February 21st, 2011 at 9:52 am
We are building His kingdom by building a special-needs ministry. I’d like to consider that this morning. We are building His kingdom by building a special-needs ministry. We’ll look at Romans 12:3-8, as well as the parallel New Testament passage dealing with spiritual gifts; 1 Corinthians 12. We’re going to deal with the Romans 12 passage in three parts, and the first one is this:
The church is to be a supportive community where everyone is valued. Romans 12:3
Listen to Romans 12:3. “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought . . .” Listen again. “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you (that includes each of us today): Do not (that is a prohibition) think of yourself more highly than you ought. But rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”
Exaggerated self-importance damages or destroys community, and the church is all about community. One thing that is absolutely true about the local church is that it is all about community. The local church is a group of people who worship, share life, grow in Christ, serve others and proclaim the gospel, together! No matter what metaphor you choose to use to describe the church – the Body of Christ, the family of God – it is always about community. The emphasis is always about community.
A bigheaded attitude is unacceptable within the body of Christ. The attitude that “I have it together while others are lacking,” or the attitude that “the gifts I bring to the table are truly important, while the gifts of others are insignificant,” is always inappropriate for people who live in community together as the body of Christ. Paul is telling us that a bigheaded attitude is always inappropriate.
Listen to the parallel passage from 1 Corinthians 12:12-14. “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body— whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so, the body is not made up of one part, but of many.” What Paul declares with absolute clarity, in both Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12, is that the church is made up many people, individuals, blended together into one unit.
Any sense of personal superiority is a hindrance to effective ministry. Any sense that one person is more valuable to the body, or that another person is of less value, is simply inconsistent with what Scripture teaches.
So how do we walk in faithfulness to this challenge that Paul has issues? Well, we focus on the similarities we share rather than our obvious differences.
We have many things in common. We all have a need for purpose and meaning. We share that in common. Yet there are so many things that also highlight the differences among us. So, we focus on the similarities that we share, not on the differences that are so obvious.
The next thing we need to see is that the church is to be an inclusive community where every person is essential. Romans 12:3-4
Listen to Romans 12:4-5. “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”
We must understand this: God loves diversity! God absolutely loves diversity, especially in His church! That is obvious simply by looking around at the highly diversified group sharing this worship center today! We are all very different people. We have different backgrounds, different life experiences, and different family make-ups. Physically, we are very different people, too.
Just how different are we? A little study will reveal just how diverse God’s creation is. It is estimated by science (and this will tell you just how inexact scientists often are!) that somewhere between 3 and 30 million different species live on planet Earth. Science does not know the exact number. Scientists really have no idea! The estimate covers a wide range! New species are being discovered all the time!
Consider for a moment just insects. Scientists have no real idea how many different species of insects live on the planet. The estimate is somewhere between 1 and 30 million different species of insects.
So, for the sake of simplicity, let’s narrow the conversation down to just vertebrates. These would be animals with a backbone. Only three percent of the living creatures that inhabit the planet have a backbone. Ninety-seven percent of the world’s species don’t have a backbone. Within the three percent of the world’s creatures that do, there are almost 8,000 different species of reptiles, 5,400 different species of amphibians, and over 9,000 different species of birds! That’s a lot of variety.
Science estimates that there are somewhere between 4,500 and 5,000 different species of mammals! Human beings are just one of these! Now, within this one species we call “human beings,” there are almost 8 billion individuals living right now! Eight billion of us are living on the planet right now! And among those 8 billion, each of has a unique fingerprint. Each has a unique pattern to the iris in the eye. Never duplicated! And each of us has a unique DNA structure. Nobody is like you. Nobody has ever been like you. Nobody will ever be like you.
Do you think God loves diversity? When God created us, He created us to be different, to be unique. Every one of us is different from all others, and that’s God’s heart and purpose.
Do you see the implication God has for us? We are all different; every one of us, and that is God’s heart and God’s plan! God loves diversity.
With a consideration of this diversity, listen to this from 1 Corinthians 12: “Now if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.”
Can you see God’s heart and plan for special-needs ministry? Can somebody within the church ever say, “Because I don’t have a particular set of skills and abilities, I don’t belong to the body?” That would be a foolish thing to say! It would be just as foolish to say, “Because you don’t possess a particular set of skills, talents or abilities, you don’t belong to the body of Christ!” Whether we exclude ourselves or exclude others based on our uniqueness, we miss the heart of God!
Our God is building a highly-diversified kingdom. That’s God’s heart, plan and intention. Listen to a testimony out of the book of Revelation. John said, “I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language.” A crowd that was simply too large to count, from every nation, tribe, people and language. God loves diversity! “They were standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
But that’s not the only audience that gathers before the Lord! There are also, John says, angelic beings who stand in His presence, witnessing the diversity of the crowd that gathered. Listen to John’s testimony: “All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”
The angels could not find enough words to use for expressing their praise of the Lord. They couldn’t find adequate words! Their praise begins and ends with the word, “Amen!” Now, being the Baptists that we are, we think “Amen” means, “Let’s eat!” Not so! The word literally means, “So be it!”
