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Shepherding Other Sheep

BY DAN PIANTINE

Forty-three million people with disabilities make up 17 percent of the United States population. It is time for the church to meet the rising challenges to include them in places of worship.

Only 5 percent of churches worldwide have an outreach for people with disabilities, while one out of five families is affected by a disability. These people have needs only the church is capable of meeting, despite government legislation and numerous social programs.

A biblical philosophy of acceptance of all people and God’s desire to see them saved, is critical to developing a ministry to the disabled. However, many church leaders have little experience or knowledge in working with the disabled; 92 percent know nothing of disability services or programs. To begin personally ministering in this area, church leaders must heighten their awareness and increase their knowledge about disabilities.

As disability increasingly occurs within our society, church leaders must answer this challenge by personally ministering to people with disabilities and their families. This can only be done with a heart of compassion and making this an integral part of the pastor’s prayer life. Having a compassionate heart is necessary when moving out of a traditional climate. It moves a leader toward action and alleviates many fears.

The following are suggestions on how to make ministries to persons with disabilities an integral part of the church:

* Study the Scriptures that particularly show how Christ viewed and ministered to those with disabilities.

* From the pulpit emphasize ministries to the disabled.

* Read current publications, documents, and books on the subject of disability.

* Attempt to reverse existing attitudinal barriers.

* Survey architectural barriers that prevent persons with disabilities from being mainstreamed into the life of the church body. Remove the barriers.

* Form a relationship with someone with a disability to gain firsthand knowledge and practical experience about the needs of the disabled in the community.

* Visit members and their families who are challenged by a disability. Assist in fulfilling the needs of the person and family.

* Make available in the church’s resource center/library information, books, tapes, magazines, and videos regarding disabilities.

* Be aware of the resources, agencies, and government/social programs available for persons with disabilities and their families.

Statistics prove the need is there. Scripture shows us the church is responsible to meet the need. It is not a matter of being called into this area of ministry; rather, it is the responsibility of the Christian community to fulfill Christ’s commission to the church: "Preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15, KJV).

If ministry leaders realize how important their role is within a church’s outreach to people with disabilities, then God will undergird this responsibility with His strength. (See John 10:16.)

*Scripture quotations are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.