Meaningful Ministry for Those with Disabilities

Stephanie Hubach, author of Same Lake Different Boat, is also mom to Tim.  Stephanie took the month of October to share some thoughts about Down Syndrome and various ways that it has impacted Tim as well as ways Tim has effected people’s view of  the abilities of someone with Down Syndrome.

Post #8:  Down Syndrome Awareness Month: Meaningful Ministry

It is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking about “ministry to” instead of “ministry alongside” when we look at people with noticeable disabilities, like those in our lives who have Down syndrome. This “heads south” in so many ways–for all of us. We miss out on being ministered to in profound ways that capture our attention like nothing else. We miss out on the blessing of participating in God’s rich tapestry of unique gifts in the body of Christ. And, worst of all, we end up–although usually unintentionally–disrespecting our brothers and sisters in Christ who not only are made in God’s image–just like you and I–but who actually image God much more clearly than most of their “only 46 chromosomes” counterparts.


Tim with Pastor Tom, on the day he joined our church.

I know I’m his mom, so I could be, just a tad, biased on this issue. But Tim has many gifts to share with others and I’m especially thankful for the ways in which our local congregation honors him by expecting to receive good gifts from God through Tim’s hands.This started early on, by expecting him to be a vibrant part of our community. And as he grew up, he was invited into many avenues to serve. And I don’t mean just to bus tables. (All of us need to help clean up after a congregational dinner!) But I think it is very easy to pigeon-hole people into tasks in congregational life that mirror our cultural biases.

So, if–culturally–we have blinders that say “people with Down syndrome can only wipe tables and stack paper products”–then that is all we will “allow” them to do at church. (There’s so much wrong with that sentence!) Now, please don’t misunderstand me–if that is what one of our friends with Down syndrome wants to do and feels called to do and is gifted at serving that way–by all means, encourage him or her to do it! But, we need to not assume that the gift set is confined to what we see demonstrated in paid employment. Part of the joy of being a member of the body of Christ is that we don’t have the same constraints on participation that market forces create in the world outside of congregational life. And, according to my reading of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4, Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12–we dare not impose those types of restrictions on others.

How does Tim “do ministry?” In lots of different ways! First, he’s very musically inclined. So he plays congas in the praise band at church two Sundays a month. His joy in worship is absolutely contagious! He has also served on the Ephrata Project–helping with yard work one year, and serving as the team videographer the second year. He serves as an aide in the 2-3 year old Sunday School class now. But he’s also got some deeply profound spiritual gifts of the more silent variety. His heart for prayer is amazing. I love to hear him pray out loud before he eats. He pours out his heart to God not on his own behalf but on the behalf of others–all while his Cheerios get soggy. His bedside manner in hospital visitation is amazing. He has a tenderness and compassion in him that is palpable. I hope that one day, we find a way to get around the Presbyterian “scholarly requirements” that it takes to become a Deacon–and ordain Tim to that office.

Tim has also had some great ministry opportunities outside of church. He loves to run the MNA Special Needs Ministries booth at conferences. He has been interviewed by students at Liberty University online for a special education class. He’s introduced me (he was hilarious) at a national conference. He’s scheduled to be on a radio program for a national ministry in 2017. He’s also created video projects for denominational events in Atlanta and in Bulgaria.

So…go check out Romans 12. In talking about gifts in the church, it repeatedly says: “If he (blank)…LET HIM (blank).” Let our friends with Down syndrome freely exercise their gifts. Watch. And learn. You will be amazed. And humbled.


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