Do you know what the third greatest commandment is? I know you are scratching your head saying there is no third greatest commandment, is there? Well if there were three greatest commandments I’m certain the third would be… “Be flexible.”
In fact, when I would sit in interviews either hiring people to work at our Day Program at First Christian Church or to volunteer in our disability ministry I would often lay out three baseline requirements: 1) Love Jesus, 2) Love people who are affected by disability, and 3) Be flexible. If you could not meet these three requirements I knew that disability ministry was not going to be a good fit.
Working in the field of disability ministry demands flexibility. Living with a disability demands flexibility. Without flexibility, you are bound to a life of frustration and limitations.
When it comes to flexibility in ministry I especially love the story of Rebecca Thompson and her baptism.
Baptism for many is a black and white issue where there is no flexibility. Yes, I agree that a believer’s baptism by immersion is clearly the New Testament model. There is no arguing this point when studying scripture. This is the standard that we believe in and hold to.
Having said that even Jesus our Lord, and Savior, was flexible on the issue. Gulp. Am I allowed to say that? Case in point look at the example of Jesus hanging on the cross. The criminals on either side of Jesus got in an argument. One criminal hurled insults at Jesus with his final dying breaths. The other criminal stood up for Jesus confirming that he was innocent and did not deserve to be sentenced to death. After this bold statement, he pleaded with Jesus to remember him when Jesus entered his kingdom.
Jesus responded, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43 NIV) Notice that Jesus didn’t say anything about following the five-finger exercise for salvation. Notice that Jesus didn’t check with him on whether he had been immersed or not. Clearly, Jesus showed some flexibility on the issue.
Okay, enough arguing doctrine. Back to Rebecca Thompson and her baptism.
Rebecca’s mother, Mary Thompson, writes:
From the time that our daughter was old enough to take in the worship service, she came either with us or her buddy. We wanted her to learn about how much Jesus loved her and what it means to worship Jesus. She learned these things to the best of her ability.
The last few months I would watch her during worship. She knew exactly the time during the songs to raise her hands and worship our Lord. It brought me to tears. Our congregation loves Rebecca and helps her to continue to grow in her love for the Lord. Our Pastor is amazing with her.
A couple of months ago I spoke with our pastor about Rebecca being baptized but didn’t think it could happen because she could not be immersed due to her disability. He said that is no problem we will make it work. So, on that very special day, Rebecca was able, in her own way to say she loves Jesus in front of a congregation and pastor who loves her. What a very special day for us as well. We were able to share a life verse we have for her, Psalm 139:13-17. It was a precious time.
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I absolutely love this story! I love that Rebecca Thompson’s Pastor said, “That is no problem, we will make it work.”
Every disability ministry leader should have those words written on the inside of their office doorframe. They should look at those words every time they walk out of their office and head out into the ministry field. Those words should be both a challenge and a reminder of the task that they will face every day doing the hard work of disability ministry.
“We will make it work.”
Disability ministry demands flexibility. Living with disability demands flexibility. It can work if we are all willing to be a little flexible.
This shows the heart of leader that will stop at nothing to be sure that ALL people have a place of belonging in the family of God. Even when it comes to black and white issues like baptism.