Reimagining the Good Life with Amy Julia Becker

Reimagining Church Leadership and Disability with Andrew Draper, Ph.D.

March 19, 2024 Andrew Draper Season 7 Episode 12
Reimagining Church Leadership and Disability with Andrew Draper, Ph.D.
Reimagining the Good Life with Amy Julia Becker
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Reimagining the Good Life with Amy Julia Becker
Reimagining Church Leadership and Disability with Andrew Draper, Ph.D.
Mar 19, 2024 Season 7 Episode 12
Andrew Draper

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Why does it matter that most churches don’t welcome people with disabilities in leadership? If a church excludes people with disabilities, is it really a church? Rev. Dr. Andrew Draper, coauthor of Disabling Leadership, talks with Amy Julia Becker about:

  • Ways in which churches exclude and marginalize people with disabilities
  • Why it’s essential to centralize people with disabilities in church life and leadership
  • How disability inclusion benefits the whole congregation
  • Reimagining church employment practices to create opportunities for people with disabilities
  • Why churches are tempted to pursue efficiency and productivity, and the invitation to a different way
  • How to minister in the midst of humanness

Workshop: Reimagining Family Life with Disability

EVENT: Festival of Faith & Writing

Guest Bio:

Rev. Dr. Andrew T. Draper (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is founding teaching pastor at Urban Light Community Church in Muncie, Indiana, and adjunct theology faculty at Anderson School of Theology and Winebrenner Seminary. He is the author of A Theology of Race and Place, Christian Mission and Poverty, and numerous articles on race, disability, and the church. He is the coauthor of Disabling Leadership: A Practical Theology for the Broken Body of Christ.
Connect Online:

On the Podcast:

YouTube: video with closed captions
Let’s reimagine the good life together. Find out more at

Connect with me:

Thanks for listening!

Show Notes Transcript

Send us a Text Message.

Why does it matter that most churches don’t welcome people with disabilities in leadership? If a church excludes people with disabilities, is it really a church? Rev. Dr. Andrew Draper, coauthor of Disabling Leadership, talks with Amy Julia Becker about:

  • Ways in which churches exclude and marginalize people with disabilities
  • Why it’s essential to centralize people with disabilities in church life and leadership
  • How disability inclusion benefits the whole congregation
  • Reimagining church employment practices to create opportunities for people with disabilities
  • Why churches are tempted to pursue efficiency and productivity, and the invitation to a different way
  • How to minister in the midst of humanness

Workshop: Reimagining Family Life with Disability

EVENT: Festival of Faith & Writing

Guest Bio:

Rev. Dr. Andrew T. Draper (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is founding teaching pastor at Urban Light Community Church in Muncie, Indiana, and adjunct theology faculty at Anderson School of Theology and Winebrenner Seminary. He is the author of A Theology of Race and Place, Christian Mission and Poverty, and numerous articles on race, disability, and the church. He is the coauthor of Disabling Leadership: A Practical Theology for the Broken Body of Christ.
Connect Online:

On the Podcast:

YouTube: video with closed captions
Let’s reimagine the good life together. Find out more at

Connect with me:

Thanks for listening!

Note: This transcript is autogenerated using speech recognition software and does contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Amy Julia (5s):
Why does it matter whether churches have people with disabilities in their congregations or in leadership? Today I talk with Andrew Draper about disability community, the temptation to efficiency and productivity, and the invitation to a different way. I'm Amy Julia Becker. and this is Reimagining, the Good Life A podcast about challenging the assumptions about what makes life good, proclaiming the inherent belovedness of every human being and envisioning a world of belonging. Reverend Dr. Andrew T Draper is the founding teaching pastor at Urban Lake Community Church in Muncie Indiana. He is an adjunct Theology faculty at Anderson School of Theology and Winebrenner Seminary He is the author of A Theology of Race and Place and numerous articles on race, disability, and the church.

Amy Julia (55s):
And he also co-authored Disabling Leadership. And we get to talk about this book today. Before our conversation begins, I do want to point out that I also have a new offering on the way. So for the first four Wednesdays in May, I'll be offering a class by Zoom called Reimagining Family Life with Disability. You're gonna run the class twice at 1:00 PM and 8:00 PM Eastern Standard Time. And If you subscribe to my weekly email. You will be the first to know when Registration opens If. you do not already subscribe. There's a link in the show notes, or you can go to Amy Julia Becker dot com, subscribe. I would love to have you join me, but now for my conversation with Andrew Draper, Well, I'm here today with Andrew Draper.

Amy Julia (1m 45s):
I'm, I'm curious, I don't actually know your title, Dr. Andrew Draper, is that correct?

Andrew (1m 50s):

Amy Julia (1m 51s):
All right. The Reverend Doctor Andrew Draper. Is that even more a

Andrew (1m 55s):
Yeah. A a a bit antiquated, but I am a pastor, so, or ordained in a a, a Wesleyan Church of God tradition.

