A Philosophical Shift to Disability Ministry (Part 2 of 5)

Growing up at First Christian Church in Canton, Ohio, there was a culture of competition fueled
by our Bible Bowl program. This program was a Bible-based academic challenge, and it was a
big part of my life through my teen years until I decided to leave the program to focus on high
school sports.

After leaving the Bible Bowl program, a young man named Ken started to shoot up through the
ranks at First Christian. He was supremely confident in his abilities and wasn’t afraid to show it.
Because of his recent victories, he began to brag that he was the best. I was so annoyed by his
prideful attitude that I approached him and challenged him to compete with me at the
upcoming round robin tournament only one week away.

Ken had been studying for months, and I only had one week to prepare. But, I was motivated to
put this bragger in his place. My motivation pushed me to study around the clock as I prepared
for the competition.

The day of the tournament arrived and the competition was good. But, by the end of the day I
had defeated Ken and his team twice—each time with a wide margin.

Motivation can drive you to do remarkable things… even if the motivation isn’t pure.
When someone says, “I’m going to start a ministry ‘for’ people affected by disabilities,” you
know there is a certain motivation behind it. Or if you hear someone say, “We minister ‘to’
people affected by disabilities,” you can get guess what their philosophical approach is.
Motivation and philosophy are closely connected.

Remember what philosophy is? I would define philosophy like this—it is our approach to why
we do what we do.

Motivation is what drives us to accomplish the things that we must do or want to do.
When we look at why individuals, organizations, or churches get into disability ministry there is
always a motivation that drives them.

The philosophical approaches of ministry “to” or “for” people affected by disability are very
similar and are probably not driven by a proper motivation.

When we create a disability ministry and set it up to minister “to” people affected by
disabilities, we tend to objectify them. They have become the objects of our ministry efforts.
When we create a disability ministry “for” people affected by disability we might believe in an
“Us vs. Them” mentality where they are somehow less than us because they need our help. No
one wants to be viewed as less than.

These approaches to ministry are often fueled by an improper motivation—most commonly
pity or guilt. Sadly, many amazing ministry leaders may have gotten into the field of disability
ministry because of this sense of guilt or pity.

Doing ministry “to” or “for” people affected by disability tends to have similar characteristics.
First, they are likely focused on the disability rather than the ability. Second, these ministries
are often program or event driven. Third, there tends to be a lack of personal connection
between those doing the ministry and those who are the objects of the ministry efforts. In a
nutshell, the personal relationship aspect of ministry is missing.

After considering these approaches to ministry, I want to add a disclaimer: people who take
these approaches to ministry are not bad people. They are often wonderful people that may
simply need to shift their philosophy and motivation. At the end of the day we need to
recognize that our churches are made up of broken people, ourselves included. Rather than
being upset by those who take a less than perfect approach to ministry, we should be patient
with them and help them see that there is a different, better, way.

(Blog first posted on The Irresistible Church, http://irresistiblechurch.org/)