I must admit that I am a true information junkie. I love to know the facts, the history, and the why behind how things work. On occasion, pull out my maps app while reading books so that I can get a true picture of where the setting is. I know, I know…I might have some issues here!
When it came to my introduction to disability ministry in 2012, I defaulted to information. Within months of being hired at a nonprofit focused on disability, I read every book I could get my hands on. I downloaded a PDF with the basics of every common disability, and I worked to memorize specific facts and characteristics so that I could better serve and interact with people affected by disability.
Then, I attended my first event specifically designed to serve people affected by disability. I realized that I would never remember enough information to “get it right” but I also quickly learned that information wasn’t the issue. While it was definitely important to remember some basic do’s and don’ts, it was more important to slow down, to listen to my new friends, to hear their needs, and to respond as best I knew how. I discovered that I needed a bigger heart.
I was challenged to love somebody whose communication style was vastly different from mine. I was encouraged to be flexible, to serve, to place their needs first.
How about you? Do you find yourself running to information first? While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, what happens if the information you gain doesn’t apply to the person you desire to connect with? It seems to make more sense to know a person, to build a friendship, to allow your heart to lead…and then gather information as needed when you come to an impasse. I don’t know how it works for you, but here are my three quick steps I learned to take in order to grow my heart.
Three Steps to Grow the Heart
First, I needed to pray and lean on God more than ever. I needed to remember that all people are created in His image. I needed to be reminded that we all have a purpose, we all have dreams, we all have value to share…and God has provided these reminders in so many pertinent ways over the years.
Next, I needed to slow down and learn. I am a naturally fast-paced individual. I often mistakenly follow the mantra of ready, fire, aim! Sometimes this works well, but I miss more than I should because I give into my type-A tendencies. These are beneficial for projects and tasks, but not so much for serving people.
Finally, I needed to take a chance and be vulnerable. Putting myself in a place of transparency exposes my heart which allows it to grow. A prime example was this first event I attended. The family I was blessed to serve primarily spoke Spanish. While I took Spanish in high school and have even been a translator on mission trips, that was a good twenty years ago. My Spanish was very rusty and so was my confidence. However, I made the decision to give it a go and even introduced myself in Spanish. My family was so blessed, and they intentionally slowed down a bit so that I could keep up with the conversation. By the end of the week, my vulnerability had expanded my heart considerably and I had no desire to leave camp!
Disability ministry can be challenging. Actually, all ministry is challenging because it’s about laying aside our rights and our comfort zones in order to serve people different than ourselves and to point them to Christ. Don’t let a lack of information hinder you. Pray for God’s grace, slow down, and take a chance. It’s truly worth the effort to learn that everybody has unique abilities because we are all created in God’s image.
Mike has been in pastoral ministry for over twenty years and was unexpectedly invited into disability ministry advocacy in 2012. He is forever grateful for the friendships and experiences gained through six years of professional disability ministry leadership and currently oversees the special needs ministry at his local church in Camarillo, CA, where he lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their five rambunctious teenagers.