Today, I met with two other people who lead ministries in our area.  One leader, Lawrence, has been a staunch proponent of segregated ministries to people who are intellectually disabled.  The other, Susan, came into full-time ministry armed with an inclusion message that she felt was unmovable.

Over the years, her opinion has shifted.  As I often do at meetings where ministry leaders meet, I sat quietly, observing and anxious to learn from this “meeting of the minds.”   Subjects popped up and we raced though them as quickly as driving through a small, one-filling station Georgia town. 

My interest was especially piqued, however, when the subject of philosophy of ministry within the mentally challenged community was broached.  There are two main thought patterns. 

One is that all ministry should be as inclusive as possible.  That is, mentally challenged men and women should be accepted in adult Bible studies and in other ministry situation withou any exceptions.  There should be no regard to their cognitive abilities because they are equal to every other adult.  They should have freedom to move and develop with other believers.  What they do not cognitively understand will be off set by the ethos of the gospel message.

The other train of thought is that people who are mentally challenged deserve to hear the gospel on a cognitive level they can understand.  The gospel should be preach and taught on their functioning level.  Additionally, by allowing them to worship with a group of their peers, they can develop Christian friendships.  However, the most important thing is that they are taught on a level in which they are able to easily grasp and develop in discipleship.  Therefore, a more segregated ministry works best if the goal is effective evangelism and discipleship.

“I came into ministry holding to an inclusive model mindset,”  Susan said, smiling.

“Why and how have you changed?” Lawrence asked.

“Experience showed me that the inclusive model did not meet the practical needs of my members.  I also saw through other ministries that leadership was being developed with the ranks of the mentally challenged community that I wasn’t seeing in my programs.

“After all,” she said, smiling, “men and women have their separate groups everywhere else in the church.  Young mothers and teens are divided.  Why do we think that our members are any different?  Don’t they deserve to learn on their level, with their interests?”

Slowly, we slipped into another stream of conversation and the subject was dismissed; but I felt that Susan had discovered a wonderful principle of ministry that applies to most areas of our lives.  We all desire to learn the scriptures with people who are meaningful to us.  With men and women who walk where we walk and who talk like we talk.   

What do you think are the benefits of a fully inclusive ministry that can’t be found in a segregated ministry?  Or why do you believe that a segregated ministry meets the needs of your members best?