Do you understand? That angelic choir gathered before the Lord was saying, “SO BE IT! Let there be this gathering of every nation, every tribe, and every tongue. SO BE IT! Let there be glory and praise and honor laid at the feet of Jesus! SO BE IT!”
For you and me to join in the praise of this heavenly choir means we must also declare the words, “SO BE IT!” You see, when we engage ourselves in developing and growing a special needs ministry, we are saying along with the angels, “SO BE IT!” Our expressed desire is for the body of Christ to be highly diversified!
To exaggerate self or to devalue others, either one, is equally unhealthy. To elevate one individual is to push another individual down.
Diversity? No two members within the body of Christ are the same. The Bible teaches that each person has critical importance. Each individual brings a particular combination of gifts, talents and abilities. Each person is unique and each has critical importance.
We each play essential roles in the life of the church and the church is incomplete without each of us. Every time God brings a new family into our fellowship He brings a new combination of gifts, talents and abilities into the larger group. We become more complete with the addition of each family. You understand, I hope, that we are an “incomplete” body, and God is actively moving us toward completeness with every new family. He is making us into what He intends for us to be! Everyone brings his or her own uniqueness, created by the very hand of God.
Every individual adds to the strength of the whole. We can try to find strength in all sorts of things. Sometimes we think our strength is found in the money we have in the bank. Maybe we think our strength is found in the building where we do ministry. Sometimes we may even believe our strength is found in the people who make up the church. Not so! Our strength is found in the hand of the living God, at work within the lives of the individuals who make up the body of Christ.
The Psalmist said it this way: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Let me paraphrase. “Some trust in checking accounts and some trust in bricks and mortar, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Isaiah said it this way: “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord.”
To exclude others betrays our claim to appreciate community. Remember, we’re talking about community! We’re talking about the church as a diversified body of believers! Any time someone is excluded or left out of our fellowship, we betray the claim that we value God’s diversity and that we believe we are better together.
Finally, the church must be a gifted community where every person is vital. Romans 12:6-8
Listen to verses six through eight or Romans 12. “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”
Now some believe that this particular passage, along with 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4, provide an exhaustive list of the gifts given to believers by the Holy Spirit. I disagree. Paul does not present an exhaustive list of spiritual gifts, but a list that is sufficiently long to teach us that every person in uniquely gifted and that the church is highly diversified. Every person brings a unique combination of gifts that are used by God. Regardless of how society may describe a person, every individual brings incredibly giftedness to the body of Christ.
Everything we do, and everything we set our hands to as a church, must draw circles that unite rather than lines that divide. It’s easy to draws lines that divide. When you draw circles, you are challenged to draw them large enough so as to include all people. All people are brought into the fellowship and are given the opportunity to become all that God intends for them to be.
Listen to how Paul expressed this truth in 1 Corinthians 12. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
It comes down to this: Within this community we call the church, we should never do ministry in such a way that we are ignoring, excluding, or disregarding other people. We can’t ever say to one person, “You have a place in this fellowship,” and to another, “We have no place for a person like you.”
Can this happen? Absolutely! James, in James 2:1-7, addressed the act of excluding one person while accepting another. Now James described such an event in terms of accepting a wealthy person while rejecting a poor person. Allow me to paraphrase the message of James, using an educated, talented, gifted individual on one hand and a special-needs individual – maybe even profoundly special-needs – on the other hand. Listen to what James had to say. “My brothers and sisters, believers in Christ must never show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your fellowship. He has a PhD and possesses many gifts and abilities. Suppose a second man also comes into the fellowship, but this man has very few gifts and talents from the world’s perspective. If you pay special attention to the first man, saying, ‘Here is a place for you,’ while saying to the second man, ‘Here, you need to sit over there,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves? Listen, has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world and to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised to those who love Him?”
Remember, the kingdom of God is not about ability or disability, but about availability. It’s not about possessions, but about passions.
Let me close with four practical reasons why our church family should further develop our special needs ministry.
The first of four practical reasons is this: People for whom Christ died are overlooked and unreached. It is estimated that somewhere between eight and 13 percent of American families have, at some time, received a “special needs” diagnosis for one of their children. At some point in the journey they have received the label that says, “This child is special needs.”
In most churches there is no place for many of these children in the ministry. The child that is profoundly challenged rarely finds a place within the ministry of a local church. The truth is, most churches have no place for such a child. As a result they have no place for the rest of the family, either.
I am personally aware of two families in our church, families that were previously plugged into other local churches that were told there was no place for their children in those ministries. Do you understand what I am saying? These two families were told there was no place for them! Their uniqueness disqualified them from a place in the church fellowship and ministry!
