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March 3, 2020Interviews, Leadership

One-on-One with Joel Dillon on ‘Jill’s House: The Gift of Rest’

The Body of Christ isn’t complete without people with disabilities and their families, but in our experience, the vast majority of them are cut off from the Body of Christ.
One-on-One with Joel Dillon on ‘Jill’s House: The Gift of Rest’
Image: Photo by Joel Dillon

Ed: Why did you write this book?

Joel: We wrote this book for one simple reason: The Body of Christ isn’t complete without people with disabilities and their families, but in our experience, the vast majority of them are cut off from the Body of Christ. There are just too many barriers between them and being a part of a local church.

Most Christians understand this and they want to do something about it. But often, they just don’t know quite what to do or how to do it. Our hope in writing The Gift of Rest is to take the story of Jill’s House and use it to inspire and equip churches to make their congregations places of true belonging for people with disabilities and their families.

Ed: Who is it for?

Joel: This book was written for every church and every Christian interested in digging deeper into the call to love all our neighbors—particularly people with disabilities and their families. If a church is just getting started on this journey, it is my hope that The Gift of Rest will encourage them to take those all-important first steps and to provide them with some very practical tips for doing so.

And even if they are already well on their way to being a community where people with disabilities and their families belong, I think The Gift of Rest can encourage them to think even bigger and more broadly than they have before, and give them some guidance along the way.

Ed: Why do you think the church needs the message of this book right now?

Joel: Next Sunday morning, I’d encourage you to take a look around the sanctuary and count how many people you see who have a disability (of course, not every disability is visible, but that is a discussion for another time). Similarly, walk through all the Sunday school classes and the youth groups, and count how many children you see who have a disability.

Regardless of what data you look at (good stats on disability are notoriously hard to come by) or what definition of "disability" you use: if your church is like mine, people with disabilities are SEVERELY underrepresented even though disability knows no geographic, racial, ethnic, economic, or any other kind of boundary.

By not having people with disabilities and their families as full members, the Body of Christ is suffering. Something has to change, and that change can’t start soon enough.

Ed: What are some common perceptions (or misperceptions) about disability ministry?

Joel: One viewpoint I hear frequently is that launching a special needs ministry will just be a one-way street—a church giving opportunities for people with special needs and their families to worship, giving rest to caregivers, giving spiritual support to those in need. And that’s not totally wrong: all people—regardless of whether they have a disability or not—need to be served in some ways.

But when you talk to congregations that have made space for people with disabilities to be co-laborers in ministry, you’ll hear some of the most amazing stories of God’s blessing on the whole congregation and even the wider community.

Another common misperception is that a special needs ministry might be “for another church, but not for ours.” Joni Erickson Tada has often related a recurring story in which she would talk with pastors about people with disabilities, and they would say something to the effect of, “We don’t have anyone like that in our church.”

Well, of course, there’s a reason that “people like that” aren’t there, and it is the joyful duty of the church (and specifically its leaders) to figure out why that is and what they are going to do about it.

Every neighborhood in America has people with disabilities in them, and every household is impacted by disability in some way. The people are there, but they live in a world that often presents unintended barriers to them, so in many cases they have learned to assume they (or their children) won’t fit in.

Churches that are appropriately curious and ask questions of visitors who have special needs open the door to a much-needed conversation around how to help individuals with special needs feel welcome. And that’s where it begins—with relationship.

Ed: What are some practical takeaways you hope people have from reading this book?

Joel: You. Can. Do. This.

Your church. Can. Do. This.

The lack of local church ministries designed for people with disabilities and their families isn't because churches and Christians don't care. They do. They have a heart for God, one another, and their communities. But they often don't know where to start when it comes to special needs ministries—and this book provides a road map they can follow.

They'll discover how to take the first steps into this rewarding ministry, know how to grow once they've launched, and all the practical lessons Jill's House has learned over the years.

If nothing else, I don’t want others to have to make the same mistakes we’ve made. We wish we'd had this resource as we were starting!

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One-on-One with Joel Dillon on ‘Jill’s House: The Gift of Rest’