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disabled Christianity

Discussion of issues related to Christianity/theology and persons with disability, and disability ministry hosted by Jeff McNair, a Special Education professor. Jeff and his wife Kathi have been involved in ministry with adults with intellectual disabili

Updated: 2018-04-21T23:12:43.380-07:00


Sin and social skills - (Edited Repost)


TUESDAY, AUGUST 21, 2007Sin and social skillsSo, a person with a intellectual, emotional, or mental disability approaches you. He stands too close to your face. He asks you questions that you think are inappropriate. He touches you too much. He doesn't get your hint that you are feeling uncomfortable. He doesn't understand your language indicating that you want to end the conversation. He will not let the conversation end. Finally you break away. When you get with a friend, you comment, "That guy is weird. He's a mess. He doesn't get it at all, he was like standing too close and touching me and couldn't take a hint."The question is...who just committed the sin?He doesn't get it, you do.He is flailing around in attempting to be loving and friendly. You aren't nor do you want to be loving or friendly.He will talk about you as his friend. You talk about him as weird and how he doesn't get it.He will look forward to a chance to talk with you again. You will avoid him in the future.He will give you all the time he has. You will give time only out of some feeling of guilt.So who is committing the sin?It is amazing what we, what I, will do or think about a person just because their social skills are not all they should be. The person is not being evil, the person is not doing wrong, the person just doesn't understand many of what are truly the subtleties of social skills. My response is to reject him and perhaps 90% of my friends and 90% of church members would probably agree with my rejection of him. We as the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, condone, understand, accept, advocate, discuss, follow through on rejection of people with various disabilities because of their social skills.May God forgive us.Yet as I approach the Lord, of course  my social skills are flawless. To the Lord, interacting with me is no doubt "a day at the beach!" How fortunate for him that he is able to be in my presence (being the Lord, and being omnipresent, he kinda doesn't have a choice but to be in my presence). I am confident that the three persons of the trinity do not huddle together and say to each other, "McNair is weird." But you know, in reality God's interactions with me, and my prayers to Him are "a day at the beach" because the Lord loves me. He loves me not because I am "a day at the beach" but because out of his love he has chosen to make interactions with me "a day at the beach." He has chosen to make me feel like I am "a day at the beach! " In spite of all my problems, my sins, my poor social skills, my pride, the crap that is in me and circles me like flies because of the choices I have made, HE LOVES ME! You see that is the example he provides. He shows me, ME, as the example of loving someone who is difficult to love, and then He loves me.Do you think he cares about the social skills of the person who bothers you? Please! No, he treats him like he is "a day at the beach" just as much as he does to me.So do you get it? Social skills deficits are not sin. If I reject another on the basis of social skills, that is sin and I am the sinner. We, I, need to learn about love. True love is not easy. It is messy and inconvenient. It makes you feel uncomfortable. It makes demands on you. I pray that when I am put to the test, when God asks me to show real love to another human being, I will not be worrying about that person's social skills. I hope my concern will be whether I am reflecting the kind of Love that God shows to me. I pray that I will be worried about the sin I am tempted to commit by rejecting another person who God truly loves.McNair[...]

The Senior men's class visit


Every year on Easter, just to experience something different I like to go to a different church. I found one not too far away and thought I would try it out. As I walked up to the building, I was greeted enthusiastically by a woman.“We are so happy you are here!”“Thank you” I responded.“Have you been to this church before?”“No, I go to a different church and thought I would just visit yours today.”“Well we have a perfect place for people like you! You will have the opportunity to meet and make many new friends.”I looked at her quizzically and said ‘”OK. Great.”“There is a special place for folks like you to sit in big church. It is in a section over there” where she pointed to other 60ish men sitting together.As I looked around, I saw lots of people sitting and talking waiting for the service to begin in the main area of the sanctuary. But I followed directions and moved toward the area populated by men with grey hair (those that had hair) who were a similar age to me.She accompanied me and got me situated. “After the singing, you will go out to your class with the other men.”“My class?” I asked.“Yes the class for people like you.”“Like me? What do you mean, like me? Couldn’t I just stay here and listen to the sermon? I’d be happy to sit with the other people if that would not be too much of a distraction.”“Oh no!” she responded happily, “you will be happier with the way we have everything ready for you and the others.”As I looked around, the others smiled at me and back at her. With that she moved away.A guy sitting behind me tapped me with his iphone. “After the singing, we can go to the class and color pictures of Jesus while we are waiting for everyone to arrive. Last week we made popsicle crosses.”“What? Why do you guys color pictures of Jesus?” I asked. “I’ve never been to a church where I was given pictures of Jesus to color.”“I guess it has to do with the way they see you here.  You’ll get used to it after a while.”The service started and the other men and I participated in the singing and bowed our heads for the prayer. As the sermon was about to start, the friendly woman came back and said, “OK guys time to follow me.” They all got up so I did too. People waved to us as we exited and went to a classroom where colored pencils and pictures, more like cartoon pictures, awaited us. The other men sat down and immediately started to color.As I looked around the room, I saw a friend of mine who was a high school math teacher named James. “Hey James, how long have you been coming to this church?”“For a little over a year. I’ve gotten good at the coloring. My wife likes putting the pictures on the refrigerator.”I looked at him and kind of shook my head, but shortly he was back at coloring.The teacher came in. “I want to talk about work today. How many of you have jobs?”Everyone’s hand went up including my own. I’m a professor.She turned to Bob a couple of seats down from me, his hand raised.“What kind of work do you do Bob?”“I work at a marketing firm which specializes in commercial real estate.”“Good for you!” she responded. “That’s wonderful! Commercial real estate is VERY special. How about you, Sam?”Sam was sitting right next to me.“I’m a police officer.”“Do you ever get to work with the animals? I bet that would be fun.”“No, I do more traffic enforcement.”"Cars go so fast. Please be careful out there!”“Thanks, I will.”As I sat there, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and seeing.“We are going to have a snack shortly. You will be able to choose the kind of cookie you would like.”As she turned away, I grabbed Sam. “What is this?”“What do you mean?” he replied.“This class, the things you do, the way she talks to you. How do you stand it?”“Isn’t this the way all Sunday school classes for senior men are like?”Agitated, I responded, “NO, it’s not the way all Sunday School classes for senior men are like!”“Really? It is[...]