Amy Julia (2m 4s):
Awesome. So the Reverend, Dr. Andrew Draper, who I'm gonna call Andrew from now on thank you, is here with us today, and Thank you for being here with us.

Andrew (2m 12s):
Oh, it's good to be here. Amy. Julia. Thank you for having me.

Amy Julia (2m 16s):
Well, you're very welcome. And probably longtime listeners to this podcast can just hear the title of your book and know why it is that I've asked you to be on here. So there Andrew has written a new book along with Jody Michelle and Andrea May, is that how you pronounce her name? Andrea? Yep. And it is Disabling Leadership A Practical Theology for the Broken Body of Christ, which I have read and enjoyed, especially because of the way in which I think you all really call on like the deep, you know, Theological and intellectual work that needs to be done to think about disability and make it accessible. And Practical and I feel like you usually get one or the other, not both together, which I'm sure we'll be able to talk about a little bit.

Amy Julia (2m 59s):
but I Wa wanted to start by just asking you to tell us about how this book came to be in general, but also it's, you know, written by three different people and I know your experiences together really played into the writing of the book and why it came to be So I was wondering, If, you could tell us that story.

Andrew (3m 17s):
Sure. So there are several reasons that came together to facilitate the writing of the book. First, I did my PhD studies in Aberdeen with Brian BrockI. They grew out of our ministry in an underserved context in Muncie Indiana thinking through issues related to racial justice. So I was interrogating the works of Willie Jennings and Jay Cameron Carter thinking through Theological anthropology and its relation to race, but began to see the way that Theological anthropology touches on many different issues of identity.

Amy Julia (4m 5s):
I'm sorry, I'm gonna, can I interrupt you for just a second? Yeah. For anyone who's listening who thinks those are big words that I don't know, Theological anthropology, will you just pause and explain that for just a sec? Sure,

Andrew (4m 16s):
Sure. Sorry. Yeah. So anthropology is the study of what it means to be human Theological anthropology is just simply saying from the Bible and from Christian tradition, how do we think about what it means to be a human being? So Theological anthropology is grounded, first and foremost in the idea of the image of God that we are created in the image of God. And different Christian thinkers down through the ages have thought about that in different ways. But the question, what does it mean to be human is a question that encompasses various other questions relating to gender or race or ability.

Andrew (4m 56s):
And, and these coalesce around this idea of, of being human. And so in, in my studies, seeing the intersection of these various facets of identity, then combined with my own personal life. So I I'm textbook obsessive compulsive and not in the cute way that kind of says, Hey, this is useful for getting a lot done, but in, but in a manner that has been very debilitating and has placed me in a dark place at different points in my life. Although with medical care and therapeutic care and, and medication and, and various components, I'm able to live a fairly healthy and whole life.

Andrew (5m 44s):
But alongside my own OCD, my wife Leslie, has a couple different rheumatological conditions that have worked together to, to, to make her professional work an extra level of challenge. Right? Yeah. So we both operate kind of at, at the intersection of these unseen disabilities. Hmm. And then one of our sons is autistic. And so the various ways that he sees the world differently, the ways that we've had to a adjust and think through what cognition, what learning, what relationship, what inclusion in human society looks like because of these various diversities and, and, and ability led me to thinking about disability as an important issue in the body of Christ.

Andrew (6m 48s):
Hmm. And then finally, of course, just the piece of ministering locally alongside Jody. Michelle and Andrea May, you know, early on in the life of our church, we thought a lot about racial justice and reconciliation, but not the myriad ways in which people with disabilities are excluded from or not welcomed into many churches in many different ways. And so, whereas Jody and Andrea might have thought about that a a bit more robustly given some of their own identities, for me, I was sort of a, a bit of a late comer in recognizing the way that my own family and my own community intersected with my studies.

Andrew (7m 40s):
And so it was kind of that the, I'd say the confluence of those three factors studies personal life and church ministry alongside Jody and Andrea that led us to recognizing that a Practical Theology of Disability was needed. One that, like you mentioned, is, is both grounded in the, in the tradition is, is open to and, and thinking through issues theologically, while at the same time recognizing that our commitments have to be embodied in a, in in practice. Right? So, so that's kind of how it came, came to be.

Amy Julia (8m 17s):
Hmm. Thank you so much for that. And just for, you know, readers who are not aware, if I understand it correctly, Jody has physical disabilities that mean she uses a, does she use a wheelchair, is that correct?

Andrew (8m 32s):
Yes, cerebral palsy.

Amy Julia (8m 34s):
Okay. And then Andrea is a mom of a daughter with Down Syndrome and also finds herself kind of in the advocacy space when it comes to disability and has been there for a while. So you've got Yes.

