Why The Church Needs People With Special Needs

Two weeks ago, I found myself sitting near the back of a crowded room overlooking a beautiful golf course in the mountains.  My husband and I were vacationing in Anchorage, Alaska, and we ended up staying four minutes away from Faith Presbyterian Church, the only PCA church in Alaska.  My cynical heart left encouraged that day by many things. I was grateful for the pastor’s perseverance and for God’s providence in leading us to a place where we could worship on a Sunday morning 3,000 miles from our home.  We sang familiar songs and even met some fellow Okies. Mostly, though, I was encouraged by a young man sitting near the front of the church.

I never saw his face.  Because I have a background in special education, I assumed that he has cerebral palsy or a similar disability.  He might have gone unnoticed, were it not for the sounds

he made during the sermon.  Though such noises might often be considered annoying, distracting, or even disrespectful, this young man’s participation in the service was music to my ears.

The Church needs more people with special needs.  Too often, we find people with disabilities in our midst and don’t know what to do with them.  Unfortunately, our uncertainty and discomfort sometimes lead us to ignore these individuals. Doing this is not only a disservice to the individuals with disabilities and their families, but to us on our own spiritual journey, as well.

God made people with disabilities in His image.  Their disabilities were not an accident to the One who ordains all things in His providence.  If the church cares about sanctity of life issues, it

must care about people with special needs, who inherently have value. It is not enough to stand in the gap for unborn babies, widows, and orphans.  Jesus calls his church to love “the least of these,” which includes those among us with disabilities of all types.

People with special needs should also be a reminder to us of the glory ahead.  Though some of their bodily imperfections may be more visible than ours, we, too, have bodies and minds that need redeeming.  Christ promises to return one day to “make all things new.” While we will

rejoice in bodies that don’t break and minds that won’t fail us, think how much more a person with a disability will be able to rejoice in his or her wholeness!  “Our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed.”

The members of Christ’s church are His hands and feet to the world. Without a finger or a toe, His body would not function at its full capacity.  The church needs people with special needs because, they, too, have gifts that can be used to show Christ to others. On my first trip to Peru, there was a young man with Down Syndrome in the congregation of the church we attended.  I think I will always remember Carlos because of the joy he displayed in worshipping. He clapped his hands during the singing, and I don’t think he ever stopped smiling. I needed a reminder to be joyful in all circumstances, but I hadn’t expected that reminder to come from this man.  

Later, I got to speak briefly with Carlos.  I remember asking him, “Do you love God?” His answer (in Spanish) was, “Of course!” (As in, “Obviously, you silly girl.”)  I then asked him, “Why?” He quickly responded, “He loves me.” In that instant, I realized that Carlos probably understands the Bible better than I do at times.  I ask so many questions and make my faith more complicated than it should be. Yet, a man with Down Syndrome was able to remind me of the simplicity of the gospel: “He loves me.”

God’s power “is made perfect in our weakness.”

I pray that our church would be welcoming to individuals with disabilities.  The truth is, it is almost always challenging and awkward to embrace people who are not exactly like us.  But this is the very thing that Christ has called us to do. When we create space for all types of people, God blesses our obedience.  In serving people with disabilities, we are also serving Jesus, and as I have seen in my own life, our interaction with them makes our own faith more genuine, believable, and beautiful.

Doug Serven