Two stories about Jesus, healing, and disability


There are two particularly interesting passages related to Jesus' healings in the Gospels. They seem to reveal at least an aspect of His perspective on persons with disabilities.

The first is Mark 10:46-50. This is the story of Bartimaeus a man who was blind. We are told that when Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was passing by, he began to shout "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus tells his followers to call him. When he came to Jesus, He asked him, "What do you want me to do for you?" That is an interesting question from Jesus. Because He had healed people, everyone in the crowd knew what the man wanted, no doubt including Jesus, yet he asks the question. Now we learn later after Bartimaeus says, "Rabbi, I want to see" that Jesus tells him, "Go, your faith has healed you" meaning that he was a man of faith. This is critical. A man who already has faith in Jesus, comes to him asking for mercy. Perhaps Jesus sees that he already has the most important thing, his faith, and that is why he asks what he wants.

In contrast, we can look at Mark 2:1-12 the story of the paralytic who is lowered through the roof. Interestingly, the passage says in verse 5, "When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, 'Son, your sins are forgiven.'" He doesn't comment on the paralytic's faith as the reason for the forgiveness of his sins but rather on the faith of those who brought him. This raises many questions about this interaction and how it occurred. Did his friends just take him or did he want to see Jesus? Clearly the friends were men of faith. But Jesus doesn't ask him or his friends what he wants. He sees their faith and says to him your sins are forgiven. Now once again, it seems obvious, perhaps, why his friends brought him to Jesus. Maybe they were trying to develop his faith, but more likely they wanted Jesus to heal him of his paraplegia. The healing itself also appears to be the result of the thoughts of the teachers of the law who were present questioning Jesus' authority, not specifically because of the man or his friends. It is also noteworthy that the man once healed later in the story, doesn't say anything. He just got up, took his mat and walked out.

In both of these stories of interactions between Jesus and a person with a disability, it appears that LIKE ANYONE ELSE, the critical factor is their faith.


Mental Health and the Church


I have just completed reading Dr. Steve Grcevich's new book Mental Health and Church. In a nutshell, I highly recommend it for any reader. Steve takes his incredible wealth of knowledge and experience as a child and adolescent psychiatrist and applies it to the Christian community. The book is so practical and takes the mystique out of the question of "What do I do?" in relation to inclusion and ministry with persons with mental illness.

I particularly enjoyed Part 2 where he helps the average person to "overcome" in a variety of areas leading to an inclusion strategy. But chapters 10, 11 and 12 really grabbed me. As chapter 12 exhorts, we have some apologizing to do to those we have excluded before we can ask them to trust us to the point of being among us.  Chapter 11 points out the hardship of social isolation while at the same time providing, dare I say obvious or intuitive ways, we can assist people to not be socially isolated. The ways are obvious but they are things we are NOT currently doing, so perhaps they are not as obvious to most. Then chapter 10 speaks of developing friendships among other great suggestions.

I walked away from Part 2 feeling like there can be no excuses for not taking the next steps toward an inclusion strategy. Steve, once again, removes the "I don't know what to do" excuse and replaces it with so many great ideas.


Leading social change


I was reviewing an article I wrote with Jennifer Baca that was published in 2013. In that piece, we comment on an article by Hutchinson published in 1990. The author describes six new roles for professionals in human services. Here is how we translated those proposed roles.
"A 1990 paper by Hutchison proposed six new roles for professionals in human services.
First, formal services should recognize their limitations for relationship development and rely more on connecting people with informal community groups.
Second, rely less on getting people into programs exclusively for persons with disabilities which rarely lead to development of community relationships.
Third, traditional volunteer programs should be evaluated and changed to be better vehicles for friendship development.
Fourth, attempt to develop more reliance on community members for “services” rather than being completely reliant on paid services.
Fifth, remove segregation in services such that there would be enhanced possibilities of participation with community members.
Sixth, recognize the limitations of human service professionals to actually facilitate friendships, looking instead to age peers, community members with common interests, and others who are already community-connected.
McNair (2008) described the church as playing the role described by Hutchison (1990) in the community. Human service workers would be wise to consider employing churches in their efforts to develop friendships for their clients."
(Baca & McNair, 2013 based on Hutchinson, 1990)

The church offers so much potential for facilitating microcosms of social change, reflecting the direction and vision we have for the larger society in the future. As we embrace inclusion of persons with disabilities in the Christian community, we have the incredible opportunity to demonstrate the way things should be. We can do the six things listed above. We have the potential to not just be relevant in the societal change that inclusion would bring, we could be the leaders.  We should be the leaders!


Hutchison, B. (1990). A qualitative study of the friendships of people with disabilities. In B. J. A. Smale (Ed.), Leisure challenges: Bringing people, resources and policy into play. Proceedings of the Sixth Canadian Congress on Leisure Research, May 9-12, 1990. Ontario, Canada: Ontario Research Council on Leisure. Retrieved from 

New curriculum on Romans from The Light & Power Company


As many readers of this blog will know, I have taught an adult Bible class at my church on Sunday mornings for the past 27 years. This class is somewhat unique in that it includes adults with various disabilities. I have collected those lessons and at times have made some of them available on the internet.  We are now in the process of publishing the lessons in a series of volumes. This second volume is devoted to the book of Romans. It contains 35 lessons. These lessons were developed, then taught, then revised, then taught again, then revised again. It is now available on Amazon. This Romans curriculum accompanies volume 1 which we published last year on the Psalms. Here are links to the two curricula.

