The statistics on disabilities in the U.S. are really staggering, though they should not be surprising in a fallen world. A “disability” can be defined as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities,” and according to the best statistics, 54 million people in the U.S.—20.6%—live with some level of disability. For nearly half of them, the disability is severe.

If 1 out of 5 Americans are suffering in this way, it seems like the church should be giving good thought to how to minister to—and learn from—those with these challenges.

I’m not an expert on this by any means, but I thought it might be helpful to pass along a few resources:

Joni & Friends has a very helpful overview on Starting a Disability Ministry (PDF, with lots of links).

Two seminaries have begun offering free online courses in practical theology, centered around this issue.

First, Dallas Theological Seminary iTunes U called “A Biblical Theology of Disability, Suffering, and the Church,” taught by various members of the DTS facult, with Joni Eareckson Tada as one of the guest lecturers.

Here’s the course breakdown:

  1. Introduction, Statistics, and Disability Ministry Models (Joni Earekson Tada & Daniel Thomson)
  2. Church-based Disability Ministry/Disability Outreach and Inreach (Mike Justice, Jessica Baldridge)
  3. Suffering in the Pentateuch and the Prophets (Stephen Bramer)
  4. Suffering in the Psalms and Wisdom Literature (Ron Allen, Larry Waters)
  5. Suffering in the Gospels (Mark Bailey)
  6. Suffering in the Pauline Epistles (Stanley Toussaint)
  7. Suffering in Non-Pauline Epistles and Revelation (Jim Allman, Tom Constable)
  8. Theology of Suffering: The Problem of Evil (Doug Blount)
  9. Theology of Suffering: Responding to Evil, Suffering, and The Global View (Jim Neathery)
  10. Pastoral and Counseling Matters in Suffering (Vic Anderson, Gary Barnes, Steve Fischer, Linda Marten)
  11. Common Disablements: Pediatric and Adult (Patricia Evans, Amy Wilson)
  12. Bioethics (Richard Voet)
  13. Joni and Friends (Joni Earekson Tada and panel)

The second is a course from Reformed Theological Seminary iTunes U, taught by Andrew Peterson, on “Disabilities and the Church“:

  1. Introduction: Bodies, Weaknesses, and Progress
  2. Presuppositions and Procedures
  3. Your Church Context
  4. Broken Bodies – 01
  5. Broken Bodies – 02
  6. Apologetics: The Problem of Pain
  7. Evangelistic Outreach – 01
  8. Evangelistic Outreach – 02
  9. Church Buildings
  10. The Medical Context – 01
  11. The Medical Context – 02
  12. Employment and Technology
  13. Instructional Design for Training
  14. The Undershepherds’ Ministry
  15. Diaconal Helping
  16. Sanctification
  17. A Theology of Suffering: From Pain to Ministry
  18. Death and Dying for the Christian
  19. Health and the Bible
  20. Faith Healers on TV
  21. Effective Prayer
  22. Listening Carefully
  23. Making a Plan
  24. Specific Problems
  25. Family Dynamics
  26. Working with Families and Professionals – 01
  27. Working with Families and Professionals – 02
  28. Church-Based Ministry – 01
  29. Church-Based Ministry – 02