April 3, 2024

A Mosaic of Gifts

Building on the extraordinary talents of differently abled members

Beth Thomas

In the tapestry of a thriving church community, the diverse abilities and unique gifts each member has contributes to a vibrant worship experience. Every individual, regardless of their abilities, has a distinct talent God can use to bring richness to the faith community (see 1 Cor. 12). 

Some members’ extraordinary skills equip them for specific roles and responsibilities. Gordon Haines is just one example.

Building on Strengths

Gordon is an unassuming figure, but if you sit and chat with him, you will find a wealth of knowledge. Gordon is the audiovisual/information technology (AV/IT) technician for his church in Clarksville, Maryland. He handles everything from networking and Wi-Fi to the audio and streaming system. On Sabbaths he operates the service livestream and switches camera views to provide a more engaging experience for the online audience. He also works with the AV/IT team to design and install upgrades to the equipment and systems as needed and sets up equipment for special events.

When Gordon was baptized in 2014, his dad asked him what he’d like to do to get involved in church life. Gordon had been interested in AV, and he requested to be part of the team. At the time this consisted of running the sound board. In 2017 there was a push to have a simple streaming system so people who could not attend church could still hear the sermon. Networking was added to handle the amount of people using Wi-Fi and the increased number of equipment needing network access. That’s where Gordon stepped in.

Gordon is perfect for this position. In elementary school he was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a previous diagnosis on the autism spectrum, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Individuals with Asperger’s generally have “remarkable focus and persistence; aptitude for recognizing patterns; and attention to detail. Some challenges can include hypersensitivities to lights, sounds, tastes, etc.; difficulty with give and take of conversation and nonverbal conversation skills; and uncoordinated movements. Many learn to overcome their challenges by building on strengths.”1

Gordon has built on his strengths to enhance the AV system. He says, “While I struggle with being able to read people, especially subtle changes in tone or expression, I have always excelled at understanding mechanical systems and how things work. Ever since I was a kid I have been able to understand computers and electronic systems well. This helps with troubleshooting glitches, along with my sensitive hearing, which helps with tuning microphones.”

He loves helping behind the scenes to make everything run smoothly. “It really helps people in our local congregation and the people who join us on our stream every week,” he says. And while Gordon may not have identified his specific spiritual gift yet, he knows that his work with the AV/IT team enables his church to reach people with God’s Word.

Different Abilities, Valuable Insight

Individuals with different abilities can offer unique perspectives worth considering for those in leadership positions.

First, differently abled people have a depth of understanding as it relates to human suffering that many of us do not have. “Because they constantly deal with limitations, discomfort, and pain, they do so better than the rest of us. They learn to live with suffering.”2

David Deuel, pastor and Old Testament professor, relates that “many Christians with disabilities walk closely with God because they need to rely on the Lord to endure their challenges in life far more than others of us. In their moments of physical pain, frustration, and isolation, they learn how to look to God and find Him ready to receive them in their disability.”3

Second, differently abled people may have a more sensitive gauge for interpreting hurt feelings or perceived mistreatment among members and can bring awareness to the need for compassion and understanding when dealing with delicate issues.

Deuel continues: “People with disabilities are uniquely gifted and can minister to others in amazing ways. Their physical or mental disability, in God’s hands, becomes a ministry blessing. This brings new insight to Paul’s challenge that all believers in the body of Christ have gifts that the church needs (1 Peter 4:10). From an outreach perspective, people with disabilities have incomparable ability to reach disability communities with the gospel and disciple them. The rest of us may not know how to enter a specific disability culture,”4 but can draw on the wisdom of others to meet the needs of that community. Differently abled members need to know that they are valued and appreciated and that their gifts contribute to the mission of the church.

It is important to recognize that each of us were born with a disability. When Adam and Eve sinned, their choice left us with a debilitating drawback that we deal with daily. But, as Deuel points out, “God . . . holds disability like a tool in His mighty hands to shape men and women into the image of Christ. . . . He uses it in our lives in many ways. Through it, we grow as individuals and churches.”5

Embracing and celebrating the varied abilities within a church community fosters an environment in which everyone feels valued and that creates a space for mutual support and spiritual growth. In this inclusive setting the church becomes a testament to the power of unity in diversity and the gifts of the Spirit.

1 https://www.autismspeaks.org/types-autism-what-asperger-syndrome

2 https://trainingleadersinternational.org/jgc/31/shepherding-people-with-disabilities

3 Adapted from Dave Deuel, “God’s Story of Disability: The Unfolding Plan From Genesis to Revelation,” Journal of the Christian Institute on Disability 2, no. 2 (Fall/Winter 2013).

4 Ibid