If you have followed this blog over the years, you will know that Kathi and I have a very specific approach which is age appropriate treating adults with the respect they are entitled to. The material covered in these lessons are the same types of concepts you would teach any group of adults. 

There are also videos to accompany the curricula. You will be able to see how I teach some of the lessons.  A link to a 360' video from the Psalms curriculum is available here. You go to this site and then there is a link there with a description of the video.

So please take a look a the curriculum. It might be useful to you in your ministry.

Social skill deficits in people without disabilities


In an article published by Wallin (2004) he discussed categories of social skill deficits, in particular related to the experience of ASD. His categories were

Social indifference
Social avoidance
Social awkwardness

As I thought about those categories, it reminded me not of autism but of those without disabilities in their interactions with those who do have some form of impairment. If you think about it, people without disabilities have social skill deficits in the way they interact with persons with disabilities.

Perhaps at first they are socially indifferent. Maybe they really don't know about persons with disabilities. Because they don't know they are kind of indifferent, not really caring one way or another. But then something happens in their lives where they are confronted with the reality of the experience of disability. Because they are inexperienced or scared or just don't want to be bothered, they then move into social avoidance. They know, but they avoid any involvement. Ultimately, perhaps they cannot avoid interactions with someone with a disability so they move into a phase of social awkwardness. As we have discussed elsewhere in this blog, if I am in a situation with someone with a disability and it is socially awkward, chances are, I am the one bringing the awkwardness to the situation. See  "I bring awkwardness to the situation."The person with the disability is fine. Those three areas are where Wallin left off, and he once again was talking about social skill deficits. But these social skill deficits in those without disabilities may indeed be a progression and perhaps they lead to a fourth category, social involvement. I care now. I want relationship now. I am involved now.

So perhaps it is a progression from indifference to avoidance to awkwardness to involvement. Are you on this progression? Work through YOUR awkwardness and find your way to involvement. People with disabilities are just people. Maybe if you choose one of them as your friend, that person will choose you back.

"Maturity is increased depth of relationship"


"Maturity is increased depth of relationship" is how my friend Bryan McKinney phrased this thought. Hopefully we are all interested in maturing in our ministries whoever the focus might be. For their to be increased depth of relationship, there must be a definitive discussion on the part of those in relationship to commit to relationship and depth thereof. Maturity implies change. If it is maturity, the changes are the changes that bring relational depth. Maturity implies change.

What then are things that lead to relational depth and thereby maturity?
Time given freely, in seeking the good of others and finding out what that good is. "I didn't know" implies the potential for growth in maturity.
Knowledge of someone, who they are, what they need, what they can contribute and then facilitating that contribution.
Commitment, in that one is in the relationship through good and difficult times, embracing the changes that one needs to make in themselves in order to make relationship work.
Resources dedicated to depth of or deepening relationships, recognizing and embracing  personal cost.
Sacrifice in the willingness and conviction to give one's life for another as Christ did for us (Phil 2:1-11).
Vision for others as an aspect of spiritual maturity for all believers independent of personal characteristics (Colossians 1:28-29).
Desire for relationship and depth in relationships too.

The word increased, implies movement toward an objective that has no point of achievement or arrival. We are constantly striving, seeking betterment, seeking improvement, seeking intimacy, and constantly striving.

How does change occur? It comes through awareness intentionally, unafraid of change and of being changed, knowing Biblical plans and God's plan moving toward a vision. Knowing where you currently are so you can move forward toward a Biblical understanding of relationship among all people. Being reflective about relationship is a critical aspect of change. Intentional shepherding and care of everyone, not just from the leadership, but the responsibility of all towards all.

Some of these aspects of maturity might seem a bit redundant, but it is like a multifaceted stone that you turn around and around looking at the same thing in different ways, sometimes perhaps feeling like it's the same thing but actually revealing different facets of the the stone.


Be a thought leader


The term "thought leader" has come into vogue and is often used to describe someone who is providing leadership in the way that people think about things. If you search the term, there are lots of ideas or recommendations about how you can be a thought leader in your particular area of expertise.

In the area of disability ministry, if you are attempting to lead the ministry of a local church, you must do the work to become a thought leader. You need to understand the why of what you do. If someone were to ask you a question, you must have a response that indicates that you have thought it through. If you are unsure of how to respond to a particular question, it could mean that you have more investigation to do. Not every question has an answer, but if you want to lead others in the changes that ministry to persons with disabilities will bring, you need to have a response. And there are people available who will give you input about how to answer specific questions if you will only ask.

People don't know what to do when it comes to including persons with disabilities in the church. Sometimes because they haven't thought through the issues sufficiently, they can lead a group of people in an entirely wrong direction. I would argue that segregated ministries reveal a lack of thought. I would argue that age inappropriate ministry reveals a lack of thought.

We may have a vision that is not entirely attainable at the moment. I do! But we still must work toward the changes that need to come to achieve that vision. Sometimes thoughts lead behavior and sometimes behavior leads thought. I might tell you something that can influence your behavior. But I might also give you an experience that will change your thoughts and behavior.

I have mentioned before in this blog how I bring adult friends with intellectual disabilities to some of my university classes. I interview them briefly and then just facilitate my students having a meal and conversation with the folks. At the end of the evening they tell me how so many of their preconceived ideas were changed just with a friendly interaction over a meal. No scripted questions, nothing orchestrated other than people chatting together over a meal. This is just one way to provide thought leadership without a sermon or list of readings. If you understand the ways that change can occur, you facilitate those ways. But once again, questions will come back to you and you need to have done the requisite work to respond in a way that guides people. That is thought leadership.


Universal mature ministry criteria


I was in a meeting the other day where the topic of ministry maturity came up. One comment was made that each church is so different there could not be criteria across all churches. I was just listening into the meeting so didn't comment, but nothing could be further from the truth. Just to prove that point, here are a list of some criteria I came up with, just off the top of my head, that would be applicable to any church, that they could use to measure their own ministry's growth toward maturity. These could also apply to one's church generally.

