The past month has been a blur. I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus from the blogosphere to focus on some ministry work, but I wanted to take a break to share some thoughts.
I had the honor of presenting at the Accessibility Summit at Mclean Bible Church this past month. I taught a workshop on how to build a Disability Ministry and got to meet an incredible group of people who are working to make their churches more inclusive. I also sat on a post conference panel with some of my dear friends and colleagues in ministry to address how to avoid burnout.
This was the 12th year that the team at Mclean has hosted the summit and once again it was a great time of encouragement, equipping, and fun. (And when I say “fun” – I mean I laughed so hard that my face hurt. It was good for my soul.) I highly recommend you mark your calendars to join us there next year April 19th – 20th.
As I think about the good conversation and networking that took place I find myself reflecting on my inclusion ministry journey. It was six years ago that I first attended the summit and I can honestly say that I would not be where I am today if not for the kindness , wisdom, and encouragement that I have received from the friends and colleagues I have met there. I am, without a doubt, a better pastor as a result. My ministry took off exponentially after connecting with these great leaders.
At the time I attended my first summit I had been doing inclusion ministry for several years, and often felt like I was alone. Though I ministered with some incredible leaders and an army of amazing volunteers I often found that there were few others in ministry who shared my passion and call to seek out and serve those affected by disability. The summit was, and still is a bit of a “homecoming” for me each year. It’s a great time to collaborate and connect with others who are on the front lines of ministry; their hearts broken for the same things mine is.
As a presenter I enjoy the litany of questions that come my way from those just beginning their ministry journey. These questions give great insight to what questions the “church” is asking about inclusion and remind me of many of the challenges I have faced over the years. Here are some of my thoughts for those of you entering into the realm of inclusion.
1) You are not alone. Often this ministry can feel like an uphill climb, but be encouraged. There are hundreds of ministry leaders who have had great success building thriving disability ministries in churches all over the country. Make networking a priority. The Body of Christ was designed to work together so broaden your ministry horizons and seek out others who are actively engaged in inclusion ministry and learn from one another.
2) You don’t have to be an “expert”. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “but I’m not a special education teacher” or “I don’t even know someone with a disability”. The old adage “God doesn’t call the equipped; he equips the called” rings true in this situation. Don’t be intimidated. The single most important thing you need for this ministry is to love God and love people; the rest is just details and there are lots of us who can help you fill in the gaps between what you know and what you need to know.
3) Never stop learning. Become a student of disability. Read as much as you can to gain better insight into the lives of those affected by disability. There are countless books and blogs out there with great information to get you started. Just be sure to be discerning when it comes to the internet. Seek to learn from those who have been in ministry, or work directly with the population you wish to serve (in this case those with disabilities). Carefully choose your ‘online advisory team’ by identifying experienced practitioners.
4) Get involved! If you’re just beginning this journey I highly recommend volunteering with a local community group or agency that serves this population. This will give you great experience and invaluable relationships that can benefit your ministry as it grows. Not to mention the evangelism opportunities you will have along the way.
5) Slow and steady wins the race. It’s easy to get overwhelmed as you think about all the things you want to do (or feel called to do) in ministry. But if you want your ministry to thrive rather than just survive be sure to pace yourself. If you push too hard too fast you will burn out and so will your volunteers. And nobody wants that. (except the enemy and frankly I make it a priority to irritate him as much as I can)
6) Without vision the people will perish – Proverbs 29:18. Be a visionary. You need to paint a picture for your team that is so clear they can see it. Vision is a catalyst that spurs people to action. Be intentional about casting the vision and keeping it at the forefront of your ministry.
7) Focus on ONE thing. One of the kids in my ministry use to love to tell me this joke. He would say “Harmony, how do you eat an elephant?” And I would say “I don’t know Mitch. How do you eat an elephant?” His answer? One bite at a time. He was clearly wise beyond his years. It is important to establish a ministry vision and a plan but don’t be overwhelmed by it. Focus on one item at a time and before you know it you will have executed the plan and your ministry will be better for it. Just take it “one bite at a time”.
8) Pray. Pray again. Then pray some more. Rinse. Repeat. Don’t forget to seek God in every aspect of your life and your ministry. The enemy loves to distract us with the busy-ness of the world, but keep yourself grounded in prayer and you will see your vision come to life.
9) Tell better stories. Though the statistics on disability are certainly compelling they don’t capture the hearts of most people. Jesus understood this all too well. He was a master story teller. Follow his example and tell the story of the people you are serving and those who you hope to reach. Stories change everything. They break hearts, encourage weary volunteers, call people to action, reinforce vision, and celebrate what God is doing.
10) Live in community. God never meant for any of us to do this alone. You are a part of the royal priesthood. Lean in. Invest and be invested in. It’s a great adventure and its one not meant to be traveled alone. Build a team and do life together. Not sure what that looks like? Acts 2:42 gives you a pretty good picture. Be in the word, pray together, eat together, hang out together. Change the world. Together.
I love that Mclean calls their conference the “summit”. It makes me think of mountain climbing, which isn’t all that different from ministry. Mountain climbing is hard and so is ministry. But that never stopped anyone from tackling Mt. Everest or prevented a missionary from venturing out into the unknown to respond to the call God placed on their heart.
In mountain climbing the summit is the top of the mountain. There are lots of ways to climb the mountain. Some parts are more difficult than others. But the end result is the same. An incredible perspective. A great view.
Ministry isn’t all that different. The summit can be a place where ministry leaders who have faced the same challenges you are staring down can share with you their experience, their perspective, their view. Get to know those who have climbed this mountain before you. Each of them will have different perspective and different thoughts. But all of them have great wisdom to share. There are limitless paths that lead to the summit. And there is wisdom from every vantage point.
If you share a passion to love people with disabilities into relationship with Jesus then our team at Key Ministry would love to hear from you. I’m sure there are lots of things we could learn from one another to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds”. (Sounds pretty biblical huh?)
Here’s to changing the world….