Christian Horizons’ Vision is that: “People with exceptional needs belong to communities in which their God-given gifts are valued and respected.” This Vision is supported by seven unique Service Principles (you can find the list of these principles here). These Service Principles describe the ways in which Christian Horizons supports people. This is the fourth in a series of posts that takes a look at these service principles, to learn how they are important in serving others whether in social services or as part of faith communities.

Christian Horizons’ fourth Service Principle is: We Seek to Value People’s Gifts, 

We believe every person has gifts to share. We recognize that persons with exceptional needs are at risk of not having their gifts recognized and valued, therefore, we will work to enhance the recognition of people’s gifts and to empower people to share their gifts and skills in their community through employment, volunteering, belonging, etc.

Christian Horizons’ fourth service principle contains a countercultural message that may powerfully impact the self-concepts of people who experience disability, transform the work of the church and benefit society as a whole if practiced effectively.

The statement “every person has gifts” asserts that gifts and talents are not dependent on ability. It calls into question arbitrary distinctions between “the disabled” and those who are temporarily-abled. The assertion that the purpose of gifts is “to share” also questions the societal notion that people who experience disability are incapable of reciprocity. It reflects the belief that one’s gifts and abilities are not merely the result of human achievement. Rather, gifts are ultimately received from God. These gifts demonstrate God’s love and power, they are meant for the benefit of the community, and they reach their fullest potential in service to others. The commitment to seek work experience, volunteer opportunities, and community engagement in collaboration with those who have exceptional needs demonstrates that valuing individuals or families with disabilities must go beyond words. People with disabilities must be equally valued alongside their able-bodied counterparts in a variety of meaningful settings.

One potential challenge to practicing this service principal may arise if people with disabilities have come to view themselves as recipients of care rather than capable contributors. This can occur due at least in part to North American society placing high value on temporary characteristics such as high intellect or strong physique. Many churches have a similarly limited view of gifting, valuing the ability to sing or preach over and above relational gifts or presence. Many of us may also resist sharing our gifts and talents with others, reflecting the cultural notion that success is based on every person for herself and the mentality that gifts are meant for personal gain.

I do not mean to suggest that we should reject gifts of intellect, physical strength, music or preaching in favor of presence or relationality. Rather, in 1 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul teaches that every gift, and talent, no matter how unique is necessary for the body of Christ to function optimally. This suggests that a critical part of the church’s mission may be to discern the will of God concerning the particular arrangement of every part of the body. A clue to God’s intended arrangement can be found in Paul’s words that “the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Cor 12:22). This alerts us to the fact that people with seemingly unusual or hard-to-identify gifts should not be randomly assigned to various tasks. Their indispensable quality will only be evident when they are serving in roles that are valued and beneficial to the community as a whole.

The mission of discerning the arrangement that God desires for all parts of the body, and how we best function together is not necessarily an easy or brief process. Development of deeper relationships with people who experience disabilities may be necessary to understand the God-given gifts and abilities of particular individuals. This may take time. The meaning of a gift is rarely if ever determined apart from those who value it. This process may also require a deep examination of what is currently lacking within the community. Discernment of how all members of the body best fit together will almost certainly require a broader perspective on spiritual gifts, various necessary functions, and how these could be supported. I suggest that such effort in discernment will be worth it when the body of Christ is complete and able to function as God intended. Only then should we expect to accomplish all the good work God has for us to do.