Maturity criteria
  1. Friendships developed with persons with disabilities
  2. Persons with disabilities present in all church social activities
  3. Persons with disabilities present in the regular worship service
  4. Persons with disabilities present in men’s groups, women’s groups, senior’s groups, etc.
  5. Pastor addressed issues related to disability from the pulpit
  6. Persons with disabilities integrated into regular Sunday School classes – children and adult
  7. Persons with disabilities sought out and invited to church – children and adults
  8. Church membership offered to persons with disabilities
  9. Integrated ministry which includes persons with disabilities
  10. Persons with disabilities provided opportunities for service (greeters, children’s ministry, security, etc.)
  11. Persons with disabilities are in leadership
  12. Homes where persons with disabilities live are visited
  13. Church network supports persons with disabilities with employment opportunities
  14. Church network supports persons with disabilities with living opportunities
  15. Persons with disabilities invited to recreational opportunities (ball games, concerts, etc.)
  16. Church culture changes such that persons with disabilities experience integration
  17. Church reflects on traditions to determine whether they are discriminatory towards persons with disabilities
  18. Helps ministries developed for persons with disabilities living in poverty
  19. Parents of persons with disabilities are offered respite on a personal level
  20. Persons with disabilities are invited to family activities like Thanksgiving dinner or children’s Halloween activities as adult observer
  21. How a persons with disabilities is doing in her personal life (friendships, finances, other needs) is known and addressed.
These are only a start, but EVERY church could be engaged in growing in these areas.


We are not teaching our pastors/leaders what to do


I have visited and read about many different ministries for persons with various disabilities. Often these ministries are not integrated. That is, they are separate from the larger congregation. They do their own thing almost entirely separate from the rest of the church. Occasionally representatives from the ministry will perform a song or intersect with the congregation in ways that are comfortable for the congregation. I could write another whole post about these opportunities which have a large downside. The ministries themselves do good work in attempting to help those with various disabilities come to understand the things of the Lord related to the plan of salvation, Bible memorization and Christian behavior. All of these are good things. But as I look on these kinds of ministries it is clear to me that they are not fully addressing what disability is. Disability is not just something housed in individuals who have some type of impairment. It is also a characteristic of the environment. It is also a form of discrimination. But I don't think that leaders of ministries or church leaders/pastors understand this.

I had an interesting conversation with a church leader recently. In that conversation it became clear that aspects of disability ministry aimed at changing the culture of the church in terms of its acceptance of persons with disabilities down to simple things like trying to facilitate their being chosen as friends was not something that she had thought about. She was about sharing the Gospel, and helping those with disabilities to come to faith in Jesus; both really good things. However, the response of the congregation to those with disabilities in terms of loving and accepting them wasn't something she had really thought about. When I shared about the social isolation often experienced because people are not chosen as friends, it caused her to pause as if this was a revelation. Almost as if this was not something that should or could be expected of people. Do you get that? The expectation from the leader was that there would not be social interaction between those with and without impairments. Perhaps we in ministry have taught congregations and leaders that fact by the way we have designed ministries, or perhaps our ministries reflect the fact that we have bought that lie. Either way, we cannot continue to do ministry in that way. We need to choose a different path that will no doubt lead to confrontation if only in a confrontation of perspectives.

We might hear things like, "I thought you wanted it this way!" reflecting the way in which we have segregated those we claim to serve.
We might hear things like, "We can't do that because that is not the way things are done!" reflecting our discriminatory traditions which we have chosen not to confront and are therefore complicit in.
We might also hear something like, "You are absolutely right. I feel like I need to come to repentance (see previous post). Can you help us to move in that direction.

Our leaders, I believe, really don't know what they should be doing in large part because we have not had the confrontive, in a positive way, conversation about the cultural change that needs to happen. Our being complicit in segregation does not facilitate the change in church culture that is desperately needed.


"I feel like I have been brought to repentance"


In my work with the Joni and Friends organization, I have been given wonderful opportunities to travel and teach about disability, ministry to and with persons with disabilities and the Bible and theology as it relates to disability. In most situations the folks are like the proverbial "deer in the headlights." They have lived their lives as Christians, attending church, perhaps attending Bible college or seminary. But, sadly, they have not heard the kinds of things we share.

This past Spring in Singapore, we were hosted by a wonderful pastor. Brilliant young man with a heart for those with disabilities, but no real training in the area. He described himself as a kindergartner when it came to these issues. He attended all the sessions, even doing some himself. He remarked that to him it now seems that most of the Bible is talking about perhaps disability, if not devaluation of persons. At the close of the conference, he said "I feel like I have been brought to repentance." He related that it was like he was doing something wrong but he didn't know he was. But now he understands and hence the desire to repent.

Later during the Summer, we spoke to leaders for World Vision's WASH program (a really wonderful program, look it up!) from 7 countries in Southern Africa. The leaders were pastors, WV country directors, state agency workers and folks with disabilities. We shared similar information to that that which we did in Singapore. When a time for feedback was provided to the leaders, one man, a wonderful, older pastor said, "I feel like I have been brought to repentance." The exact words we had heard in Singapore. He related many of the same observations as did others in the group that people related to the information in Singapore. Once again it was so exciting to be a part of this.

I have had similar experience to these in other places in the world. A powerful one was once in Ethiopia. I shared about how the church has excluded people. The translator translated, I then said "God forgive us!" She translated, then the 100 pastors and leaders in the audience boomed out "GOD FORGIVE US!"  It was an incredibly powerful moment.

I hope the same kinds of feelings are happening in the US. I have often said that the starting point for disability ministry is repentance. We begin by going to people and asking for forgiveness for how we have treated them, how we have excluded or segregated them. After that, we can ask if they will be involved in ministry with us.