Andrew (8m 47s):

Amy Julia (8m 47s):
Terms of just your profile as well as theirs, there's a, yeah. You know, one of the things, as the mother of a child with Down syndrome, I am aware that it is certainly makes me more aware and attentive to various issues related to disabilities, but at the same time, having an intellectual Disability is not the same as having a physical disability, although there might be some parallels and similar in thinking about the marginalization of people, you know, whether it's because of ability or race or, you know, some of the other identity issues you brought up. Right? All of these things kind of overlap, but they're not the same. And so having the three of you working on this together probably, I'm guessing, gives a more comprehensive picture of Disability more broadly because you aren't only speaking from your own vantage point

Andrew (9m 33s):
Very much So,

Amy Julia (9m 35s):
I wondered, you mentioned earlier and I, and this reminds me of some of the interactions that you and Jody write about in the book, but some of the ways that churches not even necessarily intentionally exclude people with disabilities and I thought maybe you could give us some examples of that and speak to why that seems to be the case in lots and lots of different church settings.

Andrew (9m 60s):
Sure. Thank you. That's a great question. So I, if it's okay, I'll illustrate that with maybe the story that's taken from the beginning of our book. Yeah, that be great. We had started our church in the summer of 2005, and Jody was a member from some of the earlier days of our church. And at the time we were meeting in the Boys and Girls Club here on South Madison Street, which in our town is the historic dividing line of segregation. So to the east was predominantly African American neighborhood to the west, predominantly Caucasian neighborhood.

Andrew (10m 41s):
And so, so we were accustomed to, with the multi-ethnic makeup of our church to thinking through issues related to race carefully. But we hadn't thought structurally or as a church staff about issues related to disability quite as much because the building we were meeting in was accessible. And so when we finally got into our own church building, which was a church building that was new to us, but was a historic United Methodist building in the community, you know, beautiful early 20th century brick building, you know, we, we, our our, our church was inclusive enough to be thinking about the need for accessibility, but not in the sense of people with profound disabilities being in leadership to be consulted on and have a voice in speaking into the layout of the church, building the structure of the worship service, those kind of concerns.

Andrew (11m 49s):
Hmm. And so I remember giving a, a tour to some of our leadership team early on, and I, I believe at that point, Jody was on our leadership team as, as a volunteer. But, but she wasn't in a central role in the church and hadn't been consulted on the building. Jody was rightfully so, becoming more and more frustrated and feeling hopeless as the tour went on, realizing all of the spaces that she could not get into safely, and all of the ways in which the building did not communicate inclusion in a variety of ways. and I can speak to some of those specifically, but the tour ended in the sanctuary where a a couple of us on staff had taken out several pews, you know, there were still hardwood pews Yeah.

Andrew (12m 40s):
To kind of give a, a section for people using wheelchairs. Yeah. And I ha this was near the end of the tour. And I asked Jody, Hey, what do you think of, of this section? And it, it was clear she was frustrated, but then at that point, finally broke down in, in tears. And at that point it was kind of such profound hurt, I think that any hope or fruitful conversation at that point was gone. So we agreed to get back together in like another week and, and talk through the situation.

Andrew (13m 22s):
And so she took me into the sanctuary and just showed me, look, you, I appreciate you removing several pews, but this, all this did was create a disability section a a mobility limitation section, which really isn't that different from Jim Crow segregation because this particular section was near the back, you know, and she was explaining how segregation is not inclusion, and that that the deep hurt and frustration came from knowing that we cared about inclusion of people with disabilities on a theoretical level, but hadn't done the hard work necessary to consult and to hear from and include people with a variety of disabilities in the crucial places to help make these decisions.

Andrew (14m 15s):
Right. So she took me down front to the church of the, of the sanctuary and demonstrated how, for instance, she is also visually impaired. So she was saying, if, if I want to be close down to the front to be able to see a component of the service or a visual image or participate in some other way along those lines, I can't do that. Or if I want to sit with able-bodied family members or friends, I can't do that because I'm being segregated into this other section. And, you know, as She co made perfect sense, right? But the, the issue was not that we didn't care, and this is not me being self-justifying at all, but rather to say that caring about an issue is not the same as including people who are marginalize at the leadership table in central ways to the life of the community.

Andrew (15m 17s):
And so I, I think that was kind of a real watershed moment for our church that opened up questions, not just related to the layout of the building, but, but questions related to, you know, if you're putting stuff on social media and it's only a picture or an image, somebody with visual impairment can't read it because the software doesn't track with it. If you're sending out meeting minutes and it's a PDF, you're automatically making the decision that Blind people can't be part of that board or that committee, for instance. Or if If you don't have inclusive classrooms where a child with down syndrome is that, that their specific needs are being thought through in ways that open, open the learning experience and the life of the community to and with that child, then you are enacting an, an ecclesial disruption, right?

Andrew (16m 23s):
whether you intend to or not, you are, are creating segregated spaces and segregated delivery systems, you know? And so, you know, that just all of a sudden opened a whole world for us and thinking we'd already thought through the ways in which, you know, that applies to race or culture or gender, for instance, the, you know, the, the ways in which certain styles of worship or or modes of participation engage people from certain cultural backgrounds while not engaging people from others.

