Editor’s note: This is the ninth in a series of posts about “Disability Attitudes.” The 5 Stages is a resource developed by Elim Christian Services to help individuals, churches, communities, and schools identify and change their attitudes toward people who have disabilities. More information and resources can be found at www.the5stages.com.
We all have those certain friends who know our skills, gifts, and talents. They encourage us to develop, to achieve, to reach goals and not settle. They force us off our couches and into the world. They tell us we have something to contribute and they also tell us to make that contribution.
Friends like these are co-laborers.
They don’t coddle us, they don’t put up with our excuses. They challenge us. They not only encourage us and build us up, they also confront us when we’re wrong.
Who in your life does this for you? Conversely, to whom are you providing this kind of friendship?
Co-laboring with People who have Disabilities
When we are confronted by people with disabilities, we do not first imagine what they can do, but what they cannot do. We immediately absolve people with disabilities (and many other people who are different from us) from the work God has called each of us to. We unconsciously refuse to co-labor with people who have disabilities, all because of our unfair assumptions that actually block people with disabilities from participating in God’s Kingdom work.
Rather than first considering what people with disabilities cannot do, what if we instead thought first about what they can do. Let’s be creative. Let’s imagine what co-laboring with people who have disabilities can look like.
- As a neighbor–Imagine encouraging a family or that person a few doors down to answer God’s call on their lives. Imagine having earned their trust and their friendship to the point where you can say, “I can see that John is an encourager. I have appreciated how he is always excited to see me. I wonder if you would be willing to let me spend some time with John once in a while, and take him around the neighborhood. Maybe together, we can encourage the rest of our neighbors. Maybe we can bless them and provide the mercy of God in their lives.”
- At Church–Imagine talking to Andy, who sits in the row behind you at church, and finding out he is interested in helping out with greeting people and taking the collection. Imagine going with him to find the greeting coordinator and the chair of your deacon board and figuring out how to get him included on the schedules. Imagine finding out that Casey, who loves to sing at the top of her voice, has always wanted to sing with the choir. Your greatest chore now is not to work with Casey, perhaps it is to work with the choir, to help them accept that God’s will is not reflected in our perfection, but in our practice of His grace. Imagine enlisting Beverly to read the Scriptures, or Gene to be part of the deacon board. Imagine listening to our friends with disabilities, discerning their gifts and passions, and equipping them to answer God’s call on their lives.
- At Work–Shelly is loud, and yet she can barely speak. Her limbs seem to move constantly, yet she has so little control and so little strength, that she is in a wheelchair every time you see her. When you see her dad talk to her, his face is right in front of hers, and you have never, not even once, seen her respond, not with even so much as a hand signal or a nod of her head.
What can Shelly do, really? How can she work?
Imagine, for a moment, that you first found out from Shelly, as best you could, what she wanted. Imagine talking with her parents and loved ones, and learning how to best communicate with Shelly.
Maybe you would bring her to your business and enlist her to sit by the entrance and greet your co-workers, and maybe a few customers, each morning. Perhaps you would see something amazing happen. Perhaps you would redefine what it really means to work. Maybe, as your co-workers and customers began to greet Shelly on a daily basis, they would learn patience through their interactions with her. Maybe they would start to see that getting things done and moving on to the next thing is not the most important thing. Maybe they would grow a heart for people who live with disabilities, and feel less intimidated about reaching out to others. Maybe work wouldn’t be about making money for the business, but it might be redefined as doing what God has called and equipped us to do, whatever that might be.
If we could follow through on this kind of imagining, in our neighborhoods, our churches, and in our workplaces, our lives could change dramatically.
One of the reasons this doesn’t happen is because we can’t imagine how this could possibly improve our lives and communities, but there are so many testimonies to the opposite. Here’s how you can move beyond imagining to actually becoming a co-laborer:
- Pray for humility.
- Pray for strength to maintain a co-laboring attitude with those God has placed in your lives, family, friends, people with disabilities, neighbors, co-workers, and church members.
- Pray for the patience to not get it right, to take steps and fail, but to keep making progress.
- Read I Thessalonians 5:11 and Ephesians 2:10 and consider how these verses apply to each child of God.
- Do I generally divide the world into people who need help and people who give help to others?
- Why would I hire or not hire someone who has a disability to work for my company, or to be a co-worker?
- What challenges would our church have to address in order to equip people with disabilities to be co-laborers in our community?
- Begin advocating for the intentional inclusion of person who live with disabilities into your business or workplace.
- Assist your church leadership in finding people who live with disabilities, or their family members, to be part of leading ministries and programs in your church.
The highest expression of relationship is one in which each participant is encouraging, equipping, and challenging the other to become and achieve all they were created to be and do.
We have, for too long, believed that this was the domain of people who were like us, people who were capable, smart, uniquely gifted. In so doing, we overlook the people that we think of as incapable, inefficient, and unqualified.
But let’s remember, God used the deceptive son of a shepherd. He anointed the youngest, smelly, (and later adulterous) shepherd son to be the king of His people. He used an outcast, aged murderer who was afraid to talk to lead His people out of Israel. He chose the virgin bride of a carpenter to redeem us to Him.
God uses who He chooses. When we co-labor, we not only finally give expression to this biblical truth, we become a living testimony for others to see.
Become a co-laborer, and testify to God’s power today and grace today.
How have you encouraged your fellow co-laborers recently? In what ways does your church allow people with disabilities to participate in ministry, and in the work of the Kingdom?
Accessible Gospel, Inclusive Worship, a new book by Barbara J. Newman and Barbara Grit, provides practical insight and tools for including people with disabilities in all aspects of your church and its worship services.
Vulnerable Communion, by Thomas Reynolds, is a moving and deeply theological book that will considers the difficult questions of why God allows disability and what the church can learn from people with disabilities.
If you feel ready to teach The 5 Stages to others, you might enjoy our training video available on our website. You can even use the presentation materials we’ve provided to set up your own 5 Stages presentation (see “There is No Asterisk”).
Latest posts by Dan Vander Plaats (see all)
- Don’t Gloss Over the Reality of Life with a Disability - November 1, 2016
- Did God Make Me This Way? - October 18, 2016
- 7 Signs That You (or Your Church) Are Ignorant About Disability - June 20, 2016