There is a line in the movie The Devil Wears Prada that Meryl Streep’s character delivers so flawlessly, I still quote it 15 years after the movie’s release. In expressing her contempt for the work pace of her intern, Streep says simply “By all means move at a glacial pace. You know how that thrills me.” Glaciers move painfully slowly through their landscape. Most of the time, their movement is unremarkable, except for those tasked with studying such geological phenomena. I once visited Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska and was wowed by both the sheer size of the glacier and by the very fact that something so massive could move or change at all.
Do you know what else is tough to move and change? Church culture.
Streep’s iconic quote could so easily be applied to the church, as it attempts to build a culture of inclusion. In fact, one of the number one topics that comes up in disability ministry consultation is the frustration many feel with the rate of change of their church when it comes to supporting, integrating, and equipping those with disabilities (or any traditionally marginalized population) in their congregations. Sometimes, the temptation is to ruminate on our chronic discouragement, or even to give up altogether when desperately needed change feels impractical or impossible. But, what if we didn’t throw our hands up and walk away?
What if we just kept going?
If we keep going, we see that God is with us for the long haul.
Many Biblical narratives chronicle the struggle of God’s people responding to His call to build something for a purpose greater than we could have imagined. Arks, like the one Noah built-in Genesis, are not built overnight. And city walls, like the one built by Nehemiah in the Old Testament, are no weekend project. The building of the early Church of Acts took extraordinary measures of endurance, perseverance, and grit. In each of these stories, God called faithful, servant-hearted people to carry out a monumental task that would ultimately glorify Him. None of these tasks were completed without encountering their challenges. Noah was viewed as foolish for building the ark. Nehemiah’s wall was frequently under threat of attack. The apostles courageously spread the message of the Gospel in some intensely hostile environments. Amidst all of the struggles, setbacks, and challenges, those who were called kept going. God did not abandon them or forget about them, as He was with them from beginning to end. If God has called you to see something through, resist the temptation to give up, lest you miss the opportunity to partner with Jesus for the long term.
If we keep going, we see God’s faithfulness on full display.
Sometimes, we would love ministry to be a self-sustaining, self-sufficient endeavor, divorced from dependence on competing church budgets, church logistics, and church leadership. Unless you are routinely finding unattended and unmarked bags of cash and using them to independently fund your ministry, you are likely working in collaboration with many, many others toward building a more inclusive church culture. And the rate of progress might feel absolutely glacial. However, let us not impress our time constraints onto the pace of the work of Jesus in our lives and congregations.
We should not directly correlate the amount of time it takes to change the church with the level of God’s faithfulness. Was God any less faithful to the Israelites, who wandered in the desert for 40 years, than He was to the leper Jesus healed outside of the city walls in Matthew 8? Was God any less faithful to Job than He was when he fed the crowd of 5000 in Matthew 14? No. The faithfulness of The Father cannot be evaluated based on how quickly--or how slowly--progress is made. If the quest to build an inclusive culture in your church seems to be advancing ever so slowly, take heart that God’s faithfulness is still operating at full capacity.
Through all of the challenges, trials, struggles, and adversity you and your ministry team may face, believe that God still has a plan for your church to build and cultivate a culture of inclusion. Even if it may not happen according to our hoped-for timeline. God is no less faithful in the marathons as He is in the sprints. So keep going, even if it’s at a glacial pace for now.