If the church and people that live with disability can positively navigate past the previous stop on the path they will move along to being tolerated.
Okay the thought of just being tolerated doesn’t sound very exciting, does it? While it doesn’t sound exciting it is still a positive step beyond being judged negatively and two steps beyond being shut out in utter isolation. No one ever said the journey would be easy but few things in life that are worth it ever are.
The word “tolerate” is a verb. It can be defined as “allowing the existence” of something you may not like or understand. It can also mean to “accept or endure” something.
It is an active step. It is not meant to be a destination. Unfortunately, some get stuck here.
Think of things that you tolerate in your life.
There are things you should never tolerate like being disrespected, being neglected, being abused, negativity, irresponsibility, and so on.
There are other things that we do tolerate. We tolerate inconveniences in life while looking at the bigger picture. For example, we may forgo fighting with our children over what they want to wear even if we believe it makes them look foolish. Or we may tolerate working multiple part-time jobs that we may not love because we do it in order to provide for our families until something better develops.
How does this phase play out in the church when it comes to people with disabilities taking the next step towards being embraced?
People with disabilities and others in the church have moved beyond the negative narrative in the last place on the path, being judged. They can do this because of the positive awareness that has been raised intentionally by staff, volunteers, and others in the congregation. People have been present with each other and found out that they are more alike than different. Walls of judgment have been torn down.
God reminded the Israelites in Exodus 23:9, “Do not treat outsiders badly. You yourselves know how it feels to be outsiders. Remember, you were outsiders in Egypt.” There is a big difference in being treated badly and being embraced. There are obviously a few steps between the two on the path. That is why this point of toleration is important to note.
Existing in the same space together is being tolerated. This is where many churches and individuals get stuck. There is a deep breath because the feeling of being judged has been overcome. Being in the same building together for a worship experience seems like a victory. It cannot be emphasized enough that this is not meant to be a destination, but rather a temporary stop on the path.
Again, it takes intentionality from all involved to move beyond this step on the path. It is once again a two-way street.
Roadblocks: Those with Disabilities
The roadblock in this stage for people affected by disability is patience.
People with disabilities and the church must be willing to continue to take risks. Both must be willing to try things that they have not tried before. Both sides must be willing to forgive when things don’t go exactly the way that they hoped. Both sides must believe the best in each other. Building culture and figuring out programming takes time. Patience can be difficult, but it is absolutely necessary.
For churches the wheels of progress often take time. They can take more time than outsiders see as necessary. A change or addition to ministry programming may seem obvious and needed from the perspective of families and individuals affected by disability. Because of progress that has been made along the path people may be hungry and eager for more. Frustration can happen when things don’t move as quickly as expected. This is why patience is can be a stumbling block.
Roadblocks: The Church
The roadblock for the church in this stage is time.
Leaders in the church see the preferred destination. Having a vision of what should be and what could be is a key component for a leader. The only problem is the fact that in getting there are no shortcuts or time machines. Getting to that preferred destination takes time. There is no way to fast forward. A key for the church in this stage is constantly being in communication with people affected by disability in their congregation and community. Keeping them updated and involved in the process will help them in being patient.
The key to overcoming the obstacles of this stage is rebuilt trust. Trust cannot be rebuilt without intentional relationships.
1 Thessalonians 5:26 teaches us to “Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss.” That shows intentionality and more than mere tolerance.
Hebrews 13:2 says, “Don’t forget to welcome outsiders. By doing that, some people have welcomed angels without knowing it.” Again, this verse reminds us that we must be motivated by both intentionality and kindness. When these two things are present, we can move beyond toleration.
In order to move past being tolerated, existing in the same place with each other, each side must risk being in a relationship with each other. A relationship is a risky place that once again requires intentionality and vulnerability. Until both are willing to engage in a relationship the next step cannot be taken.
It is Ryan’s passion to equip and empower churches, organizations, and individuals to reach their disability communities for Jesus. Ryan comes to Ability Ministry with 15+ years of ministry experience. He previously worked at First Christian Church in Canton, Ohio as their full-time Disability Pastor. He also worked as a Church Consultant for Key Ministry. Micah 6:8 and Proverbs 31:8 best describe Ryan’s commitment to life and ministry.