Denis and I had the privilege of attending a Joni and Friends training summit in Pasadena, CA along with 6 other folks from our church this past weekend. We went to learn from people in other churches who already have more mature disability ministry programs up and running. The days were full of different workshops with a variety of topics, so we took a "divide and conquer" strategy. These are some of the take home points for me:
- People with disabilities need the church - they need to be told that God loves them, Jesus understands their pain and that hope is only found in Him.
- The church needs people with disabilities - people who have been to the end of themselves, looked suffering and self-pity in the face and learned the long-suffering patience of putting their faith in God have a powerful testimony that we all need to be exposed to. Not only that, but we need the opportunity to give without being repaid. I don't think I really had a vision of this until one of the workshops about ministering to adults with disabilities. Sometimes, it may not be as much about the people we serve getting so much out of it from our perspective, but that we can put ourselves aside without earthly reward.
- We are VERY blessed that our pastor is the one who initiated our disability ministry. Most of the attendees were struggling to get their church's attention on the need for a disability focus. They were very envious of our position. Our church is already leaps and bounds ahead of some because our pastor is enthusiastically promoting it from the pulpit.
- It's not necessary to have all the answers or programs in place to get started - most of the mature programs started with just meeting a couple of needs as they arose, then growing from there.
- "Disability Ministry" doesn't have to be hard and intimidating. It's good to provide low-commitment opportunities for people to get involved. It's contagious and the desire to be involved will spread.
The icing on the cake was getting to hear Joni Eareckson-Tada speak in the closing session. I've admired her for many years. What a blessing!