I would hope that we will always be willing to do whatever is necessary to make a place for people, understanding the value of diversity!
Within our community there are many people who are overlooked and unreached. International mission organizations target unreached people groups; people who have never heard the gospel or who have never heard it in a way that they can understand and embrace. Can we apply that principle to families with special-needs individuals? There are people all around us who have never heard the gospel or have never heard it in a way that they can understand and embrace.
Eight-13 percent of the families in our community, people within the shadow of our steeple, need to know how much Jesus cares for them. These people with special-needs individuals in their families need to hear the gospel.
Secondly, there are families in our community who Jesus loves that are marginalized and disenfranchised by the church. I like that word, “marginalized.” It speaks powerfully to what happens to people every day. You understand what it means. On any piece of paper containing words or data, there is a margin along the outside edges that is not intended to hold information. Clean, white space that does not contain letters or numbers.
People are sometimes pushed to the margins of the culture. They are pushed to the outside of the mainstream of society. The church sometimes pushes people to the outside. People with special-needs are frequently pushed to the outside, away from the rest of the community, and marginalized from the body of Christ. They become disenfranchised and disconnected from the church.
Our Lord Jesus was all about the marginalized and disenfranchised. In Luke 19:10, Jesus declares, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save those who are lost.” He came to seek and to save those who have been pushed to the outside of the community.
Let me give you a sobering statistic. Eighty-five-90 percent of American families who receive a “special needs” diagnosis end in divorce. That diagnosis puts stresses and strains upon families that most of us have never experienced. Raising children is tough enough without the demands of a special needs child. When you add a child who needs around-the-clock attention and care, the stress level is huge. That’s why our church provides respite care to families with special needs children once a month. I would love to see that ministry grow to a once-a-week opportunity for these families, allowing moms and dads to focus on each other, even if for only three hours.
A couple of weeks ago I was in Killeen watching my grandson for the day. I took him to a very nice community park. I watched the other “moms” with their kids. I could tell by their conversation that these were military wives getting together with their children. Their conversation centered on the latest accomplishments of the children and the humorous things the little ones had recently said. This was a time these moms seemed to value. It was time together with friends. Time centered on children.
I found myself thinking about the other young mother: the mother living on base with a special needs child. She doesn’t receive invitations to these “moms at the park” outings. Their children aren’t included in these groups. She doesn’t have the stories to share that the others do. Those families don’t get invited to the afternoon birthday parties. Those families are marginalized and pushed to the side. Those families are also vitally important to our Lord Jesus Christ.
Thirdly, we love Jesus by loving all people. You can say that you love Jesus, that He is your Lord, your Savior, and your all. But if you do not actively love people, Jesus would say your actions betray your claims.
In Matthew 25 we find Jesus saying, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Then the people who belong to God ask, “When? Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” Jesus replies, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Can I paraphrase? Jesus says, “I had a special needs child, and you loved my child. You ministered to me and my child.” We’ll say, “When? When did you ever have a special needs child?” And Jesus will say, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
In my mind I can imagine the spectrum of humanity, and I can find the segment of that spectrum that includes people we might label as, “the least.” But I don’t want to do that. If I do, then I must also say that someone else is counted among “the most.” That attitude, that determination, is contrary to the theological foundation that the church is built upon. God loves diversity. He used the word, “least,” because that is the language we would comprehend, not because someone is less than anyone else!
James challenges us to do more than make claims about how much we love Jesus. He writes, “Someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” Can I paraphrase? “You say that you love Jesus. Show me that you love Jesus. Love all people. Make sacrifices so that you include all people. Be proactive in including people who aren’t typically included.”
I want to challenge our small groups, and especially our small groups with young families. Proactively pursue the people who are not typically included. In doing so, you demonstrate your love for Jesus. As a church family, let us proactively develop a ministry that connects with more and more people who feel that the church doesn’t care about them. They feel that the church simply looks beyond them. They feel that the message of Christ and the love that is Christ isn’t available to them.
Do we love Jesus? I believe we do. We must love His people.
Lastly, Jesus is exalted by every effort to expand our community. Every time we do something that brings someone else into our community, Jesus is honored. Every time we do something that brings someone else into the family of believers that is this church, the angels say, “Amen and amen!”
Can we do it? Should we do it? The answer to both questions is a very loud, “YES!” It will mean that you need to participate. You will need to serve in a place of ministry that may stretch you, and may push you out of your natural comfort zone. That is a good thing! Everyone should have a place of personal ministry that is natural and easy. Everyone should also be engaged in ministry that is challenging.
We will all need to work together, proactively, at expanding our special-needs ministry into something more significant and more productive. It will be a challenge. But it will also be a powerful and meaningful way to love people and to honor the Lord Jesus. The result will be introducing people to the Savior, to His kingdom, and to a church family they can call their own.
By Scott Sharman, pastor of Alsbury Baptist Church in Burleson, TX.