Finally, I once spoke at a conference in Melbourne, Australia. It was a group of about a hundred folks. Wonderful people and a challenging time. In the midst of one presentation, I said,
"I really have no right to say this to you, but I would like to apologize to any of you who might have been excluded or not treated as you should have been because of disability. Please forgive us."
Immediately there was this woman who just started crying and weeping uncontrollably. Once she regained her composure a bit she said, "I have been waiting for this!  I have been waiting for this apology!"

A true Biblical understanding of people, particularly people who have been devalued even unintentionally, should bring us to repentance.


Woman removed from her social network by a caseworker


Well it happened again...
A woman who attended our Light & Power Company ministry, living in a local group home was moved by her case worker to a different group home about 20 miles away. The woman who was moved was very sweet and very connected to a variety of people at church. I have mentioned her in the past in this blog as someone who I could count on to pray for me. Although she had severe intellectual disabilities, we were beginning to teach her to use her gifts of praying which brought her great delight.

When we asked the group home owner why she moved, the response was basically just that her caseworker decided to move her to a different home in another city. I will be attempting to contact the caseworker to inform her that if she was actually interested in the welfare of those she claims to serve, she should take notice of the social supports someone has developed rather than just unilaterally moving someone.

This happened once before to a dear friend who was moved to a different apartment. His caseworker once again just moved him without any effort to interact with his social network in the community or the church. He was cut off from people who loved him and enjoyed being with him. For him to interact with those folks changed from a walk down the street to a long walk to public transportation leading to several hours of travel if he wanted to meet with friends.

If you are a social worker or some other caseworker for persons with disabilities who are attending a church, you should talk to the people in the social network. Persons with intellectual disabilities like my friend who just moved can be very easily led but those who really know them will have a better understanding of their likes and dislikes.  The gal who was moved loved going to church, loved the women's activities she participated in as well as the other parties and activities we facilitate with our group. I am confident in her new placement there will none of these options if only because of the somewhat limited opportunities for persons with severe disabilities to attend church. I am confident she will experience the social isolation that comes from living in a typical group home.

This points out potential problems with human services where they can be absolutely out of touch with the social network benefits of church participation. Church participation should actually be a significant aspect of what they are trying to facilitate in the lives of persons with disabilities rather than short circuiting it as was done in this case.


"Guard dogs who cannot bark"


Dr. Timothy S. Laniak's While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks: Forty daily reflections on Biblical leadership is a wonderful resource, using the world of shepherding as the metaphor for understanding leadership. One of the reflections I particularly liked is entitled "Dogs." Here is an excerpt from that section which is particularly relevant to our work in facilitating the inclusion of persons with disabilities in local churches.  It begins by quoting Isaiah 56:10.

Isaiah 56:10 "Israel's watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are all mute dogs, they cannot bark."

"Israel's watchmen are "all mute dogs that cannot bark." While the prophet's condemnation of a particular generation of leaders is negative, he presumes a positive role for spiritual watchdogs. Perhaps Isaiah had in mind the ruling elite here, but the metaphor of a guard is especially suited to prophets. Ezekiel, for example was appointed explicitly as a "watchman for the house of Israel." Prophets were heralds of coming judgment, sounding an alarm when the community drifted from its covenant obligations. They "barked" when they sensed danger. Though typically unpopular, prophets told the truth about the present and the future. In contrast, false prophets were more interested in popularity and superficial peacekeeping. They slept while danger approached.
...I've reflected often about the marginal role of prophetic watchdogs, perhaps because I've found myself sounding a continuous warning that others decided was misplaced. They saw peace and I saw trouble. But I've also ignored dogs whose warnings were grounded in irrefutable facts; the truth was just too inconvenient. God gifts the church with prophets who "see what's coming," but I'm afraid the majority of us resist the caution and tire of the incessant yapping. History has exposed a church slow in responding to warnings about racism and materialism, to name just two threats.
...Has God called us to make noise about a specific issue? Has our intensity waned because of a growing reputation that we bark too much? The destiny of a prophet is to sound the alarm when necessary, and for as long as necessary. Often alone... The community cannot be left with...guard dogs who cannot bark." (p. 147-149)

Partners in ministry, many of us have been "barking" for a LONG time. For myself it seems like almost every conversation I find myself in somehow revolves into a discussion of the critical place of persons with impairments in the church and community and how they have experienced exclusion. I am confident people tire of me and that subject. But that's ok. I am responsible for my "bark" as are you. To be satisfied with the way things are when you see they are not as they should be, is to be in need of being awakened to the injustice. Have you ever wondered why you see the injustice when others do not? That question alone should make you pause. Why do you see it? I am confident that you see it because you are called to attempt to do something about what has been revealed to you. Please don't tire of your work! Keep barking!!


