When you hear the words “forever young” what comes to mind might be tied to what generation you are from. Maybe you think of the Bob Dylan song “Forever Young” from 1974 where he declares, “May you stay forever young.” Maybe you think of the slightly creepy 1984 Alphaville music video “Forever Young.” In this video, the band members wearing jump suits sing to a collection of children and senior citizens who eventually disappear after walking into a bright light. Or maybe you think the 2004 cult classic film Napoleon Dynamite where the hapless trio of Napoleon, Pedro, and Deb stand on the sidelines of the school dance as the song “Forever Young” plays in the background. Maybe it’s not a song or a movie. Maybe it is a cosmetic beauty industry that annually brings in over 60 billion dollars as we all strive to cling to a younger look.
Now try, if you can, to set aside the jingle of the song “Forever Young” in the recesses of your mind and think of these words in the context of disability ministry. Many churches approach disability ministry as if it is something that is frozen in time, something that is “Forever Young.” Am I overgeneralizing? Unfortunately, not. Whether intentional or not most churches make their children’s ministry department solely responsible for their disability ministry. Promotional materials and recruiting tools zero in on all the cute babies and young children with Down Syndrome. Disability ministry programming doesn’t often exist outside of a children’s ministry buddy program.
The reality that some churches overlook is the fact that children affected by disability don’t stay children forever. They don’t all stay cute and little. While this fact may seem elementary there are many reasons why churches only provide disability ministry within the context of the children’s ministry. First, churches may feel like they are doing well by just offering something because only 10% of churches offer any form of disability ministry. Second, because of being strapped for resources and staff churches chose to just figure it out as they go, or grow, when it comes to disability ministry. Third, because of the disability ministry movement being in its infancy there just aren’t that many resources or helps available to churches.
We realize that no one stays “Forever Young.” We also realize that disability ministry isn’t just something that children’s ministry is responsible for. An effective disability ministry is one that is embraced by the whole church and all its ministries. It should be a cradle to grave ministry. It should be part of the fabric of the church, fully integrated.