When I was in college, I used to work at a facility for the mentally handicapped. I often worked on the weekends and one of my favorite duties was taking a group of the residents to church. It was a small Baptist church where our little gaggle of adults almost made up a third of the congregation.
I loved these times because it taught me quite a bit about what Christ intended his church to be about. Let me explain:
- Acceptance – This little church embraced these 10-15 mentally handicapped adults as part of their family. Our group wasn’t stuck in some corner somewhere so that most of the congregation could steer clear of us. No, we were front and center. The church members knew our people and considered them friends, not charity cases.
- Praise and worship – I don’t usually connect much with worship music and singing but I always had such a good time singing with my challenged friends. They knew how to worship. Nothing held them back. They swayed, they belted the songs out, and legitimately were enjoying themselves. It was authentic, in the truest sense. It was joyful, unlike any kind of joyful you have ever experienced in church.
- An image of heaven – One Sunday morning, I looked around me and just took in the scene of my friends singing and worshiping and thought, “this is probably what heaven will look like. People of all states, colors, sizes, and ability praising our God.” I came to the realization that heaven won’t have the homogenized, cookie cutter feel of most our churches. Heaven will be more like a feast where the invitations were sent far and wide and in every neighborhood. Every race, color, mental capacity, social class, and ability will be represented and we will gladly join with each other in worship and praise.
The images and remembrances of these times have stuck with me, even 20 years later. Since then, I have had a soft spot for those in church who don’t fit our expectations, or cause a disruptions or two, or lack proper decorum. If the church isn’t for these people, then who is it for?