Before Easter we wrote about two families with sons with intellectual disabilities whose family members were turned away from their churches.  Unfortunately, this is a frequent story.    This past Sunday I met with members of a congregation actively engaged in the discussion on how to share the gospel with people with autism.  A mother shared that her family had been hurt by other churches she had attended.

What are the root reasons these families were hurt by their congregations?  It is important to note that churches are gatherings of people who are Christ followers!  It is not a church as an organization that turns people away.  It’s people; the children of God!

The graphic with this post is a chart put out by ELIM Christian Services that speaks to this subject with clarity; “the five stages, changing attitudes.”  As I read this chart, instead of measuring others against it, I tried to consider where I fall in the descriptions of the five stages.  I encourage you to do the same.

The 5 Stages - Attitudes

There was a time in my life when I was ignorant to the lives of people with intellectual disabilities.  That began to change when a guest preacher visited my church 25 years ago and spoke with conviction about the Church’s role in their lives.  But this was just a beginning of a journey that continues today.  God provided a second step which brought me into a relationship with a man with a disability.  With time, my ignorance, moved from pity, to care, to an important friendship.

Recently, a friend with a disability had a reoccurrence of cancer and I found myself wanting to “be there” for him.  You could call it wanting to care for him.  I do not think it was rooted in pity.  When he could get out, we took him for a meal, and brought food in when he couldn’t get out.  We have had a friendship for years, but as I spent more time with him, I found myself looking forward to our next visit.  Our friendship deepened.

I have been greatly blessed by God, yet after 25 years of ministry with people with disabilities, at first glance, people with disabilities may appear far less blessed – until I get to know them as individuals.  At first, it is ok to have compassion or even pity, and want to care for them.  If we spend time with someone with a disability – and the key word is time – we become friends.

I am still figuring out what it means to be a co-laborer with a friend with an intellectual disability, but I know it is only possible in the context of a friendship.  This is because we see value in our friends.  We co-labor with people when we embrace their value.  Becoming a co-laborer with Christ or with any other person is a relational journey that requires time.  It matters little where you are on this chart when you begin a relationship.  It only matters that you are in community with people and have a heart to journey with them, and you take some friends with intellectual disabilities with you!

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