One recent Sunday afternoon, I made a visit to the hospital to see Brian, who had been admitted the day before. Forty-four years ago, Brian was born with a condition called spina bifida. This is a condition in which a person's spine does not develop completely before birth and does not completely cover the spinal cord. Brian has lived his life disabled. His parents bring him to church in a wheel chair.
On this visit to the hospital, Brian’s mother Wendy told me about his birth and her initial reaction to his disabled condition. On the day Brian was born, Wendy prayed and gave Brian to the Lord. She and her husband were delighted and overjoyed at his birth. However, the joy turned to deep concern and great sorrow as the doctors discovered his condition. Wendy’s joy turned to anger toward God. It seemed so unfair. Why couldn’t Brian be healthy like most other babies? Why does he have to go through this?
A good friend of Wendy’s was a great help to her during that time. She listened and was there for her. She reminded Wendy of her commitment to give Brian to the Lord. “You have given Brian to the Lord. Don’t take him back. He is the Lord’s now.” The anger and burden of sorrow lifted over time as Wendy and her husband loved and provided for Brian. He is the joy of their life today. They embrace Brian as God’s wonderful gift to provide for each day.
When I walked away from that visit, I realized God had a message for me through this wonderful young man and his parents. God’s calling and gifts do not always fit our image of what we consider to be normal and successful. As one who deals with pastors and leaders, I often see and hear about disabled churches. They are not healthy. They are not growing. If things don’t change, some of these churches will not survive. These churches and their leaders are in challenging and difficult places. These churches have a wounded past that has left them with an uncertain future.
Many of us have had the opportunity to pastor and lead a disabled church. It is not uncommon to feel anger and frustration in such a place. It’s normal to ask questions like, “Why am I here?” “Why didn’t God give me a healthy church with a hopeful future?” “Why do I have a disabled congregation to lead?” This kind of place can feel like a hospice ministry.
This is when we need testimonies like Wendy’s regarding her disabled son Brian. God gave us this place and these people to lead in such a time as this. Our calling is to be faithful to His will. We are called to love the people God has brought into our life. We are called to love the community God has given to us. Success before God is not about how many we had in our church, but how did we serve those God has given to us.
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