A True Example of Inclusive Worship

By Ben Stuckey

“We are all born helpless. As soon as we are fully conscious we discover loneliness. We need others physically, emotionally, intellectually: we need them if we are to know anything, even ourselves.”

- C.S. Lewis

Yesterday I spoke with Pastor Brian Van Osdol, Senior Pastor of LaGrange Church of God.  I called to check on how their Bible study class was going.  His response was, “It is amazing.” While this class runs about 30-40 people with a close ratio of one-on-one relationships, half volunteers half students, there was something he brought to my attention that made me think of this quote by C.S. Lewis.

Generally the philosophy of these classes would be that a person with a disability would form a meaningful relationship with someone without a disability, and that relationship would transcend the walls (not being limited to an hour a week relationship). In turn they would naturally begin to attend that congregation’s worship services, and be empowered to use their gifts.

Pastor Brian began to tell me a story about a student who has no family, and was recently hospitalized over an hour away.

It was not just the student’s friend in class (who reluctantly got involved in the first place) who was making the visits.  Instead it was the entire class that made weekly visits – and continue to visit weekly.  Some people visit twice a week.  Did I mention this hospital was over an hour away?  Having one friend is an amazing gift from God; having an authentic Christian community that makes these types of sacrifices should truly be the goal of the Church.

LaGrange Church of God has not just embraced the concept of making a friend with someone who has a developmental disability; their congregation has taken in this person with a disability and became their family.  While the student may not have a biological family, they have a true Christian family.  This is the type of community we all desire from our church family.

While this student fully understands the loneliness Lewis mentions, they have their emotional, physical and intellectual needs fulfilled by their Bible study; LaGrange Church of God exemplifies the Acts 2 church.  They have not embraced an outreach ministry to people with disabilities, the class has fostered an understanding of what a true church family looks like, and this student is the recipient of the true function of the Body of Christ – community.  There is no better example of inclusiveness than what LaGrange Church of God has demonstrated.

When ministering, or working, with people that have developmental and intellectual disabilities, one of the big “buzz words” is “inclusion.”

I avoid using the word “inclusive,” as much as I refrain from using the “r-word,” as it immediately places people with disabilities into a special category.  If the Church is equipped to look at the person and not the disability, they would look at people with the eyes of God.

They would have a heightened spiritual level that is able to receive the ministry people with disabilities have to offer that comes from the Holy Spirit.  The ministry would be a two-way street, iron sharpening iron, as all other ministries within a congregation (i.e. a small group) function.

Maybe the people without a disability in the Bible study at LaGrange Church of God started their ministry with the goal of creating an “outreach to adults with disabilities that would result in inclusion within their congregation.”

However, as their lives have been impacted by this student, the word “inclusion” probably never leaves their lips or enters their thoughts as they have come to see this ministry as that two-way street, therefore seeing the student’s problem for what it really is –  an opportunity to minister to a friend.

Not a friend with a disability, but simply a friend who is at a point in their life where they simply need their church family.

12 Responses

  1. your post very nice. follow me on Twitter @mazhar85

    • Mazhar… thanks for your kind words. Funny thing, I spoke at Chapel yesterday at Anderson University, and there must have been over 100 tweets – but I don’t know how to tweet – after that I wish i did. maybe God is trying to tell me Something. Who are you, what do you do? God’s Blessings!

  2. Thank you for this insight Ben. This might sound a bit strange, but when I think of the word inclusion, I think about a group of people that have been brought together, mixed up a bit, but everyone remains alone in their own world filled with insecurity. It reminds me of my high school chemistry class and the way we discribed a compound. We throw a bunch of chemicals into a beaker, stir it up, but it is just a bunch of individual chemicals all mixed up. This can be a bit like the institutional church when we only come together once a week for worship but do not connect with each other in deep meaningful ways. However, when certain chemicals are brought together and a catalyst is added or heat is applied, a chemical reaction takes place and a new molecule is formed.

    The question is, what is the catalyst that will move us beyond inclusion to form the kind of Christian community you speak of in your blog? The Holy Spirit? Well of course! Another energy source is the broken condition of our lives. When we become vunerable with each other and God leads us to find compassion for each other, we begin to change. We begin to be shaped into authentic Christian community. But we have to get close enough to each other to experience the joy and sadness in the lives of our friends in Christ. We move from being a “compound” of people, to become the Body of believers that Jesus prayer for us to be. We become a single “molecule” that is “one with each other the same way Jesus is one with his Father.

    The closest I have been to this kind of authentic Christian community has been in similar Bible studies and SonRise camps where I can really get to know our friends with intellectual and developmental disabilities. If we can figure out how to multiply and nurture these environments, I believe the word “inclusion” will one day be dropped from our professional vocabulary. But for today, we have a lot of work to do. This is my prayer; that we all can be part of a Christian community that is “one” with everyone regardless of ability.

    • We are so BLESSED to be part of this ministry… community! Let’s pray that God expands His kingdom through all Christians coming together to experience the BLESSINGS of being part of an authentic Christian Community that draws EVERYONE closer to CHRIST!

  3. I can really relate to this post for many reasons. Before I came to sonrise, I didn’t really understand what authentic Christian community was. When I came to camp I felt so accepted by all the volunteers, staff and campers. This authentic community that I have at camp has filled the gap that I felt with a community of people that loved me unconditionally. It is so amazing to me that you can spend a week with other volunteers and campers and leave being best friends, and even continue the relationship. I feel so blessed to be able to talk to campers and companions I met over a year ago. Not only do I have the opportunity to feel this love, but I am now inspired to lead my youth group and church in a direction where we all love each other unconditionally. With God’s help, we get closer to that each day.

  4. Ben – we are seeing similar relationships forming at the FACES Ministry at Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran in Centennial, Colorado. Michael, a person who is blind and speaks in gutteral sounds has become known as the Prayer Warrior. Jim, a member at SOTH, had asked Michael to pray for his wife and her severe health concerns. A month or so later, Jim returned to Michael to thank him for the prayers on behalf of his wife. Jim shared of his wife’s healing and recovery. I think what a mutual sharing in the body of Christ! The abled leaning on the disabled or better yet one man of God leaning on another. Praise God.

    • SUE HART! That is an AMAZING testimony…. I love to hear that stuff. Thank you so much for sharing such an amzing testimony.

  5. Wow,let’s invite this class volunteers and students to camp. We can all learn from them.

    • Got some good news for you Marsha… they are coming to the February retreat! This is Richard B.’s congregation!

  6. This is how the body of Christ is supposed to function when sin doesn’t get in our way. Thank you for this post, Ben.

    • AMEN sister…. Your congregation does well at fighting this battle, and it is only a matter of time before I share the amazing works of God at Grace Presbyterian.

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