communication, and actively seeking to include persons with disabilities in conversations, valuing their experiences as integral expressions of the full Body of Christ.

Why has disability historically been viewed as a ‘disease’ or ‘not normal’?2024-01-31T12:40:31-05:00

Historically, disability has been perceived as a ‘disease,’ ‘not normal,’ or even attributed to sin. This perspective often led to the expectation of a ‘cure,’ aiming for the complete removal or reversal of the ‘dis-ease.’ Such views, however, stem from a misunderstanding of disability, frequently driven by onlookers’ discomfort with vulnerability and limitations.

What is the difference between ‘curing’ and ‘healing’ in the context of disability?2024-01-31T12:40:56-05:00

‘Curing’ implies the complete removal or reversal of a disability, often leading to the misconception that persons with disabilities no longer need the support of the Church. In contrast, ‘healing,’ as holistically understood, involves restoring relationships between each person, God, self, and community. Jesus’s example in Mark 2 demonstrates that true healing goes beyond physical cure and encompasses forgiveness and the restoration of relationships.

What is meant by preaching a tactile gospel, and why is it important?2024-01-31T12:43:27-05:00

Preaching a tactile gospel involves employing an array of senses such as touch, smell, sound, and sensory atmospheres to convey the Good News. This is crucial because individuals with disabilities may have difficulty understanding the gospel in its traditional, verbal form. Exploring alternative sensory modalities allows for a more inclusive and comprehensive experience of the gospel for everyone.

What are the significant barriers to building ministries of belonging?2024-01-31T12:31:33-05:00

The significant barriers to building inclusive ministries include misunderstandings and misconceptions about disabilities. Outdated notions, fears, misinformation, and the discomfort of congregants can hinder the meaningful and holistic engagement of people with disabilities in the life of the local church.

What are the greatest needs for many people with disabilities in the church?2024-01-31T12:32:39-05:00

Close friendships and committed relationships are identified as some of the greatest needs for many people with disabilities within the church. Despite these being universal needs, individuals with disabilities often face more obstacles in establishing or maintaining such relationships compared to others.

How does the community benefit from exploring alternative ways to declare and respond to the gospel?2024-01-31T12:43:49-05:00

Exploring alternative ways to declare and respond to the gospel benefits the community by expanding our understanding of the fullness of the gospel. It challenges the notion that the gospel is exclusively for those with a certain IQ or communication ability. Embracing this inclusivity allows us to appreciate the grace of God in our own lives in a new and powerful way, fostering a deeper understanding of God’s mercy, gentleness, acceptance, and salvation.

How do patronizing teaching materials affect individuals with cognitive disabilities?2024-01-31T12:36:08-05:00

Patronizing teaching materials and approaches, often not age-appropriate, can be a significant barrier for people with cognitive disabilities. The perception of individuals with cognitive disabilities as ‘angels’ or perpetual children may lead to materials that are not respectful, hindering their engagement in the full life of the church community.

How do different disability diagnoses contribute to challenges?2024-01-31T12:32:13-05:00

Each disability diagnosis brings its own unique challenges and strategies. Some disabilities are physical, others are cognitive, and some individuals may have a complex combination of various disabilities, both physical and cognitive. The way a person appears, sounds, or acts may create discomfort or distance, making it challenging for them to be fully engaged in the church community.

How can we ensure age-appropriate and respectful engagement for individuals with disabilities?2024-01-31T12:38:29-05:00

To ensure age-appropriate and respectful engagement, it is essential to be mindful of communication tones, phrases, and words. While pictures, songs, and activities are valuable, they need to be scrutinized to ensure they are honoring and respectful of a person’s age and communication ability. Avoiding the portrayal of individuals with disabilities as perpetual ‘infants’ is crucial, as it acknowledges that everyone, regardless of ability, has valuable contributions to offer. This approach fosters an inclusive environment where we recognize that God can teach us through the experiences of individuals with disabilities about who He is and His love for us.

How can the Church offer ongoing support to those who are not ‘cured’?2024-01-31T12:41:25-05:00

Despite the challenge the Church faces in providing ongoing support to those not ‘cured,’ God invites each of us to participate in our own healing and that of those around us. Healing is a broader concept applicable to all individuals, not just those with disabilities. The Church can play a significant role in this by creating inclusive ministries, actively engaging and including people with disabilities in the church body. In doing so, the church becomes a place where wounds related to acceptance, meaningful relationships, and community involvement are healed, contributing to the restoration of the Body of Christ to wholeness.

How can churches overcome misunderstandings?2024-01-31T12:33:19-05:00

The key to overcoming misunderstandings and aligning with God’s intention for inclusive ministries involves various strategies. These include the study of scripture, education, prayer, and, importantly, building genuine friendships with people of various abilities. It emphasizes that there is no effective one-size-fits-all approach, and being an inclusive community requires an intentional and informed response.

Overcoming Barriers

How can we involve adults with disabilities in the planning and communication processes?2024-01-31T13:03:22-05:00

To involve adults with disabilities in the planning and communication processes of inclusive ministries, it is essential to apply the motto “Nothing about me without me.” This means including the person with a disability in the circle of communication and planning, regardless of their ability. By taking the time to ask, listen, and watch, the church ensures a ‘person-centered’ approach, ministering to the person with a disability in a way that respects their insights and experiences.

How can the church support parents of children with special needs and prevent them from feeling isolated?2024-01-31T13:01:14-05:00

The church can support parents of children with special needs by actively seeking their input and asking for guidance on how to effectively create an inclusive ministry. Too often, parents feel isolated and misunderstood, and at times, abandoned by the church. By engaging in conversations with parents, the church can not only support the children but also help reconnect with the entire family, creating a more inclusive and supportive community.

How can we gather valuable information and develop effective strategies when working with children with disabilities?2024-01-31T12:45:39-05:00

One of the best sources of information for education and developing strategies when working with children with disabilities is the parents themselves. They are often waiting to be asked about the best ways to support both them and their children. Engaging with parents can provide a tremendous wealth of information on how to create an inclusive ministry effectively, fostering an important connection between the church and the family.

What about the cost?

How can opening small groups, ministry teams, or events to individuals with disabilities positively impact the church community?2024-01-31T13:30:52-05:00

Opening small groups, ministry teams, or events to individuals with disabilities can be a powerful and meaningful experience for both the individual and the church community. While questions may arise about the impact on other group members or concerns about understanding for those with cognitive disabilities, the benefits of being ‘in community’ are significant. Challenges may arise, but they should not be viewed as barriers. In the majority of cases, every person is able to participate at some level, and the blessings of inclusion are experienced by all.

Are there specific roles in the church that individuals with disabilities are precluded from due to their disabilities?2024-01-31T13:30:31-05:00

No, there is no role that people are precluded from simply because of their disability. Individuals with disabilities, even those with more significant cognitive challenges, can actively contribute in various church roles such as greeting, ushering, church cleaning and maintenance, setting up, teacher’s helper, worship team participant, and prayer.

Is establishing ministries of belonging costly?2024-01-31T13:30:00-05:00

While there may be costs associated with making the physical building accessible, establishing inclusive ministries does not necessarily need to be a separately funded program. It also does not inherently increase workload or strain already overstretched resources. In fact, embracing inclusive ministries often leads to the discovery of untapped skills, gifts, and talents among a group of people who were previously overlooked and are willing to serve.

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