The Importance of Small
Have you ever noticed how here in the United States we’re fascinated by everything big? Stores don’t just offer sales anymore; they’re COLOSSAL sales—GIGANTIC deals with HUGE savings. Sodas are sold in BIG GULP cups. Beanbag chairs are now called BIG JOE CHAIRS. We shop at BIG LOTS. (But then, who would want to go to a Little Lots store?) Boys dream of playing in the BIG LEAGUES.
Even in the church we get carried away with the concept of BIG. Ministries are prized for the breadth of their impact. Pastors seem to be ranked by the size of their congregations. Outreaches are rated by the numbers of people who come to Christ. Church vitality is measured by the number of baptisms and new converts. But is big always better—is this what God values?
Recently I was reading in the gospels, pondering Jesus’ ministry focus. In Luke 8, I was struck by how He purposefully left a thriving outreach to large crowds and crossed the Sea of Galilee to change the life of one—a demon-possessed man. Why leave a highly impactful ministry for one crazed person? Why choose the small over the big? It makes no sense until you look at the heart of God.
Jesus demonstrates in this story how God loves and values every single person. Everyone He’s created is made in His image and deemed worthy of receiving His provision of salvation. While sizeable numbers may matter to us, each heart is what matters to God. Jesus chose to abandon the bigger ministry we read about in Luke 8 to impact the life of just one man, which tells us that He values “small.”
One of the smallest ministries in our church—caring for those with special needs—is one of the nearest and dearest to my heart. We provide one-on-one buddies, who come alongside children with special abilities. In doing so, we also give their parents a much-needed break to find spiritual refreshment.
We don’t serve a lot of children, but what we do is impactful. As we lovingly care for each child, we are also blessing their parents, siblings, and the extended family. We are also sending a message that God loves and values each person, regardless of ability.
Some of our families have been unable to attend church for years due to their child’s health demands. But this small but faithful ministry is creating a safe place for these families to minister and be ministered to.
Some day in heaven I would love to hear the stories of the lives changed by the testimony of that former demoniac. My guess is that small ministries are not so small after all.
Fearfully and Wonderfully Made
“I think your son has a syndrome.” This is what the hospital physician shared with me just hours after my son’s birth. That day my life changed forever. Little did I know then that I had just entered the world of “special needs”: daily therapy appointments (OT /PT/speech) doctor visits, surgeries, and hospitalizations.
As I sat alone hearing this devastating news, I knew I desperately needed to talk with someone. My husband was at home catching up on the sleep he had missed over the last 48 hours, so I turned to God and his Word. Finding Psalm 139:13–16, I read:
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful . . .
God reminded me with these verses that it was it was He who had carefully framed and made my son and that His works were wonderful. Nathan was not a mistake but a chance for God to be glorified though His work of wonder. I continued to read in verses 15 and 16:
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
God also affirmed to me that not only did He know my son intimately, but He also had a plan for him as well. I might not always know or understand what that would be, but I knew that I could trust the Creator God with the plan He had for my precious infant son.
Armed with this reminder of God’s sovereignty and goodness, I walked down the long hospital hall to the nursery to gather up in my arms my “wonderfully made” son.
That was 33 years ago. Today, Nathan continues to reveal to me how wonderful are God’s works! Nathan loves the Lord and delights in serving as our Awana mascot, Cubbie Bear. He is a hugger who likes telling jokes, beating me at thumb wars, and bringing friends of all abilities to church.
How would you feel if the community labeled you with your weakest trait? Suppose you were in the grocery store and a familiar voice called out: “Hey, it’s Mr. Can’t-Dance” or “Mrs. Bad-at-Math!” How would you feel?
As a teacher in Uruguay I found myself wondering how to inspire fourth grade boys to reach out to people with disabilities in the community. My plan? I invited a group of blind soccer players to demonstrate their skills for the school. These boys were F-L-A-B-B-E-R-G-A-S-T-E-D at how talented these players were. Being able to use your strengths to overcome a challenge is essential for growing in life. These boys admired other people they might have ignored due to a lack of knowledge regarding how to relate to each another. They realized that not only did they have common ground they could use to form friendships, but most significantly, they realized the importance of getting to know people and appreciating their strengths. Since we were faced with social stigmas against people with different abilities (a.k.a. someone labeled as being disabled), the program Ability Awareness was initiated.