Andrew (17m 3s):
You know, we, we thought about those things, but, but the reason we thought about them is because we were intentional about having a diversity of people at every level of leadership. And when that's not the case with disability, when people with disabilities are seen, you know, as only as guests as, as opposed to full members of the community or only as say, projects as opposed to fully functioning leaders in the body with agency, then of course the decisions that we make are gonna be, you know, paternalistic. Right. And they're gonna, they're gonna exclude people. And So, I think that's kind of the, the theme that we're really trying to pull on and, and track down in our book I, is that it is in the interplay of our communal life that this sort of theology of leadership can take shape.

Amy Julia (18m 3s):
So I'm thinking about someone who's listening to this and thinks, yeah, our congregation, I think would theoretically say they care about this just like yours, right? Like, and even those various examples you gave of Sure, at least in theory, we would want someone who's Blind to be able to be on a committee. We would want some, a child with down syndrome to be able to be a member of a Sunday school class, you know, et cetera, et cetera. And yet perhaps this person is saying, I know that we don't know how to do that. Like, we, we don't know what that would look like. What are some first steps for people who say, I am kind of curious or interested, and yet I'm ignorant. Like, I know we're not doing this as a congregation, and I'd like to Yeah.

Amy Julia (18m 47s):
Like get better at it, bring some attention to it.

Andrew (18m 51s):
Yeah. Great question. There are a myriad of disability resources that you can become aware of to help think through those issues so that you're not simply relying on people who are part of the disability community to always be educators, right? So there is some self work that can be done. And throughout our book, we, we demonstrate that our thought might be unique in the way that we pull the, the strands together, but is not at all unique in that we are building on and drawing from all sorts of resources that already exist and we cite them all.

Andrew (19m 33s):
So, so the reason I'm bringing that up is that if somebody got ahold of our book in the more Practical chapters, they, they would have access to dozens and dozens of resources. We even link to websites where churches can, can go to, to think through disability inclusion. So I'd say first finding resources, but then second, when there are people with disabilities who are part of the congregation, simply asking them directly what accommodations could be helpful is a great step toward inclusion. And by that I don't mean approaching a caregiver or a support person on behalf of a person with disabilities at times, that that will be necessary given the particularity of someone's disability.

Andrew (20m 26s):
Yep. But it's, it's always best practice to, you know, to assume competence or at least to, to acknowledge the full humanity of the particular person who you're interacting with, right? So not just to skip over that person on a way to trying to understand more about their particular needs. Because even if people are nonverbal, there are many ways of communicating and learning how to become attuned to those, you know, we know from communication studies, right?

Andrew (21m 8s):
That that, that spoken language is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the ways in which human beings communicate. And so, you know, we in the West have, have valued the written word, which is, is helpful in a lot of ways, but we also have, have devalued other modes of communication. And So I think asking people directly and receiving their communication in the ways that they are bringing it is, is important. And again, I'm not saying here that all the work of advocacy or education should be placed on people with disabilities, rather, I'm saying that a simple question or a simple inquiry often goes a long way.

Andrew (21m 53s):
You know, like, what, what would be helpful for you to get in and out of the building? You know, what would be helpful for you to be able to engage more fully and worship, you know, what does your family need in order to feel and, and to be more fully included in the life of the body? I mean, tho those kind of direct questions and, and not in a paternalistic sort of, you know, project based way where, where, where you're just sort of saying that people are a means to an end, but, but a real intimate vulnerable listening to be open to change.

Andrew (22m 42s):
I, I think that's, that's a really important second step.

Amy Julia (22m 45s):
Well, and it is, I, I'm thinking of a situation I may have shared here on this podcast before, but in our church where I had noticed some elderly members of our congregation who used canes in particular, but who we're struggling, we had won a single step to get in the front door. And So I suggested without speaking to any of those elderly members, I suggested as a part of our church council that we create a ramp so that they could more easily access the front door. And then I saw one of the members still asking for help even once the ramp was there, and So I finally went, and I said, you know, I'm just curious, like, why are you not using the ramp?

Amy Julia (23m 28s):
And she said, oh, well, there's no railing, so there's still no way for me to get the support I need. So we put up a railing. But it was such a perfect example of what you're talking about where Yeah, you know, I was like, I saw a need that was real, but instead of saying to the three or four women who were in this case using or might need it saying, how, what would we, what would we do in order to actually serve you in this way? Because we want you to get in the door as safely and comfortably as possible. And we were able to, you know, fix that pretty immediately as opposed to a situation which you could imagine where someone who has good intentions, but like kind of blazes forward without having those conversations and I don't know, makes a decision to put a lift somewhere that costs hundreds or thousands of dollars that's actually not helpful to someone who's actually going to use the lift because they haven't had those conversations.

