Central Christian Church Bradenton
 
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Created by the Congregation

Our church Deacons, Elders, Board Members and Ministers met together with the Lord on Saturday, July 20th.  We prayed, read Scripture, worshiped, brainstormed and listened to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  We all felt God calling us into more action serving our community. 

OUR VISION articulates what we believe God is calling us to help bring about.  This “loving community” is not just our church but the whole of Manatee County.  We want to work towards, not just our church embracing those who have felt “unwelcome” at other churches, but helping all of Manatee County be more inclusive, welcoming, compassionate and understanding of differences.

OUR MISSION defines where we feel God calling us to join in, and expand, the work already being done.

Group Homes:  We feel God calling us to expand our transportation to even more people living in Group Homes.  We also need to expand our engagement with this community beyond Sunday services.

Special Needs:  God has given us a heart for those living with developmental and intellectual differences as well as physical challenges.  We embrace this community as fully participating members of God’s family. We are partnering with Special Olympics Manatee and Easter Seals of Southwest Florida to do even more.

Homeless: We serve with Downtown Ministries to bring clothing and food to those in need.  Some of our members came through this partnership.  They need additional help and we are committed to providing what we can with donations of clothes, food and $.

Recovering from Addictions:  God is calling us to offer more support to people suffering from various addictions.  We have been were they are, and are in recovery with them.

LGBTQ+ Community:  For us this means more than just open and affirming; one of our ministers and Elders are a members of this community.  The LGBTQ+ community has a history of being “unwelcome” at many churches.  At Central Christian they are fully equal family members accepted as they are created.

 

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Jesus invites those with special needs

"Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

— Luke 12: 12-14

Excerpts from Pastor Ken’s very first sermon at Central Christian Church help tell the story of why this mission is so important to us

Paul's letter to the Corinthians, affirms that God gives greater 'honor' to those who are deemed to lack it, Paul says;

But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you', nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you.' On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Corinthians 12:18-26)

 

From the very beginnings of his ministry, Jesus spent time with those who were not part of ‘normal’.  In chapter 7 Luke tells of John the Baptist sending some of his followers to find out what Jesus was doing.  Jesus tells them,

Go and tell John what you have seen and heard; the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the leapers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news preached to them.”

Jesus spent time with those that normal society did not. A lot of time.

What about developmental and intellectual disabilities; what does the Bible teach us?  What does our experience teach us?

First, Jesus recognized that God's profoundest communication came not in words from or to the minds of the wise.  In chapter 10 Luke shares a prayer Jesus spoke:

At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, 'I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”

 

Those of us who live with or work with people with developmental delays and intellectual disabilities observe that they are frequently quicker to hear from God than the rest of us. They are often seen as foolish in the eyes of this world but are wise towards God. A few years ago, I was walking by my son Matthew’s room and there was our Pastor on his TV, sharing last week’s message.  Matthew, completely on his own, had found it on YouTube and streamed it to his TV via Apple TV.  I had no idea he was even paying attention in church.  Now we can often hear him listening to videos of our former church’s praise band playing worship music, with his headphones on and dancing throughout the house in his fashion.

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:25 that the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

 

We can see and experience God's special purpose for those with disabilities: 

Complete strangers have come to Bernadette and I on many occasions, to say how our son Matthew has touched them spiritually.  How they have seen God in him, in his joy, in our love.  I believe he is going to be missed by more people in my old church than we are.  God was using his apparent foolish noises, erratic movements and unintelligible speech to speak to and minister to more people than we ever knew about. And what he taught me about unconditional love; I wouldn’t be here, wouldn’t be in ministry, if it wasn’t for God using Matthew to teach me how to love people unconditionally. 

I’m sure many of you have experienced or heard similar things when encountering people with developmental or intellectual disabilities.  Listening to Dawn Lee sing Silent Night Holy night brought so much great joy to my heart.  Thank you whoever posted it.

