I Chronicles 29:11 "Thine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty:for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all."

Monday, February 06, 2012

Ministering- Really?

**Disclaimer** Let me start by saying I am not writing this to be combative, or to 'dis' any ministries out there. I am simply making an observation based on experience, and trying to find a proper resolution...

I am sure many times over you have heard people make the statement that they minister to a certain group of people. I want to know- what qualifies that statement?

Let me give you a scenario to explain:

Suppose my children and I learn a chorus in Spanish through their homeschool curriculum. We don't speak any other spanish. We know a woman at church who does speak spanish, though, so we sing it to her, and she smiles and says 'good job'. What if we then take another song we like, put it through Google Translate, or give it to a friend with a spanish-english dictionary to translate for us, and then sing it to the Spanish woman the next Sunday? Can we now add to our prayer cards that we "minister to Spanish people"?

Is it just me, or would that be ridiculous?

You would think if we said we minister to Spanish people, that we would know their language beyond a simple song. We would want to make sure what we've translated is correct, and actually makes sense. We would get to know the culture, and be able to reach those people at a level that touches their heart as well as their intellect. That's logical, right?

There are groups out there that sing songs in sign language, but minister only to hearing people in hearing churches. However, they list on their information packets that they "minister to the Deaf".

Maybe you've seen groups like this too. Sometimes it's a school choir or club that likes to sign songs with white gloves. Sometimes it's a group of young people that travel and minister in song, and they sign a few. Sometimes it's an adult group in a hearing church that sings only in sign language.

The majority don't have any Deaf people in their church. Notice I didn't say all, I said majority.

If you meet these people and try communicating outside of their song base, the majority of them know no other sign language. They cannot converse without the use of an interpreter. They cannot read the signs of Deaf people. They know nothing of the culture, or how to reach the hearts of the Deaf.

Sometimes their signs don't make sense. Or the way they present a song is really hard for Deaf people to understand- like using white gloves and black lights. Or being center stage and signing straight ahead when Deaf people tend to sit on one side or the other of the platform. Or using "interpretive dance" and calling it sign language, when Deaf people can't hear the words in the background to know what it's supposed to mean.

After seeing one group practice in our church, and mentioning that the set-up would make it nearly impossible for the Deaf to understand, I was told by the director: "Well, this is how it's set up. I can't move that light, or no one will be able to see the middle. Can they move to the center for this song?"

Uh, yeah, 'cause that's convenient. 'Hey look- it's a herd of Deaf people! And they don't look one bit uncomfortable, do they? We are ministering!!'

Is it a legitimate claim, at that point, to say they are indeed "ministering to the Deaf?" Have they ever had a Deaf person come to them and say their song really touched them, or made them think? I would say it is the rare circumstance when that happens out of anything but Deaf people trying to be polite.

Sure, lots of people think sign language is beautiful. Hearing people seem to eat it up. Something about it just makes music that much more touching.

But sign language is more than that. It's a way millions of Americans communicate full-time everyday. It's not just something they use to make a song pretty, or emotional, or dramatic.

Lots of people seem to think that sign language is up for grabs, and consider any movement they want 'sign language'. Can you do that with a spoken language? Can you consistently mispronounce and make up words and be taken seriously? (Perhaps in English...)

I'm pretty sure the answer to that is no.

I will just put it out there too, that if you are in a church using sign language, and there are no Deaf people, you are not ministering in sign. Hearing people don't communicate in sign language. It does not minister to them in the true definition of the word. That would be like me teaching a Bible class in Spanish without Spanish people there, and saying I was ministering in Spanish.

Does that make sense? I think it's a good picture.

What is my point in all of this?

Deaf people need to be ministered to in their language. They need more than songs that are signed at the beginner level, 'dancing drama', or a smile and a wave. They are people with real spiritual needs, crises, and problems. They need people who are willing to learn their language and culture, and become a part of their world.

Have you ever met a Deaf person and wished you could communicate? Have you ever even thought about how Deaf people are being reached in your community?

