Welcome to part one of three on a series about what I’ve learned from being a newbie at running and how it relates to disability ministry.
I remember growing up when my parents turned forty. We had the classic “over the hill” parties for them. Everyone had a good time poking fun at the fact that they were now officially old.
Fast-forward thirty plus years and I now sit on the other side of forty by a few years. Look who is laughing now?!?! Not me.
It is hard for me to see myself now as old as I perceived my parents to be then. Regardless there is no slowing down the clock. There are certain realities to aging that we will all experience like it or not. For me, I find it harder and harder to stay in good shape.
After traveling for the entire month of June I found myself to be out of shape. Part of me being out of shape was the result of not being able to exercise like I was in the routine of doing. Another part was poor eating habits on the road. I did, however, become the first person ever eat all the dozen flavors of cookie dough at DOH! TOGO in Carolina Beach, NC. I got a free koozie and my picture on their wall of fame. Should I be proud of that?
I tried to go back to my prior routine which was doing the elliptical at the YMCA for thirty minutes a day. For some reason that just wasn’t cutting. I needed to change up my routine to get better results. So, I decided to do something that I had previously sworn that I would never do. I decided to start running outdoors.
There are so many reasons why I swore to never become a runner. There are my top two reasons. First, because of how silly people look when they are running. If I became one of them I wouldn’t be able to laugh at them anymore. I know this sounds awful. Try not to judge me! People would either be laughing at me or feeling sorry for me because of how awkward I would look while running. Second, because I already have had one knee operation. Any time I had attempted running before it was always accompanied by pain. I don’t particularly like doing things that cause me pain.
I decided to start off small and manageable. I committed to running 3 miles a day for the first month. Even this small commitment was more difficult than I imagined. I learned a lot and made many adjustments to try to both minimize the pain and maximize my workout.
When you run for thirty or more minutes at a time you are often left with nothing but your thoughts. As I navigated through my thoughts of being a newbie at running I also pondered how my experiences mirrored many things that I learned while being a newbie to disability ministry years ago.
One of the things that I learned quickly was that environment isn’t everything, but it sure can help!
What do I mean?
While running I noticed a marked difference in my performance based on the temperature outside and the time of day. If I ran early in the morning it was much cooler and easier to run. But, if I ran in the middle of the day it was typically hot and much more difficult to run. My mile running times were much slower in the middle of the day. If I ran later in the evening it was again cooler and easier to run. My mile times were typically faster when I ran in the evenings.
What I was doing was no different, but my results were different based upon the environment I was doing them in.
This same truth applies to your efforts in disability ministry. Your environment will play a factor in the results you get. Be sure you hear me say this… You don’t have to have the optimal environment to be successful, but it will make your efforts more difficult. Environment isn’t everything, but it sure can help!
Consider these environment scenarios.
If your church can give you designated space so that you can have a sensory room doing your disability ministry efforts will be much easier.
If your church is a church plant renting space in your community on Sundays, your disability ministry efforts will take much more effort. You won’t have any designated space, but that doesn’t mean you cannot bring in sensory bins and create sensory friendly zones. It will take more effort, but it is doable.
If your church has already earned the trust of your disability community through efforts like hosting a Jesus Prom or Respite Nights your Sunday morning disability ministry efforts will be much easier.
If your church is starting from square one and has never engaged your disability community your disability ministry efforts will take more time. Trust is built over time. Disability ministry is more like a crock pot than a microwave. This doesn’t mean that you won’t be successful it just means that you will need to make an intentional effort over time to earn trust. A trusting environment is a healthy place that will foster growth.
If your church is open to embracing new ideas your disability ministry efforts will be much easier. This openness environment is typically the result of leadership. Leaders that embrace the new and unknown for the sake of reaching ALL people create environments that are very conducive to growth.
If your church doesn’t like to try new things your disability ministry efforts may be frustrating from the start. This doesn’t mean that it will be impossible, but it will at times feel like you are pushing a boulder up a hill all by yourself. You will likely have to prove yourself before leadership will be open considering the possibility of a new ministry idea.