**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?