Human nature tends to dictate that we focus on the negative instead of the positive attributes of people. The Puzzle Piece Perspective, which Doug Bowman introduced through the Christian Learning Center (CLC) Network, offers an outlook we can intentionally adopt. The concept in this case is that the puzzle piece, or individual, is composed of both green and pink areas. Green represents a person’s gifts and strengths; pink represents areas we consider weaknesses or that need more development. I agree with CLC consultant Barbra Newman’s supposition that we humans were knit together with green and pink yarn. “For you have created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). The purpose of this concept is to celebrate the reality that each of us has strengths and weaknesses.
Unfortunately, many people see individuals with disabilities as “all pink.” They may use a disability as a label instead of focusing on the person and that individual’s abilities.
God knew exactly what He was doing when He made us. He does not make mistakes, and He does not make puzzle pieces that are all pink. Each of us has been given a gift—a different perspective than the world offers—to bring to the Body of believers. God has hand-knit each of us and given us each a specific spot to fill in His Kingdom.
God also does not make all-green puzzle pieces. We each are a beautiful blend of strengths and weaknesses. As members of a family, community, and church, our strengths can be used to encourage or help others where they need development—their “pink” areas. We fit together like a puzzle in the Body of Christ, crafted and placed in a community God planned, as described in 1 Corinthians 12: 21–27.
We can apply this perspective to our church ministries. The questions that initially arise when discussing ministry among people with disabilities may be:
- Do you want to minister TO a child with disabilities?
- Do we have ministries FOR children with special needs?
But these questions are sending the subliminal message to those with disabilities that “you need me to thrive.” This makes it sound like people who are disabled are fully pink puzzle pieces and the rest of us are all green. This is not the case.
We need a philosophical shift away from “leaders and followers” in how we do ministry among people with disabilities. Our goal must be to create genuine relationships. This shift can begin with healthier questions such as:
- How can we minister WITH people that have disabilities?
- How can we empower people to use their strengths to engage them in meaningful ministry?
In Disability and the Gospel: How God Uses Our Brokenness to Display His Grace, Nancy Eiesland reminds us that: We are “…temporarily able-bodied and our seeming wholeness and wellness is fragile . . . and fleeting in this broken world.”
As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more” (Psalm 103:13–14).
It is wise to remember we are dust and therefore cannot trust in our own abilities. As a church, how can we foster an “ability awareness” mentality? We must be good stewards today of the strengths God gave us before the wind blows.
Interested in learning more? Let us introduce you to Patty , our Special Needs Ministry Consultant.
Email: [email protected]
Beates, Michael. 2012. Disability and the Gospel: How God Uses Our Brokenness to Display His Grace. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway.
Newman, Barbra. 2015. Accessible Gospel, Inclusive Worship. Wyoming, Michigan: Christian Learning Center Network.
I would like to share with you “Welcome to Holland,” an essay by Emily Perl Kingsley, the mother of a child with special needs.
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability—to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this . . .
When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”
“Holland?!” you [ask]. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”
But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a . . . place full of pestilence, famine, and disease. It’s just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guidebooks. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around . . . and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills . . . and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy . . . and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away . . . because the loss of that dream is a very, very, significant loss.
But . . . if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things . . . about Holland.
c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved.
The past year-and-a-half, I have had the privilege of “appreciating Holland” on my journey as a personal care attendant. The individual I take care of is nonverbal. God has used her life to bring people in the community to Christ and bless families with a center for respite.
She has a great sense of humor, holds no grudges, and she is a woman of strength and perseverance. God is glorified through her, and I learn from her daily. When I earned my degree in special education, I knew that anything related to the field would be challenging, but I was quickly awakened to a reality I had never experienced.
The American Community Survey noted that in 2015 there were 39,996, 900 individuals—of all ages— reported to have a disability in the United States. Also, “. . . nearly 50% (46.6%) of parents with children that have special needs said they refrained from participating in a religious activity because their child was not included or welcomed.”
If churches are not equipped or willing to welcome and support families and individuals with disabilities, who will come alongside them to show them the love of Christ and point them to God? There is a need.
Please prayerfully join me in considering what each of us can do in our local churches to reach out and show God’s love. Appreciating Holland is not hard; let’s not miss what Holland has to offer!
Grcevich, Stephen. “What Are the Stats on Disability and the Church?” (Feb. 9,2016)
What are the stats on disability and church?
Kingsley, Emily. “Welcome to Holland.” (1987) http://www.our-kids.org/Archives/Holland.html
Accessed Nov. 16, 2017.
Erickson, W., Lee, C., and von Schrader, S. “2015 Disability Status Report: United
States.” Ithaca, NY: Yang-Tan Institute on Employment and Disability at the Cornell University ILR
School (YTI). http://www.disabilitystatistics.org/StatusReports/2015-PDF/2015-StatusReport_US.pdf