I'll tell you right now, signing Jesus Loves Me to them won't cut it. A smile and pat on the back won't help their marriage. Shaking their hand does nothing more than show them you see they exist.

As a hearing person, how would you feel if the people in your church smiled a lot, shook your hand, patted your back, but never made an effort to go farther? Never tried to get to know you...never asked if you were ok, or how things were going? Would you keep going to that church? Would you feel ministered to?

This is an issue that is close to home for me. I am not trying to be negative, but show reality. Unless you really know a Deaf person, you cannot understand how ignored they are the majority of the time. Sure, you can provide interpreters for a church service, but do they work with the Deaf full time? For the majority- no.

Ministries (and people in general) need to think before they make statements that sound good but are unfounded, or just untrue. In their mind they may truly think what they do ministers, but in reality it doesn't. The idea of ministering needs to be examined, and perhaps an inventory taken to be sure the concept is being fulfilled.

Isn't that a reasonable expectation?

6 Comments:

  • Brenda

    Julie, I agree with your points here and I doubt very much that these things have been thought through by many...

    But may I ask...for a person who does not know sign language, how DO you go beyond a hand shake and a hello? What is appreciated? What is annoying?

    I know you are mostly talking about large "ministry" here but I'm thinking about personal "ministry."

  • JulieMom

    *Well, a good start is always to learn the fingerspelling alphabet. You can spell any word you want then, and the Deaf person can teach you the sign. It's slow going, but that's basically how I started. :0) J-Man is super patient!

    *Writing them a note is also a great way to communicate, and one people just don't think of. Most Deaf people would rather write and read clearly than try to decipher your lips.

    *If it's a neighbor, invite them over for dinner. Get out pen and paper, or your computer, and get to know them that way. If you're really interested, get some ASL DVDs from the library, and take your time.

    *I would say it's annoying to a Deaf person to be invited to a group hearing event and then be ignored the whole evening because no one can sign. Individual (single person or single family) get-togethers are much easier to navigate.

    Those are some starting points! Thanks for asking Brenda.

  • Great-Granny Grandma

    It makes perfect sense to me. You make some really good points, and I especially like the suggestions in your reply to Brenda's comment. I don't think I would ever have thought about writing notes.

  • Sherry

    Hi my name is Sherry I am also a Christian and I home school one of my sons. Love your blog can't wait to read more!

  • Shannon

    OK... I am so glad your worte this, and so glad Jen read it and told me to read it. Many times I have told her how I'd love to be able to get to know Jimmy, but I feel so awkward. I don't know what is offensive or annoying, I don't have a clue how to sign, and I can hardly spell with letters I know. You putting it out on the table makes it easier, but Brenda is right without knowing or being told most of us re clueless.

    There is a deaf girl who I used to run into at work all the time and I always feel like I am frustrating her because I don't know what she is saying. I had a huge whiteboard next to me and I handed her the mrker to write it out and she looked mad. I asked myself, was that offensive? I didn't even know.
    Shannon

  • JulieMom

    Hey everyone, thanks for commenting! I know so much of it is just people not knowing what to do, and feeling awkward asking. I am so glad you're asking!!

    I would say always err on the side of trying to reach out, rather than being afraid of saying/doing something wrong. It's always great to try!!

    Shannon, maybe she was just frustrated that you didn't understand her because maybe she was trained at an oral school, and thinks she can speak well.

    Jimmy and I once watched a video about a Deaf couple with a hard of hearing daughter on whom they had the cochlear implant procedure done. The couple said they didn't really know how well she spoke because they were Deaf, but their parents told them she sounded like a hearing person.

    That was VERY far from the truth. If I had closed my eyes and not watched her sign while speaking, I would have not understood one word she said. I think it's really a disservice to tell people they are speaking clearly when they are not. This girl will go her entire life thinking she sounds like a hearing person, when she does not. Maybe that's what happened to your co-worker?

    Thanks for your interest- Jimmy would love to get to know you too Shannon. :0)

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