Amy Julia (24m 19s):
So I know, that's just really Practical. But it also seems, I don't, I think one of the things for typical like able-bodied and, you know, typically developing people is, and I don't have this anymore, but I did for a long time a sense of stigma in talking about disability. Almost like, I'm supposed to pretend that you don't have a disability if I'm going to be polite, as opposed to if you're the person with a disability, you're like, no, no, I'm clear on this. I can talk about it. You know, especially if the reason you're talking about it is to say, we want you to be a full member of our community. How can we do that? Right. but I do think that's part of the work that has to be done is like literally talking about the fact that it is different for you to walk or move to the front of the s sanctuary than it is for me.

Amy Julia (25m 11s):
Sure. Yeah.

Andrew (25m 13s):
Yeah. I mean, and, and in our church community, it wasn't until listening carefully to all of the barriers in place for someone to get into the building or even get to the building on a Sunday Yeah. That we recognized what we were up against. Like for instance, public transportation doesn't run in Muncie on Sundays. It runs six days a week, but even then only until about six 30 in the evening. And so If, you need public transportation either with a mobility limitation or you're visually impaired, or simply don't have a vehicle or whatever the case might be. Yeah. You can go out, you know, Monday through Friday or Saturday during the day, but you can't go to a party at night.

Andrew (25m 57s):
You can't go to someone's home for dinner. You can't go to church on a Sunday, you know, so, so one of the things we did was we, we, you know, bought an an old accessible van that, that our public transportation company had used here in town. Yeah. So that we can run a route on Sundays, because otherwise people, you know, simply can't get to church. Our church is not by any means a perfect picture of the most accessible space, but it is a building that we're constantly working to improve with feedback from people who are part of the disability community about what their specific needs are.

Amy Julia (26m 42s):
Well, and So I wanna ask you, because what we've been talking about, and I hopefully making clear, is that people who are members of the Disability community want to be a part of churches. There are ways to make churches more accessible. That's obviously a good thing for the people with the disabilities. but I also think one of the beautiful aspects of your book, and honestly for me of disability Theology in general, is that it's important for the whole congregation that yeah, not only that we have people with disabilities among us, but that we be thinking in some of the ways that you're talking about, like, there's a Theological exercise in thinking about what does it mean to be a place literally, like not just imagine in our imaginations, but of welcome.

Amy Julia (27m 27s):
Can you speak to why it matters for the whole congregation to be thinking in Theological and Practical terms about welcoming and not just including, but really having as full members, people with disabilities?

Andrew (27m 45s):
Yeah. Yeah. So I in the book, I think it's a section that Andrea did most of the, the work on. We look at the Apostle Paul's invocation of the body in one Corinthians 12. And there he says, if all body parts were the same, where would the body be? And he's using body language, which is language that when we think about what it means to be human and what bodies are that, you know, that we, that we need to be thinking about. And it's interesting, Paul uses this body language for the church, and it's not just language of unity, it's also language of diversity in that uniformity is not a body that a, you know, a dismembered, this sounds vulgar, but a a dismembered body, for instance, is not a healthy living functioning body.

Andrew (28m 44s):
And so similarly, a grouping of hands together or feet together, eyes together, ears together, it doesn't constitute a body. Right? And so this is why diversity is, is important in the body of Christ because we have, we have different callings. We have different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, which Paul does refer to in that passage. He brings up slave and free, he brings up Jew and Gentile. So he's not just thinking about in terms of spiritual gifts as capacities, right? He's also thinking about constitution of identity there. So, so the idea is that we each experience something about God differently, and God gives the various members of the body as gifts so that the body itself can better represent and experience Christ in her midst and to the world.

Andrew (29m 40s):
So in as much as churches are homogenous, let me say it this way, the more homogenous we are, the, the more restricted we tend to be in our experience of the broader diversity of, of Christ's body. And so, you know, this isn't a matter of including a few people as tokens, but really as the body of Christ functioning as an organic whole. And Paul in fact, goes so far in that passage to say that there are unpresentable parts of the body, right? He's saying that, you know, in Greco-Roman society, he's just simply acknowledging there are people who are marginalize.

Andrew (30m 26s):
And we could say the same thing today. And he says that the marginalize using a different word than him, but, or he uses modest or unpresentable parts of the body in our, in our day, we could use perhaps the term marginalize parts of the body are to be treated with greater honor, he says, yeah. So, so there's a real sense, and, and this is very concomitant with the Christian tradition. If, if the most marginalize people of the body are not actively part of the body, then are you really church, you know, basically that the way you know the difference for them between an institution of Greco-Roman society that had to do with power or prestige or social position.

Andrew (31m 11s):
Yeah. And the body of Christ is the inclusion of, and the adorning of the marginalize members in her midst. And so for those two reasons, diversity and also inclusion of the marginalize, if churches are not places where people on the fringes are welcomed and celebrated and included and centralized, then we're missing out on a key component of what makes us the body of Christ. We're missing out on experiencing aspects of, of God's multifaceted goodness displayed in the diverse body of Jesus Christ.

