What is the culture of your church when it comes to disabilities? Does your church eagerly embrace those with disabilities? Or is your church embarrassed by the sights and sounds and frustrated by the interruptions?
There are many aspects to church culture but I would suggest that the pastor plays a major role. I believe that many people look to the pastor for the cues on how to respond to those with disability. Does the pastor greet and spend time with people with disabilities or do they ignore them?
What does the pastor do when a person with a disability makes noise in the middle of a sermon? Most (but not all) will not ask the person to leave. It is more about the expression on the face. Does the pastor grimace and then reluctantly move on with the message?
I recently did a funeral and I noticed that there was a child with a disability. During my message he started to make noise. I could tell that the parents were frustrated and embarrassed. I just smiled because, as a father of two children with disabilities, I was just glad that the child was there.
Once we were attending a church and our son with autism was there. He made a particularly loud sound during the pastor’s message. In this case, the pastor actually stopped and then said to the congregation, “Isn’t great that everyone is welcome here?” In that moment, that pastor showed real leadership. He made it clear to the congregation the culture that he was seeking to build. It is an experience that had really stayed with us.
My word to pastors is to show leadership in building a culture of acceptance. Think about what you will say and do. People are watching you and looking for your lead.