Influence

 the shape of leadership

Disability and Pentecostal Ministry

Introduction to a five-part series

George P Wood on August 15, 2022

georgepwood

I first met Brad Mattrisch through Facebook. We were second cousins on my father’s side of the family and had grown into adulthood not knowing one another. Brad became an ordained Assemblies of God minister in 2006, the same year I did. He held as many undergraduate and graduate degrees as I did, and like me, he worked in full-time ministry.

Brad also had cerebral palsy, however. He utilized a wheelchair while engaging in ministry. Unfortunately, many people looked at Brad on the basis of the disability they saw rather than the abilities he possessed.

An AG News story about him captured the disconnect: “Many people who encounter Mattrisch for the first time — especially those who might have hesitated to invite him to speak — are shocked by his knowledge, wisdom, and spiritual leadership.”

Shocked. What’s shocking to me is that Christians would judge a person by outward appearance rather than the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). How many spiritual gifts have we left unopened on the table simply because the believer offering them was disabled?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines disability as “any condition of the body or mind (impairment) that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities (activity limitation) and interact with the world around them (participation restrictions).”

Disability does not constitute a hindrance to the ministries of
the Holy Spirit.

It further classifies disabilities into six functional types:

  • cognitive (serious difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions),
  • hearing (serious difficulty hearing or deafness),
  • mobility (serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs),
  • vision (serious difficulty seeing or blindness),
  • self-care (difficulty dressing or bathing), and
  • independent living (difficulty doing errands alone).

Based on this definition, the CDC estimates 1 in 4 U.S. adults (26%) lives with a disability. That’s 61 million people, not counting children. Brad was one of them and had been so since infancy. (He died tragically in 2020.)

For too long, we abled Pentecostals have thought wrongly about ministry and the disabled. We have acted as if we do ministry to and for our disabled brothers and sisters instead of also doing ministry with and receiving ministry from them.

The purpose of this theme section on disability and Pentecostal ministry is to suggest different ways of thinking about and acting on this topic:

In “From Pity to Community,” Marvin J. Miller charts the evolution of disability ministry through five stages: ignorance, pity, care, friendship, and collaboration.

Gary Hoyt asks whether our churches are welcoming to people with mobility disabilities in “How Accessible Is Your Church?”

Joanna French identifies principles for effective ministry to people with disabilities in “Disability and Discipleship.”

In “Unlimited Potential,” Nilda Rivera — a former colleague of my cousin Brad — encourages churches to look for ways they can open the spiritual gifts of disabled people.

And Joe Butler identifies three qualities of genuinely inclusive churches in “A Place for Everyone.”

There are a number of thorny theological issues related to unanswered prayer for healing that go unaddressed in this issue. Rather than trying to answer what cannot be known about divine providence, our authors focus on what can be done in practical ministry terms.

Their starting point is that disability does not constitute a hindrance to the ministries of the Holy Spirit. As the Lord himself told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9, emphasis added).

 

This article appears in the Summer 2022 edition of Influence magazine.

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