Amy Julia (31m 53s):
Yeah, I really appreciate that. And I'm curious, If, you could speak a little bit to, there's an emphasis in the book about leadership, not just about inclusion, but like, yeah, as you have said before, having a seat at the table and not for token reasons, but I'm either you can take this in both or one or the other, these directions. I'm curious to either hear some stories about that, like how has that actually worked in your context, or again, just like what, what changes when people with disabilities are in leadership within a church context? Why is that so important?

Andrew (32m 27s):
Yeah, so we have a section where we look at leadership theory, but rarely does leadership theory in both Christian and secular iterations think about presence in a way that changes the conversation about what it means to lead. And so we, we tend to prefer not to think in terms of leadership, although of course we use the term over and over in our book. We prefer to think in terms of leading and the person of the one who is engaged in that, that work of leading.

Andrew (33m 11s):
And so leading in that sense happens in many different ways. And so it can happen in the more traditional ways that are associated with churches, preaching, speaking, leading a Bible study or a group being on a board. But we, you know, we all know that there are leaders or people who, who influence or guide or shape the life of the community without being in those formal leadership roles. So we're suggesting that people with disabilities should be able to lead in both capacities in formal ways and informal ways, just like anyone else in the body can lead in formal or informal ways.

Andrew (33m 58s):
So some of those formal ways, for instance, we talk about boards, we talk about committees, we talk about staffing. So it's important for us that our committees and our church boards, so the, the, the tables where decisions are being made include a diversity of people so that a diversity of perspectives are represented there. And that's intentional on our part because when you are in a room together thinking about how decisions affect the broadest possible range of the body with the broadest possible range of the body there, you're gonna talk about and think about it differently.

Andrew (34m 39s):
So the one of the community boards that our church started, that's, this is outside the church, but the secretary of the board is one of our church members. And, and she's Blind. And so she will constantly bring up, as she's taking minutes on her braille reader, the need for communication to be readable by, by software, the need for books to be available in audit audible formats, the need for text descriptions to, to come across.

Andrew (35m 19s):
So, you know, having her at the table changes the way we think about the way we conduct business. Same thing with, you know, it's important for Jodi to pray and preach and share and lead in the worship service and on church boards, not just when it touches on issues related to disability or accessibility, but just in general, you know, if her voice is only valued in as much as we're talking about the building being accessible, then she is still being kind of pushed off to the side as kind of like a, you know, accessibility guru or something as opposed to a fully leading part of the body.

Andrew (35m 60s):
So when Jody preaches, for instance, you know, her whole self is involved just like anyone else's whole self would be. And you know, she has a speech impediment. So for instance, she invites me to help her communicate. And that whole act demonstrates a a level of community, a level of vulnerability, and then the insights that she brings to the text are vastly different. Then the insights that I as an able-bodied person would bring to the text. So when she is preaching on or teaching on passages that relate to healing or, or passages that relate to ceremonial cl cleanliness or passages that relate to identity, you know, she's gonna see those and hear those and think about those differently.

Andrew (36m 52s):
Just like someone from a different cultural background or, or a diversity of, of perspectives on, on gender, for instance, might. So, so that's, that's an important component of, of leading in the body of Christ is for the, the broadest diversity of the body to be active and leading.

Amy Julia (37m 13s):
Yeah, I really appreciated, I think this is related just you had a section on power in the book, and you talked about the difference between power as dominance, power as agency, and you, this is a quotation. Many people who've been historically denied power or excluded from groups in which decisions are being made are not helped by being told to lay down what little power they have. And it see, struck me that, again, power dynamics and even the ways in which Jesus talks about serving and laying down your life would be different from Jodi's perspective, then it might be from yours as a white man, right? Like that those are just going to have different social backgrounds that might really enhance our understanding of things.

Amy Julia (38m 0s):
I, I was, I remember being in a sermon once where the pastor again was a white man, and he was talking about just how important it is to have humility and what humility looks like is to lay down your life. And I thought, you know, for me and the other moms here who, I mean, that's like, who are in the, in my case, I was working a little bit at the time part-time, but mostly was like wiping poop and holding babies. I was like, I don't need to be told anything about this. In fact, right. The temptation for me is to think I'm not worth anything because I'm wiping poop all the time.

Amy Julia (38m 41s):
Like, I need to be elevated in order to understand what it means for me to be made in the image of God. And he, I think very rightly needed to be humbled in order to understand what it meant to be made in the image of God. And we have passages in scripture that support both of those, but he could only see the ones that had to do with, you know, kind of taking the step down because that was his position. So, and this is like my husband's best friend, So I talked to him about it afterwards.

Andrew (39m 6s):
Sure, sure, sure.

Amy Julia (39m 7s):
But it was the first time that I kind of realized like, oh, being a woman who was at home taking care of small children, I need a really different message when it comes to power and service. Yeah. And all of these things. And of course, as you mentioned, like that's gonna be true for anyone who is marginalize that there are, there's a lot in the Bible about what we need if we're in the center in terms of understanding ourselves. But there's also a lot about what we need if we're in the margins and they're often different. So, I just really appreciated that aspect of the book that like, temptation might look different for you, If, you are right. Yeah. Have whole different cultural power, what it means to interact in relationship.