A Christian model of disability


People will at times attempt to understand what disability is through the construction of models. One hears of the medical or individual model, the social model or the moral model, each of which tries to explain or understand what disability is. As I have thought of these models in concert with what the Bible says about people in general and those who are devalued in some way by society because of characteristics such as impairment or disability, I have wondered what a Christian model might entail. I plan to unpack this much more, probably in the form of an article at some point soon, but I thought I would share my current thinking hoping to perhaps get some feedback from others who have been thinking about these issues. So here is my first stab at what might be called "A Christian model of disability."A Christian model of disability  - all scripture applies to all peopleThere might be 5 general aspects to be considered.The individual with impairments in relation to GodCreated in His image (Genesis 1:26)In need of salvation (Romans 3)Not the result of personal sin (John 9:3-5)Not the result of a lack of faith (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)Complete in Christ (Colossians 2:10)The individual with impairments in relation to themselvesCreated with a purpose (Exodus 4:11)Specifically created (Psalm 139:13)Evidence of the works of God (John 9:3-5)The individual with impairments in relation to the communityIndispensable and worthy of special honor (1 Corinthians 12: 22-26)God’s sovereignty for the community (1 Corinthians 12:18)Reveals neighbors (Luke 10:25-37)Reveals lack of understanding (James 2:1)To whom much is given (Luke 12:48)The community in relation to GodGod’s sovereignty for the community (1 Corinthians 12:18)No favoritism (James 2:1)Reveals wrong traditions (Mark 7:8 & 13)The community in relation with itselfThe Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-31)Love your neighbor (1 Corinthians 13:1-13)Greatest commandments (Luke 10:27)Who is not my neighbor? (Luke 10:29)Conclusions based upon the above and other passages might be...So the individual is…´ Created in the image of God´ Created with a purpose´ As they are that the works of God might be seen´ Impairments not the result of personal sin´ Impairments not due to a lack of faith´ Complete in Christ´ Seems weaker but actually indispensable´ Thought less honorable but actually worthy of special honor´ Reveals character of those aroundSo the community…´ The Body of Christ is God’s design for people´ People are the way they are under the sovereignty of God for both themselves and for the community´ Within the Body of Christ there should be no favoritism shown to one group or person over another´ If the community truly was as it should be, disability would be very different´ Inside or outside of the Christian community, everyone is a neighbor´ Should focus on relationships over programsSo God…´ Is love and loves people´ Has purpose in disability´ God makes people “deaf, dumb or blind”´ Additionally, because God is all powerful, he either causes or permits disability´ God may heal people, however, it is related to his sovereign purpose, not to someone’s faith´ Promises his grace and that it will be sufficient in difficult times´ Reveals things about himself through disability, eg. His power is made perfect in weaknessThanks for looking this over. As stated, any input would be gratefully received.McNair[...]

Disability ministry may trump other aspects of ministry


I met with a dear friend and colleague, Dr. Chris Chun yesterday. We were discussing a variety of topics when we landed on a discussion of disability ministry. As the parent of a beautiful daughter who also experiences a disability, Chris said that for his family, one of the most important if not the most important criteria for choosing a church for his family was whether there was the desire to include his daughter. That might begin with a disability ministry. Of course solid preaching and teaching are critical as is the ability to be in small groups, etc. But these things being somewhat equal across many churches, the aspect of a church life and ministry that trumps all else for many families like Chris', is the presence of persons with disabilities being served by and included in ministry.

This is the kind of observation that should cause churches and church leaders to pause. In America, nearly 20% of the population experiences some form of impairment. If you have this large a group of people (which is even larger when you consider the families of such folks) who might agree that disability ministry trumps other forms of ministry, you would think the desire to promote such ministry should move to be a significant priority.

Over the years, the pastors of my church have often told me of how often families who chose to attend Trinity Church came because of our desire to include people with disabilities or be in a church that includes persons with disabilities. Even folks of other religions, like Mormons, will at times send their family members to our church because of the opportunities presented there. People can be desperate for a place where their family member is included, loved and taught the things of the Lord. Unfortunately, that is something that is to often difficult for families to find. But when it is found, it is a truly beautiful thing!


Radically normal


We regularly have folks visit our Light & Power class which includes adults with disabilities. Recently a friend visited from Canada. After attending the class and then interviewing some class members, he indicated that there was something different about the way we did things. I asked, “What did you observe that was different?”He thought a moment and then responded, “Light & Power is radically normal. People are treated and interacted with like any other adult would be interacted with.”I embrace that characterization. Many ministries look far from normal in terms of interactions among adults. But the question to ask is, “Does this reflect who adults with disabilities actually are, or are we projecting on them who we perceive them to be?” You see, the lack of typical interactions is probably a reflection of misunderstanding of who people with disabilities are.If I had a son and raised him to act in an immature manner, that is how he would act. That is, if the culture around a person consistently and persistently indoctrinates a person to be a certain way, they will likely reflect that programmed outcome, whether that outcome is positive, appropriate or desirable.  I would argue that our culture almost relentlessly socializes people, particularly people with intellectual disabilities to be a particular way which is not necessarily a desirable way. When people then become who we have socialized them to be, we then say that is who they always were, not who they were socialized into becoming. If we believe that, then people can be socialized into becoming something different. Adults with intellectual disabilities, for example, needn’t behave or be treated in a juvenile, age inappropriate manner. Once again, if this is the case, it once again reflects the biases or perceptions of the socializer not who the people themselves were. So who are you socializing persons with disabilities to be?How are you socializing the social environment to be toward persons with disabilities?Are you reinforcing the idea that persons with disabilities are somehow different than other people?Are we reinforcing that persons with disabilities are so different that we cannot help but reinforce these perceived differences?No, my friend. We need to be radically normal in our interactions with persons with disabilities. Don’t support the pejorative perceptions about who people are that society tries to indoctrinate us into believing. Romans 12:2 really applies here.Step back and reflect and you may need to renew your mind.[...]

360' Video of lesson 8 from The Light & Power curriculum


I have long wanted to do a video of a lesson from our Light & Power company where you could view the whole class during the lesson. In that way, you would see not just what the teacher is doing, but the class as well. With the help of my son, we recently did a 360' video of a lesson. If you are unfamiliar with 360' video, that means that on your computer, you can move the perspective that you see to view anyplace in the room. If you have the youtube app on your phone, you can move it around to see the entire room as if you were there. The quality of the video is a bit lacking as you will see, but it still gives you a feel for what our class is like.

The video is of Lesson 8 which is entitled, "Praying for other people." Here is the link should you want to check it out!

Lessons from The Light & Power Company: Lesson 8 Praying for other people

I have also added the link under "video links" at the right.