 

This suggests that seen from an eternal perspective we should revise our whole view of disability. We who thought we had the advantages in life – the strong, the clever, the ones the world regards as 'gifted' – find that on a spiritual level we can be severely disabled compared to our brothers and sisters who lack those intellectual giftings, but whose spiritual life can be marked by abilities and giftings we never suspected.

 

As a Christian community, what can we do to ensure that the status of disabled people that we find in the Bible is worked out among God's people today?

 

The first thing is to approach disabled people with humility, in the way that the Bible instructs us to approach everyone. Paul writes in Romans:

For by the grace given to me I say to every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.” (Romans 12:3-8).

 

Crucially, we must allow disabled people to use their gifts to serve us, the church and the community:

“Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:15-16)

Every joint, every member must be used to build up the church.

 

The Christian disability charity 'Through the Roof' completed a survey of disabled people's experience of church. One thing that emerged is that among the disabled Christian community there is such a wealth of spiritual wisdom and maturity, we can only ask why more of them are not represented in the leadership of more churches.

 

We must treat disabled people with more, not less, respect and honor. As we have seen, they are to be given pride of place at the feast table (Luke 14:12-14) and treated with greater honor (1 Corinthians 12:23):

 

We must go beyond mere inclusion. Disabled people don't simply need to be included (although that's a good starting place) – they need to belong. And in the church, of all places, there must be no 'them and us'. The author, John Swinton explains this distinction very clearly:

“The problem we have with society is a real emphasis – and a quite right emphasis – on inclusion. I think at one level that's fine. However, inclusion is simply not enough. To include people in society is just to have them there. All we have to do is make the church accessible, have the right political structures, make sure people have a cup of tea at the end of the service or whatever. There is a big difference between inclusion and belonging.”

If you belong, you must be missed. There's something important about that. People need to long for you, to want you to be there. When you're not there, they should go looking for you.

 

We must advocate for them.  When society or government discriminate or limit opportunities we should be outraged – absolutely outraged that people are doing things against people with disabilities.

God doesn’t just call us to include those from the outskirts of society.  Throughout the Bible God teaches us not only to seek justice, but to rescue the oppressed, deliver them from the hand of the oppressor, defend, plead and guard the rights of those society does not, to act and to do justice.

That means working right alongside of and for the disabled community outside of Sunday services.  If this is truly a ministry, we feel called from God to participate in, there’s no going in half way.  We need to embrace this call wholeheartedly.

 

To belong, you must not only feel welcome but feel that this group gets you, this place feels like home, it’s comfortable to be here.  Do they understand that it’s hard, almost impossible for some, to sit for an hour?  Is there a place I can stand and walk around during worship service without being looked at funny?  Do they mind if I make funny noises or call out in the middle of a song or sermon?  Or do they always ask me to be quiet?  Do they have some of the things that can calm my anxieties, without relegating me to the back of the room or to a separate place?  Do I really belong?

 

Brothers and sisters, I can tell you from experience, that when Matthew was growing up we often couldn’t go to church because we could not find such a place where he belonged.  Some even asked us to take him out of their church.  For many years Bernadette and I went to separate services and Matthew stayed home, or we didn’t go at all.  I’ve met many families of people with disabilities who experienced the same thing.  We can walk into a church and almost immediately tell if the get it or not.  If someone like our son would be more than welcome there, is it a place they would want to go.  Because if our kids are not welcome than neither are we.

 

I thank our God for bringing me here to this loving church family who feel called to serve, include, welcome and be one with, the disability community and their families.  God is going to do amazing things at Central Christian Church in Bradenton.  Our new location is going to be a haven for families with disabilities who want to come together with us to worship our Almighty God who performs miracles every day.  God has placed this vision on your heart before you ever met me, and I felt, from the first time I preached here back in the fall of 2017, that this was the place God would bring me to.  At least I hoped it was.  God is already at work, bringing us together, this move we are in the middle of is part of God’s plan.

How all this is going to come into place, we are not sure yet.  We know two things where God provides Vision, there is Provision, let me say that again, where God provides Vision, there is Provision; and we know with God nothing is impossible.

 

Amen.