Amy Julia (39m 48s):
I mean, there's so many different topics and trying to make sure that we actually give voice to that. and I love what you said earlier, but I guess this is the early kind of the early church theologians saying like, oh, it's actually not a church if it's not diverse because

Andrew (40m 4s):

Amy Julia (40m 4s):
Can't be the body of Christ. Like, it's not to say there can't be Christians there, but like, it's not right. It's not actually the church So I just, yeah. I really appreciate all of that. Hmm.

Andrew (40m 15s):
Well that's, that's helpful. Yeah. Thank you.

Amy Julia (40m 17s):
Oh, no, gosh. Thank you. I I have one other question, which is maybe an aside, I don't know, but I wanted to just get your thoughts on this. Someone wrote me the other day, I've been writing a little bit just about employment as our daughter is about to turn 18, and it's hard for people with disabilities to find jobs that's just kind of statistically true. And so I've been thinking about it and, you know, looking into it a little bit and somebody said, yeah, you know, don't you feel like it could just be kind of a mark of the church that, like the church is a place where people with disabilities can find jobs, like not just be members or have volunteer roles that are significant, but like actually find jobs, whether that's working in the office or working on staff as a, you know, teacher or in, you know, a janitorial position, like all sorts of different jobs.

Amy Julia (41m 6s):
And yet I don't, I don't know of churches that are actively thinking Yeah. Like, this would be a way for us to like live differently than the culture. Yeah. And I'm just curious, I don't know, I'm curious what that makes you think about. Yeah. whether you know, examples of that or even just where, where it takes your own thoughts.

Andrew (41m 25s):
So that's wonderful. and I, our church is not the prime example of that. There are obviously, you know, Christian communities that you and I would both be aware of that are working that out in Practical ways. But as far as local churches, I am not aware of a great example of that. I'm aware of it more. Yeah. In terms of communal living environments or Theological education environments where there are, you know, either either communi living, learning, working communities that are constituted by the relational interaction between people with disabilities and, and able bodied people.

Andrew (42m 14s):
There, there are multiple examples of that. You know, in large, there's examples in Aberdeen there's examples up at the Center of Disability and Ministry at Western, Western Seminary in Holland. There are other kind of monastic groups and, and Urban, neo monastic groups that think along those lines. But your question is great because if we're saying that pursuing justice is not just about charity, right? Yeah. But is also about at, at a fundamental level, ensuring that people have access to the components of a whole life.

Andrew (42m 56s):
What better way to accomplish that than employment? And especially because in the market, in, in modern capitalist markets, productivity is, is what is seen as being able to turn a paycheck around. Right. And, and If you, if your skills or whatever are not immediately productive in the sense that we've come to think about it in the west, then, you know, where do you go? And, and our church isn't great at that. We, our history is that the most that that volunteers who are very plugged in and active to the church have at times been moved into part-time positions, part-time positions have at times been moved into full-time positions.

Andrew (43m 40s):
So we're constantly trying to raise up from within and empower from within. But, you know, this is a conversation Jody and I are currently having because she is a locally licensed minister with our denomination. But up until this point has only been preaching here and there serving on a board or, or, or volunteering to oversee accessibility issues. And, and, you know, she'll get a small stipend like anybody else would right. To, to do those things. But she's not in an official staff capacity. Right. And so what, what does that say about where we need to move Ed way businesses staff?

Andrew (44m 33s):
Right. Right. And, you know, for some reasons that are necessary in the sense that, you know, in our current day and age, we need to understand how nonprofit status works. We need to have, we need to be, make sure that we're using money wisely. We need to have policies and procedures in place for, you know, abuse and all sorts of things. I'm not saying that people with disabilities can't be involved in that. I'm just simply saying that, that the staff positions that are created have often been created in terms of productivity outcomes in a, in a, in a, you know, kind of neoliberal economy or, or, or market.

Andrew (45m 14s):
Right. And so what does it mean that the church needs to hire differently? Yeah, that's, I just, yeah. And so those, those are the conversations question.

Amy Julia (45m 22s):

Andrew (45m 23s):
I'm sorry.

Amy Julia (45m 24s):
No, I just was so struck by that question that I had not ever thought about exactly what you're saying, like Yeah. For the church to even, and, and what's ironic too is she said, you know, people, if I mention it, they usually push back with budgetary concerns. And it's like, it just feels so ironic that the church as a place where the entire budget comes from charitable donations, right?

Andrew (45m 46s):

Amy Julia (45m 47s):
And to say, we would not as a church say, you know, what we value I employing people who might be overlooked by capitalist systems and market economies, not because, and, and obviously to your point, like you're not gonna put someone in a job that they can't do that doesn't serve the church or the person, but maybe they can't do it as quickly or as efficiently. Right. And yet they could be a really valuable member of our staff here. It just seemed like a really beautiful opportunity to use the spiritual imagination differently. It

Andrew (46m 22s):

Amy Julia (46m 22s):
How we do this in this, in the church setting.

