There is a group of people for whom discipleship is difficult to access, or there is nothing for them to access in the first place.
We might ask who this mysterious people group are? It might surprise you that it is those with additional needs and disabilities. Many of our churches simply haven't given it any thought.
SO WHAT ARE THE MAIN PROBLEMS?
- It’s just not on the radar. This isn’t deliberate, we tend to unintentionally think that because those who use a wheelchair or walking aids can access materials and mentoring, the job is done. Let’s remember that there are many people with seen and unseen disabilities who also want to be discipled.
- Disability is often seen as a health and safety issue. Therefore ‘disability’ sits in that policy, rather than being implicit within every policy of our churches – including how we disciple, nurture and mentor. Therefore, the need for discipleship is regularly overlooked. We assume it’s happening, but in reality, it isn’t.
- Sometimes it is a judgement call. How much can this person understand? It’s an unfair judgment many face on their ability to be a follower of Jesus too, so it’s understandable that discipleship is not forthcoming in their situations. Those with additional needs and disabilities can have faith, and as such need discipling just like anyone else – regardless of what their ability is.
There is a need to be more intentional in the way we disciple and how we resource those with disabilities to grow in faith.
For many with disabilities, seeing where they fit into the big story of the Bible is hard, especially when they can barely see where they fit into the church. So to find ways to grow as a Christian can be a journey fraught with difficulty and sometimes a low view of their faith.
SO WHAT DO WE NEED TO THINK ABOUT?
- We need to find a different language, different stories and a different way of presenting those ideas that are not ‘concrete’ and full of difficult to understand concepts.
- We need to acknowledge that not all people can read. That may be through dyslexia, missed education, or maybe visual impairment. Very few resources are available for more profound visual impairments. Being told that your kindle or google books app can read them to you isn’t helpful. I challenge you to try it, especially if you’re also dyslexic. It just doesn't work.
- We may need to use a different way of ‘speaking’. I‘d love to see discipleship for those with learning disabilities delivered using Makaton signs (A communication system used by those who can hear but need support in communicating and understanding). We also need to be aware that some will need BSL interpreting to access what we do.
- For the more practical areas of discipleship we need to look at how to facilitate service, how to support compassionate responses to need. It is occasionally assumed that some with disabilities are unable to serve or respond to the situations they see, but this is not true. Again, we need to be intentional in how we seek to support growth in this area.
- Those who parent children with additional needs and disabilities always agree on the desire to see those children taught and allowed to serve in some way – in other words; discipled. Don’t forget them.
There are many organisations out there who can support churches in discipling those who have additional needs and disabilities. Have a look at the Churches for All’s website (churchesforall.org.uk), and you will find lots of these organisations listed on their partners and associates pages.