New curriculum on the Psalms from The Light & Power Company


As many readers of this blog will know, I have taught an adult Bible class at my church on Sunday mornings for the past 27 years. This class is somewhat unique in that it includes adults with various disabilities. I have collected those lessons and at times have made some of them available on the internet. Well, finally I have compiled some of them into a curriculum which is now available for purchase. It is entitled, Lessons from the Light & Power Company: The Psalms. The curriculum includes 40 lessons drawn from the Book of Psalms. These lessons were developed, then taught, then revised, then taught again, then revised again over a period of about 10 years. I would invite you to visit the following link to purchase the book. It is also available on Amazon.

This is the first in what will hopefully be a series of curriculum books. If you have followed this blog over the years, you will know that Kathi and I have a very specific approach which is age appropriate treating adults with the respect they are entitled to. The material covered in these lessons are the same types of concepts you would teach any group of adults. 

Soon, there will also be some videos to accompany the curriculum. You will be able to see how I teach some of the lessons. 

So please take a look a the curriculum. It might be useful to you in your ministry.


Loving your neighbor


"The love which Paul describes goes out to our brethren and to our fellow men. "Love suffers long." This first stroke of the brush shows that we are to be given a portrait of Christian love as it finds itself amid the sins, evils, and trials of a fallen world...
Paul does not describe love to us in the role of performing great, wonderful, and astounding deeds; he prefers to show us how the inner heart of love looks when it is placed among sinful men and weak and needy brethren. He does not picture love in ideal surroundings of friendship and affection where each individual embraces and kisses the other but in the hard surroundings of a bad world and a faulty church where distressing influences bring out the positive power and value of love."
(Lenski, R.C.H. (1961). The interpretation of I and II Corinthians. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, p. 554-555).

This commentary is in relation to 1 Corinthians 13:4. To begin by saying "love suffers long" (KJV) leads to the implications made by Lenski above. If, as he says, love were in ideal surroundings, it would not suffer. However, it does suffer because of the difficult surroundings love finds itself in. So love has to be patient, love has to resist being unkind, boastful or rude. The environment would have the tendency to push it in that direction, however, it must resist. These resistances to reaction in and to a hostile environment are the successes of love. We face these challenges to love in the "sins, evils, and trials of a fallen world" as well as a "bad world and a faulty church."

Obviously the church is not perfect and will never be until redeemed by Christ himself as his bride. But we expect more from it. Perhaps we expect faulty love, but we still expect love nonetheless. But faulty love can be improved upon if we desire to improve upon it. When aspects of our faulty love are pointed out to us, one would hope our response would be more along the lines of "Thank you and I will try to respond better" than a response of "Whatever?" Sometimes the faulty love we evidence is most clearly demonstrated in our response to devalued people who have always experienced faulty relationships, faulty caring and faulty love expressed toward them as a matter of course. It is no wonder they often will not trust us when we try to be more loving toward them.

I see the lack of love in myself toward others. Anger will sometimes trump love. Comfort will sometimes trump love. Impatience will sometimes trump love. It isn't that I have refused to do something spectacular from a love perspective. No, it is more that I have refused to love more mundanely through phone calls, spending of time, being patient. My relationships with people take place in a "bad world and a faulty church." Will I contribute to continuing the bad world? Will I be the evidence that the love of the church is faulty? It seems to start with me.


Presence of persons with disabilities in the Christian community


"If nothing else, people with disabilities can at least have presence."I have written quite a bit about presence in this blog. People will say this kind of thing about others that they haven't taken the time to know, to see their gifting. There is a laziness about this statement.  But there are those with very severe disabilities for whom people having the best intentions will say the above. We say these kinds of things often because we are unable to figure out a person with a very severe disability's gifting. It is as if they are reduced to presence. Now I'm not saying that all a person has is presence, but if you think about it, it alone could be a pretty incredible thing. Particularly when you consider that it is not facilitated for them. Yes as a starting point, but perhaps more broadly, the most important thing for someone with a disability, or anyone for that matter in a church community, is presence. Presence changes things. Presence reveals things (as in the Good Samaritan). What is the thing that people with disabilities need more than anything else? Presence. What does the church need from persons with disabilities more than anything else? Their presence. Presence implies being among, being seen, being a part of something. Presence can also make demands. Perhaps in part that is why the presence of persons with disabilities is often not facilitated and at times rejected. Presence can be powerful and make demands.But what is it that is rejected when presence is denied? Arguably it is an aspect of God's own image. People rejectors are God rejectors. James 2:1 says, "My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?" (NLT). Apparently, there is a connection there. Presence of persons with disabilities is minimally a starting point because of where it leads.It leads to excluded people having their gifts discovered and expressed.It leads to changes in traditions which we have come to syncretise as part of faith or theology.It leads to changes in understanding the breadth who human beings are.In some cases, it leads to worship and other aspects of church attendance becoming more service oriented.It leads to caring and advocacy which can be demanding.We come to realize that not everyone has the same experiences in life that we do.I have often said that in my life, God's in his sovereignty has allowed me to have health, a good job, and nice place to live, a beautiful family and so on and so on. I am incredibly grateful for these blessings. But when people struggling with muscular dsytrophy, or mental illness come into my world, I learn that the way God's sovereignty is expressed in the lives of others is different from my own and demands from me  a response. Their lives are they way they are for them, but they are also the way they are for me as a fellow body member. Their presence opens my eyes to human variety and what should be the logical Christian response, human interaction. I see God being real to them in their life circumstances as he is to me in mine. They also reveal aspects of the character of God that I will not see if they are not present. So presence is not a minimal thing. It is foundational to so many things related to Christian faith for all.McNair[...]

A response to suffering


Maybe part of life is joining clubs you never wished to be a part of, 
then walking others through them too.

That is a quote from someone I once knew in response to suffering they were facing. Such a response is so incredibly difficult, but also so very incredibly wise. It helps a bit when we can get the slightest glimpse of purpose in our suffering. It is only with faith in God as a backdrop to your life that you are able to say things like the above. God brings purpose to life. Without God, there is no purpose and suffering is all pain and completely meaningless. The above is the juxtaposition of tears and trust. Trust tempers the tears. It is a juxtaposition of strength and sadness. Sadness remains, perhaps forever. But strength is provided to face the sadness. I am so grateful that this friend had the Lord Jesus in their life who gave the courage to even say the above. May God also continue to give them the strength to live it, which is the more difficult part.