Andrew (46m 25s):
It is because the kind of questions Jody has gotten is, you know, when she was first getting her local ministry licensing credentials through our, through the churches of God was, you know, well, how are you gonna preach, you know, with a speech impediment? How are you gonna visit somebody in the hospital with a mobility limitation and so on and so forth. And, you know, gosh, in many ways she's one of the, this is not a paternalistic comment, she's one of the best preachers in our church. Hmm. She has a speech impediment that not everyone understands her communication. Yeah. But she is a, a vibrant speaker and exigent of the text. Yeah. It takes her longer to get somewhere to visit somebody.

Andrew (47m 7s):
But, you know, I think, I think the, it it's, it is totally ironic that we would say, well, is it not a good use of funds to hire somebody if they're, if it's not as immediately efficient, right? Like, because we just said if people with disabilities aren't there, it's not the church A and b, if efficiency is the marker of church's faithfulness, then we might as well close shop. You know? and I mean, like you said, the, the giving that's, you know, I exist, my salary exists based on a model that says, you know, people who are working in quote unquote productive fields right.

Andrew (47m 53s):
Are gonna pool their money together to hire somebody who is not being productive, but is simply coming alongside us to help us see where God is in the middle of our circumstances. Right. So you could say I'm a charity case in the same sense that you could say the Levites were a, a class in Israel that, you know, they didn't produce their own food. They, they were given cities. Right. So, so the idea that efficiency or capacity should, should rule church staffing decisions is absurd. And yet at the same time, I could acknowledge that our church is not the best exemplar of that at this point.

Amy Julia (48m 30s):
Well, and I and I really, I mean, I do think one of the things I've thought about is like, yeah, there are more coffee shops and ice cream parlors that are actually saying, okay, we're gonna really think about what it would mean to employ people in that case with intellectual disabilities, but also physical than churches that I know about. Right. and I want that type of imagination to at least be a part of what our conversation is in the church. Wonderful. Well, thank you for kind of, I think, contributing to, you know, how I'm, and, and many people able to think about that. I thought maybe I would actually, If you don't mind, I'm gonna end with a quotation you're of from You

Andrew (49m 4s):
Oh, oh, great.

Amy Julia (49m 4s):
From book anyway, because I think it sums up some of what we've been talking about. And obviously If you have more you wanna say, please do. But this is page 17. Disability can be a door into recognizing that human limitation rather than human strength is the space in which the leading of Jesus is made known. and I just loved that invitation to first of all, recognize that like we are invited into the le to to know the leading of Jesus. And that limitation is what allows us to do that, not strength and I. I just, yeah, that sums up a lot of what I have been learning over many years of now having a child with a disability.

Amy Julia (49m 47s):
But I think it also sums up a lot of what we've just been talking about. So I wanted to Yeah. To share that as well.

Andrew (49m 53s):
Yeah. Thank you. And that, that is the core of the gospel, isn't it? That God's work is not seen in our strength, but in our weakness Yeah. In our limitation. It's, it's not just that God uses us despite our limitations or by overcoming our particularities, but rather that's where God's glory is seen. I I mean that's where we most clearly point to the work of Jesus is when we minister in community, as Andre Nowan says, or when we allow our broken and limited persons to point to the sustaining grace and presence of God.

Andrew (50m 42s):
I mean, that's, that's core to the gospel. And it's, it's wild how much we tend to in modern Western churches function with a very different conception of leadership than, than that idea of, of, of allowing ge the living presence of Jesus to, to minister in the midst of our humanness.

Amy Julia (51m 14s):
Well, let's, I think we should end on that note, the living presence of Jesus ministering to our humanness, what a gift it is when we allow that to happen. And Thank you for being here. Thank you for your book and your work and your continued just yeah. Trying to work this out in a, as I said before, kind of theologically robust and accessible Practical context. I really appreciate it.

Andrew (51m 39s):
Oh, thanks Amy Julia, we really appreciate your work. And as I'm thinking about it, I think it was Andrea who recommended you on the list of people who got our, you know, one of the five books you got or whatever. So, so your work definitely goes before you and you've been an encouragement and guide to many of us along the journey. So we appreciate this opportunity to be with you today.

Amy Julia (51m 59s):
Thank you so much. I appreciate it too. Thanks as always for listening to this episode of Reimagining the Good Life. I'd love for you to take a second to rate it, review it, share it with others, and also I would love for you to subscribe to my weekly email and learn more details about what's going on as well as the reimagining family life with disability class. I'd love to hear from you. Please feel free to send me an email at Amy Julia Becker I wanna say thank you to Jake Hanson for editing this podcast to Amber Bii, my social media coordinator for doing all the background work to make sure that this happens.

Amy Julia (52m 40s):
I hope this conversation helps you to challenge assumptions, proclaim belovedness, and envision a world of belonging. Let's reimagine the Good life together.