Faith communities build leaders- we see the same story across American History- from the revolutionary war to the modern civil rights movement, leaders nurtured in their faith communities as young people, who go on to bring our country into a better and brighter future. As faith communities, who we call and nurture as lay and youth leaders in our communities is important, and being sure that the leaders that we call are representative of our whole faith community is essential.
Calling and nurturing leaders with disabilities may take intentional planning. The following ideas may help you:
- Focus on strengths: The easiest place to lead is out of our strengths. Look for the interests and strengths of members with disabilities, and invite people into leadership around those strengths- does a person love music? Like technology? Have a natural gift for hospitality? Great- put people to work based on their strengths. Church leaders can even think about ways to be creative- creating new leadership roles in worship, fellowship, education, or service that meet the strengths of parishioners.
- Start outside of worship: Although we always think about making changes in worship, sometimes it’s easier to pilot changes in less public areas of church life. Think about fellowship, service and education settings first, then move up to worship.
- Use supported leadership: Co-leadership of committees, companies and organizations is increasingly common. We can embrace shared leadership in our faith communities as well. Using peer supports in leadership roles is an excellent way to support faith leaders with disabilities.
- Embrace imperfection: Embrace mistakes and imperfection in your own leadership- and teach your congregation that perfection is not the aim of worship. Help them to tolerate and grow comfortable supporting imperfection and vulnerability, helping your congregation to embrace inclusion.
- Maximize on routines and traditions: Do you have roles in your faith community that don’t change much week to week or even year to year? Things like lighting the candles, or helping in services are often roles that don’t change much. These kinds of tasks can be a perfect leadership opportunity for people who thrive on routine. Think about adding peer supports, providing practice, or breaking the task into small segments as ways to create a pathway to leadership.
Supporting people with disabilities as leaders in your faith community not only honors God- in whose image we are all created- it also nurtures people with disabilities as leaders in your church, and in our community. Further, when people with disabilities are leaders in your community, it models inclusive practices and gives people the opportunity to see themselves as leaders. For more ideas on how to be more inclusive in your faith community, be sure to check out www.faithinclusion.com.
Published in the September 2021 UCICC Newsletter.