We have so many different categories for people. We categorize people as leaders, followers, weak, strong, smart, not so smart, athletic, introvert, extrovert, single, married, divorced, widowed, wealthy, poor, middle class; the list could continue for a very long time.
Categories are good and essential to the structure of organizations and culture; however, the individuals in these categories have the potential to cause pain, limit the growth of individuals that don’t fit the majority and limit the perspectives of individuals who can’t see outside of their category. Normally this happens when an individual or group of individuals sees themselves as “better” than someone else in a different category. The reality, however, is that we are all in one larger category together. We are all broken and in need of a savior. This should change the way we view all of our other categories.
There are some categories that are better than other categories. We want to push people into the better category, which can be a good thing, if that category is actually better. There are also some categories that are just different, not better or worse. We want to make one or the other “better” and then push people into what we think is the better one. We forget that we don’t always know nor can we determine what category is better, and we miss out on what God is doing in the life of someone very different from us. We get stuck on seeing the category as the problem, in our own lives and in the lives of others. We also get stuck on the physical realities of our categories, rather than focusing on the spiritual reality of who we are in Christ.
This plays out in a very tangible, concrete way for individuals with disabilities. Everyone seems to be in a “better” category than those with special needs. They are seen as their category, rather than as an individual with unique gifts and a capacity to bring glory to God. So is this really true? Are those of us not categorized with special needs really in a better category than those who are? How do we really know if what we consider “special needs” is really a worse category than someone who has horrible parents or lost their job or is going through a divorce? The reality is that we forget to step outside of all of these categories and think about the main category. Do we (or those with special needs) believe that we are broken and in need of a savior? Do we believe in the saving power of Jesus’ death and resurrection? We all have an opportunity to accept this truth or reject it, regardless of our other categories.
As I think through how to love students with special needs, how to meet them where they are and push them towards Jesus, I see all over again how much our body of students need to be in community with people in different categories. We need those with special needs to be a part of our body. We, as a body, need to be more mindful of how to adjust the way we do things to help grow those that our “different”, whether it’s someone who is categorized with special needs, someone who is weak or someone who is just outside the category that the majority fit into.
If our students have special needs, I desire for them to pursue God, connect with the church and engage the world. They have a unique opportunity to do these three things in ways that I will never be able to. They will bring glory to their Creator in a way that I can’t. I desire for our students without special needs to do the same thing. They have a unique ability to do this in a way that those with special needs are not able to do. Students in both categories need to recognize their need for a savior, recognize that they need to live in community with each other and recognize that we are all part of the body of Christ with specific roles to play.
Our student ministry at Grace Church desires to integrate those with special needs into our body. We believe that God has a specific role for them to play within our student ministry, just as every other student does. We desire to push them to pursue God, connect with the church and engage the world by meeting them where they are and equipping them to know and love the gospel.
~ Leah Pinckney