The above statement is a prayer. A paraphrase might be, "Lord, by faith and in obedience I join this club of suffering, but please don't let it be without meaning. Will you use the strength that you gave me to make this statement, to also live this statement."

I am reminded of the passage from 2 Corinthians 12:9 when the Lord says to Paul, " My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Weakness can lead to statements like the above. But God's grace also brings the incredible power evidenced by such statements. It is his grace promised and then provided that shows a way through the things which debilitate us. I don't know how people face suffering without the Lord. Paul then responds by saying he will boast in his weakness. This is a much further step to take. It is saying that it is God who takes me through my weakness. I did not take myself through. God gave me strength. I did not have the strength within myself.  But please do not misunderstand. This is very hard. My suffering surrounds me but as I weep, I choose trust in God. I pray that I will choose trust in God. My strength fails me, but in complete weakness I choose to trust in God. With the little strength that is my own, supported by God's spirit, I pray to trust in God. I respond to waves of sadness that threaten to drown me, with waves of trust in my Lord.

I would say to anyone who might read this and is suffering, in a courageous act of your will call on God to show you his grace. Ask him to keep to his promise to provide grace. Ask him to walk through whatever you are facing with you. Perhaps begin with the simple prayer, "Help me!"


Talking to your church leaders about starting disability ministry


In the great book, Lead like Jesus by Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges, there are many great insights. One struck me as I was rereading it recently. On page 191-192 they state,

"Whenever we are asked to do something different in life, the change agent - whether a manager, a spouse, a parent, a sibling, a colleague, or a friend - usually starts off by attempting to convince you of all the benefits of the change you are being  asked to make. Yet it's been found that the benefits - the impact and the "why" of change - is the fourth-ranked concern people have during change. People are first interested in information concerns. "Tell me what you have in mind. What is needed? What is wrong with the way things are now?" When you have information concerns, you don't want to be sold on the change; you simply want to understand it. Next, people are interested in personal concerns. "How will doing this affect me? Do I have what it takes to integrate the suggested change in my life?" Here the focus is on the details involved in making the change a reality. Third, people have implementation concerns. "What do I do first, second, third, etc.?"

This is an important set of observations for us who who are endeavoring to facilitate change within the church. I immediately saw myself as jumping down to the number 4 concern about the impact in my interactions and I think that I would agree with the authors that that is a mistake. Just to help to see the progression, let me list the questions in order.

1-Tell me what you have in mind.
  What is needed?
  What is wrong with the way things are now?
2-How will doing this affect me?
  Do I have what it takes to integrate the suggested change in my life?
3-What do I do first, second, third, etc.?
4-Here are the benefits of the change that I am asking you to make.

Think through this progression before the next time you are attempting to influence someone about the benefits of inclusive ministry.


Definition of disability ministry


I wanted to post the following mostly to receive input from anyone who might be interested. Here is a first draft of a definition of disability ministry.

Disability Ministry

Disability ministry is the label given to efforts to address disability (definition provided in a separate document), in the Christian community.

Ministries first endeavor to create greater confidence in Jesus Christ among persons affected by disability (definition provided in a separate document) by discipling Christian individuals…

1). So that they understand what the Bible says. For those with intellectual impairments, that they comprehend at their level of understanding.

2). By teaching and modeling Christian behavior so that people can produce Christian behavior (including worship, prayer, evangelism, service, and discipleship).

3). By facilitating people’s understanding and expression of their individual gifting in loving service.

Disability ministry also works to facilitate the discipling of Christian environments…

4). To begin with repentance, recognizing that historically the Church has not always loved its neighbors with impairments.

5). To see all people as who the Bible teaches they are.

6). To actively facilitate the expression of everyone’s gifting.

7). To assume persons with disabilities are to be fully included in all Church social environments and then to work towards that inclusion.

And finally…

8). To advocate for cultural change within the Church to reflect all 8 of the above.

Thank you for any input you might provide!



I have been receiving much positive feedback on my juvenile fiction novel called Meowoof. It would be great for young people or adults interested in exploring what it is to be different in some way. Here is what I wrote about it last November when it was about to be launched. Please consider picking up a copy! Meowoof is a new book from Jeff McNair. It would be great to give to a young person who feels different in some way, someone with a disability, or parents of a child with a disability. It is juvenile fiction so it is easy reading and fun. But there are very deep ideas behind the engaging story. Great also for a discussion group interested in discussing differences in people.Here is the description that goes with the book.Meowoof invites you into a world of dogs! Of course it is filled with licking, sniffing, biting and chasing. It is no doubt a fun and amusing place to visit. But life is not without its challenges. Barney, a beagle, and his mate Inky, a dachshund are just a young couple looking to start a family and live a typical life. But there is something unusual about one of their pups. He is like no pup they or any other dogs have ever seen before. Skip and Rosie, friends of the family do their best to support them as does His Howliness, the leader of the Moon Howlers, but they are up against attitudes deeply held by doggy society. Barney and Inky find out how those around can change when someone is not like everyone else. Those who understand the experience of being different will fearfully whisper about how dogs are taken over by the Grumble, an evil living inside of everyone. How does one battle against something everyone has inside of them? Dogs like Skip and His Howliness refuse to be put off by differences in others and will bear their teeth and fight the Grumble. But the Grumble is not that easily defeated. What is it to be different? What happens to you and those around you when you are not like everyone else? You are different. In a truly unique way, Meowoof begins a story about those who are different and what their lives are like.  If you are a little different you will see yourself in this story. If you love someone who is different, you will more fully understand your experience. And, if you struggle with those who are different, perhaps you will begin to understand why.McNair[...]