by John Knight
The saddest stories I hear from parents raising a child with a disability don’t involve schools, insurance companies, or hospitals. The stories that elicit the most bitter words, and tears, are the ones about churches that abandon families with a disabled child because they are “just too difficult to deal with.”
This really happens. Too many parents are told, directly and indirectly, by a pastor or church leader or Sunday School volunteer: You do not belong here. This is something no one should hear from his or her church. This is something that should never cross the lips of a ministry leader — not if they really believe what the Bible says about God’s sovereignty and good design in disability.
But hearing yet another mother’s story of how a church, over the course of years, mistreated her and her child because of disability, it became clear that there are actually some situations when it is a grace from God to feel — or actually be told — that your family is not welcome at a church.
In fact, there are at least four situations when it is good for a church to prefer you leave.
It is good that a church wants you gone if . . .
1. The pastor preaches a health-and-wealth, prosperity “gospel.”
The prosperity (so-called) “gospel” isn’t just an abhorrent theology, but it is also used to abuse families experiencing disability. After all, as these churches say, if we only had enough faith the child would not be experiencing this disability. Those kind of senseless lies have a terrible effect on families.
2. The pastor preaches social justice instead of the gospel.
This is the church that neglects the reality of sin and our need for the Savior. Ironically, these churches can often be the most accommodating because they focus on the marginal. But families experiencing disability need more than accommodation. They need a big God who provides real hope and gives real justice, not merely a divine social worker who offers advice along the way and is frustrated the government isn’t doing more.
3. The church embraces a culture of entertainment over serious exposition of God’s word.
Some churches might be disappointed that their awesome music, incredible activities, and trendy aesthetics are not that relevant to everyone. Some churches would rather lead by their hipness than by providing real answers to questions about God’s goodness in the face of suffering.
4. The church prizes affluence over the Calvary Road.
Some churches love orderliness. They value tidiness and a certain way to do everything. This is when the standards are set so high, so unbiblical, that a child with disability and his or her family are incapable of meeting them. This kind of church is more loyal to their way of doing things than to serving a family in need.
In these cases, it is a gift and protection from God that he drives us away from such places.
But with that said, sometimes churches can be perplexed or even frightened by the issue of disability. Some churches might not know what to do, even though they love God and his word. In instances like this, when the church is centered on the gospel, we can show our confidence in God by being patient, by trusting God to grow the church and work in the hearts of its leaders.
Yes, God is powerful enough to give us the grace to stand in such circumstances. And then, in some circumstances, he is gracious enough to move us on.