April 5, 2024

Think Differently. Think Possibility.

Lead with special sensitivity

Larry R. Evans
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Great promises in the Bible are often found in names. When God changed a person’s name, it was usually to establish a new identity. With the new identity came a new or expanded purpose. This was true for Jacob (Gen. 32:28), Abraham (Gen. 17:5), Sarah (Gen. 17:15), and Paul (Acts 13:9). Today baptism gives each person a new identity and purpose when they are baptized in “the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19).

In more recent times name changes have also occurred to indicate an expanded or more defined purpose. In 2015 the General Conference Disability Ministries was changed to Special Needs Ministries (SNM) because some were sensitive to being called disabled. Then in 2019, in recognition of an expanded and refocused ministry, SNM became Adventist Possibility Ministries (APM).

What Is in the Name?

The new name purposely focuses on the person’s potential rather than what they cannot do or do not have. A statement by Ellen White offers another way of thinking about this ministry. “I saw that it is in the providence of God that widows and orphans, the blind, the deaf, the lame, and persons afflicted in a variety of ways have been placed in close Christian relationship to His church.” She does not stop there, however. She then continues to explain that the purpose of this was “to prove His people and develop their true character.”1 These individuals not only need to be accommodated and included in the activities of the church; they are needed. Jesus saw more than a disability. He could see what they could become and why the Christian movement would benefit from them. In many ways our ministry “with” individuals who have special needs provides greater opportunities to deepen our understanding of the nature of God’s kingdom.

The new name, Adventist Possibility Ministries, while not denying the reality of disabilities, opens the door to exploring the possibilities and strengths that these individuals bring to God’s mission. It has been observed that “when we focus on our differences, we tend to impart value—usually negative—to those differences. Instead of connecting with people affected by disability . . . we emphasize the differences to legitimize our desire to simply pursue our agendas—those specific to our “community”—whatever they might be.”2 Adventist Possibility Ministries seeks to change that tendency. A fundamental principle is the belief that “all are gifted, needed, and treasured!”

Lead With Possibility Thinking

Any kind of leadership has challenges. The seven ministries of APM3 underscore the need to lead with special sensitivity. Marginalized individuals often struggle with trusting those who offer to help. The following are some areas in which thinking differently opens doors for greater possibilities when working with those who have special needs.

Invest in people. People stay where they feel valued. For Jesus, the person mattered first regardless of scheduling issues, prevailing societal stigmas, or inconvenient requests. He invested His time, His efforts, and ultimately His whole life in people. They were His mission.

Visualize a new future. All too often we are ready to write the “conclusion” to someone’s life when God is ready to add new chapters. Seeing beyond where the person is at the moment is a cherished leadership gift of the Holy Spirit. At the same time, shaming someone into “success” seldom leads to long-term change.

Respect. Words and actions of affirmation are long-lasting. Ellen White said it well: “If we wish to do good to souls, our success with these souls will be in proportion to their belief in our belief in, and appreciation of, them. Respect shown to the struggling human soul is the sure means through Christ Jesus of the restoration of the self-respect the man has lost.”4

Socialize. While general socializing can be helpful, Jesus mingled “as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me.’ ”5 People with disabilities often feel isolated. Invitations to dinner or a drive to a special place can make a huge difference. Unless there is a sense of belonging, membership seldom holds those with disabilities in church fellowship.

Provide opportunities. Possibility leaders provide challenging opportunities. Jesus did this when He said simply, “Rise, take up your bed and walk” (John 5:8), and later said to take up your “cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). Giving challenging opportunities encourages them to stretch and develop the potential God has given them.

Be an example. Nothing speaks as much to others as the leader being seen showing genuine care. As has been noted by many, as the world becomes more engrossed with “high tech,” there is a greater need for “high touch.”

A Life That Matters

Everyone wants their life to matter. No one is insignificant, though many feel they are. Possibility thinking seeks to bring a unique meaning and purpose to individuals who have felt hopeless for far too long. It is an extension of the ministry of Jesus.6

1 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 3,  p. 511; see also p. 517.

2 Stephanie O. Hubach, Same Lake, Different Boat (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Publishing, 2020), p. 37.

3 The ministries are as follows: 1. The Deaf and hard of hearing. 2. The blind and those with low vision. 3. Those challenged with mobility. 4. Those facing mental health disorders, such as autism, Down syndrome, and learning disabilities. 5. Orphans and vulnerable children. 6. Those grieving spousal loss. 7. Support of caregivers of those above.

4 Ellen G White, Fundamentals of Christian Education (Nashville: Southern Pub. Assn., 1923), p. 281.

5 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1905), p. 143. 6 The online training course for Adventist Possibility Ministries may be found at https://www.adventistlearningcommunity.com/.