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Her eyes were brimming with tears—was it relief, was it gratitude, was it exhaustion? It was most certainly gratitude. For sixteen years, we sat in the back of the church. We could not attend Sunday school classes or the social activities associated with them. We have a nontypical adult son who has been diagnosed with autism, and historically there have been no programs for him at church. We would take turns leaving with him when the music was too loud or a child sat in front of us who distracted, and thereby irritated, our son. But at this moment on this Lord’s Day, our church launched a class for nontypical students. Skye was the oldest student, essentially because the divorce rate among families like ours approaches 80 percent and it is easier for a single parent to stay home with his or her child than to bring the child to church when there is no assistance. It was the first time that my wife and I had sat together in a worship service in sixteen years without juggling the responsibility of our son. My wife leaned into my arm and wept. We worshiped.

I often hear conversations about unreached people groups and exotic populations of people who need to hear the hope of the gospel message. But there may be unreached people in your neighborhood. Of children under the age of 18, 4.3 percent are considered disabled. These nontypical kids and their families often find it easier to opt out of church. It has been documented that these households feel isolated, tired, and in great need of support. In Luke 14, Jesus tells a parable concerning His desire to open the “banquet table” to the overlooked and marginalized. Peruse the invitation—the poor and crippled, the blind and lame are to be invited and brought to the church. In all honesty, I often want the rich, beautiful, and gifted guests at my table. Maybe the reason I am at the table in the first place is that in God’s economy I am the weaker and less desirable. Second, notice the sense of urgency—“Go out quickly”—these are powerful action words for our Lord. He does not say, “Let’s wait and see if we have anyone poor, crippled, or lame and then develop a ministry.” This is a command to search and find and bring them in.

Once again, notice the passion to which the church is called to this population: “Compel people to come in” (emphasis added). This admonishment for the church is not a passive invitation to this subgroup; Jesus says to do this quickly and compel them to come in. The banquet table of the Lord looks more diverse than most of our churches. This is not a call to tolerate nontypical people but one to seek them out and invite them in with passion and love. This is not an invitation to tolerate nontypical individuals and their families but a command to seek them with passion and invite them to the great banquet of our King.

An outreach ministry can be “to serve someone,” “for someone,” or “with someone.” Often church ministries begin as programs directed to a population. These often do not ask many questions or research the true needs of the group to be served. These types of ministries, though often well motivated, may not be very successful. A ministry must, at the least, be for the target group. A ministry for a target group will probably involve more volunteers, research, community input, and energy but is much better at meeting needs than at being simply a social group. The church may, however, strive to develop programs and join with nontypical participants. Even small churches can be thinking through these ways of ministering.

This is not a call to tolerate nontypical people but one to seek them out and invite them in with passion and love.

First Corinthians 12:22 informs us that God sees the weaker parts of the church as necessary. Moving toward a ministry for nontypical or disabled individuals and their families requires at least two things. First, church leadership must understand the important role that these individuals have in the church and be committed to making all things accessible in the church. Second, leaders must give up the illusion of “perfect” performance. The most powerful worship I have experienced was at a Joni and Friends camp led by a young man with a severe speech impediment. He was not on pitch and he was not a good-looking young singer. He was a broken and twisted man who loved Jesus and sang from his very soul. His example invited all of us to worship the Lord whom he loved.

What would people think if a nontypical person was a greeter in your church on Sunday? What would the music sound like if we allowed a disabled singer to help lead worship? These individuals can help if they can perform these jobs sufficiently, but the church may need to give up the illusion of perfection. The banquet table of God will not be filled only with the beautiful people—it will be filled with His children, and that will include the poor, crippled, blind, and lame.

Are marginalized individuals a part of your worship team or choir? Are they part of your welcome team? Maybe instead of begging uninterested people into the banquet, we ought to invite others into the King’s banquet. If I compare the best singer in the worship team or choir to the voice of an angel, it may not sound like much, but God allows it because it is all that he or she can offer. If God allows the likes of me to be a leader in my church, maybe we should realize that perfection is not as important as heartfelt engagement.

Not one of us is perfect or sinless, as our Father’s original creation was. We are all nontypical and possess a fractured understanding of God. Can any of us truly understand the lurid blackness of sin or the stark purity of forgiveness? First Corinthians 13:12 confirms that the brightest of us can see only through a veil while on this earth.

I will never forget the day that my family felt as though we belonged in the church. Our son had a class, a place he belonged, a community. We then felt as though we also had a place and a community that did not just tolerate us but embraced us as part of the family of God.

Exploitation and Sacrifice in a Fallen World

Education for Children of the King

Keep Reading The Church Militant and Triumphant

From the April 2023 Issue
Apr 2023 Issue