When I find myself frustrated in a discipling relationship it serves as a warning for me that I, as the discipler, am missing something significant in the life of my disciple.
Chad is a good example of this frustration. Chad had come to me to be discipled. He was a likeable guy, but he brought frustration into his relationships with his wife, friends, and employer. Soon into our own relationship I also found myself becoming frustrated with Chad’s attitude and behavior. We all saw Chad as a leader, but he was one of those gifted people who was wasting his talents and intelligence. I later discovered that we were not the only ones frustrated with Chad, but that he was also frustrated with himself. His spiritual life was stagnant and he felt distant from God.
I made a commitment to Chad that I was not going to give up on him but to join with him to find a breakthrough. A few weeks into the relationship I discovered what only Chad and his wife knew, that he had a learning disability. One day Chad told me, “Lewie, do you know what it is like to feel dumb everyday of your life?” Although Chad had a high IQ, both his education and Christian experience had made him feel dumb.
Christianity has made God inaccessible to people with a learning disability. Their impression from the church is that Bible reading, Bible study, sermons, reading Christian books are all important ways to connect to God, but because they have a difficult time reading they feel alienated from God.
People with learning disabilities usually hate school and yet their first exposure to Christianity is Sunday School. Chad would leave his Bible or study book at home so that he would not be asked to read in the class. Chad would visit a Bible study and if the teacher would ask someone to read a passage out loud, he would never return out of fear that someday the teacher may call on him to read.
I have now walked through the discipling process with four men who have a learning disability. Here are insights and suggestions that have come out of that experience:
- A relationship with Jesus is not based on one’s reading ability, no more than my relationship with my family or friends is based on my reading ability.
- People with learning disabilities are around you. They are often intelligent and articulate, and they are smart enough to know how to hide their disability.
- Have your disciple listen to the Bible on IPod or C.D.
- Discuss a passage of scripture together with your disciple rather than the traditional Bible study approach. (I have found that people with learning disabilities often have keen Biblical insight.)
- Read short passages from a Christian book with your disciple and then discuss it together.
- A learning disability does not limit the work or glory of God through the disciple. Discover the unique gifting of your disciple and together establish avenues for him to use his gifts.
- Find someone who does adult testing for those with learning disabilities. Chad and the other three guys were all tested by a specialist in learning disabilities. The test not only revealed their disability but also uncovered their strengths!
- People with learning disabilities tend to be relational and are great at making disciples of Jesus.