Disability and the Church
Lamar Hardwick was thirty-six years old when he found out he was on the autism spectrum. While this revelation helped him understand and process his own experience, it also prompted a difficult re-evaluation of who he was as a person. And as a pastor, it started him on a new path of considering the way disabled people are treated in the church.
Disability and the Church is a practical and theological reconsideration of the church's responsibilities to the disabled community. Too often disabled persons are pushed away from the church or made to feel unwelcome in any number of ways. As Hardwick writes, "This should not be." He insists that the good news of Jesus affirms God's image in all people, and he offers practical steps and strategies to build stronger, truly inclusive communities of faith.
"In a time when first-person disability narratives remain hard to come by, Disability and the Church presents a marvelous example of the power of disabled voices in the church. Rev. Dr. Hardwick provides his readers with a powerful message about not only accepting people with disabilities but including them as church leaders. Masterfully interweaving his personal narrative with Scripture and the history of the Christian church, Hardwick offers an insightful look into what it means to pastor a church while on the autism spectrum, as well as practical tips for developing inclusive churches that take the wisdom of disability experience seriously. Disability and the Church is essential reading for church leaders and seminarians who desire to make their places of worship inclusive, diverse, and faithful to God's call by placing disability at the heart of the conversation."
"A disability is not a sickness or even necessarily a weakness. It is just a limitation, a uniqueness, that enables a person to make a vitally important and distinctive contribution to life and to the Christian community. At the same time, to some in the church a person with a disability could appear to seem 'the weakest and least important' member of the Jesus community, but instead they are to be viewed as 'the most necessary' and to be embraced 'with the greatest care' (1 Corinthians 12:22-23). Pastor Lamar has provided a bridge into Christ's church for those who are 'disabled' or 'other-abled,' a bridge that seems essential to the nature and mission of the church. Lamar has provided that bridge with this excellent work and with his own life, pastoral leadership, and scholarship."
"Lamar Hardwick was designed by God to write this resource for the church. Lamar perfectly weaves together his personal experience, the history of the church, and today's much-needed conversation on diversity to lay a blueprint for inclusion in the local church."
"The largest minority group in the church is the disabled. This makes inclusion of people with disabilities an important part of the mission and vision of the church. When I finished seminary as a young minister with autism, I often felt excluded due to my lack of social skills and sensory issues. Disability and the Church is a perfect fit to help churches understand neurodiversity and learn ways to equip individuals like me for ministry. The strength of Dr. Lamar's book is his ability to teach pastors and leaders practical steps to empower people with disabilities for leadership and use their gifts to advance the kingdom of God. I love his concept of ministry with people with disabilities—a partnership. This book will inspire your church to be an advocate in the disability community. I highly recommend Disability and the Church to every leader, pastor, and educator who has a passion for inclusion and a desire to equip the whole body of Christ for the work of ministry."
"In Disability and the Church, Lamar Hardwick combines his professional and personal experience to create a unique and necessary resource for pastors and church leaders. After being diagnosed with autism several years into his pastoral career, he became an advocate for including individuals with disabilities in the church. What he has to say about ministering with—rather than to or for—people and families affected by disability has the potential to transform the body of Christ. I am grateful to Lamar for his transparent, honest voice in Disability and the Church. I not only recommend the book wholeheartedly, I also plan to gift copies to leaders at my church."
"Writing is most beautiful, most authentic, and most life-transforming when authors embody the story they are telling. Dr. Lamar Hardwick inhabits the story he is writing. He writes from a unique vantage point: he has Asperger syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. His autism doesn't define him. Jesus does. Jesus has graced and used his life to teach the church how to love and live more inclusively and generously. God invites us all to his banquet feast of grace. His table is big enough for us all."
"Lamar Hardwick brilliantly captures kingdom vision for diversity, inclusion, and gospel-reflecting community. He draws a powerful parallel between his own long journey from difficulties to diagnosis and the church's battle to be a place of welcome and belonging where everyone gets an equal stake in the promises of God. This book carries a message that is ripe for today with a plan lifted straight from the Scriptures. Lamar helps us understand historical problems in the church and wakes us up to a bright future of possibilities."
"Reflecting the wisdom and heart of a seasoned church pastor, this book by Rev. Dr. Lamar Hardwick sparkles with the best parts of being a scholar and a preacher—a biblical exploration of God's desire for the full welcome of the diverse people God has created (particularly people with disabilities) combined with personal stories, reflections, and very detailed ideas for living into that reality. His many years serving as an autistic pastor give him the insight and credibility to name the kinds of barriers to leadership and participation that neurodiverse and disabled folks experience in churches, and the practical and theological tools needed to remove these barriers. At its heart, this truly helpful book calls our communities to be accessible to the presence, gifts, and leadership of people with disabilities, and thereby into faithful resonance with the way of Jesus and the very heart of God."
"Disability and the Church by Lamar Hardwick is a must-read for every pastor and church leader! Lamar does a wonderful job of explaining why every church needs to become inclusive and welcome families and individuals with disabilities with open arms. I especially appreciate how Lamar is vulnerable and explains how he and other individuals with disabilities have been treated by the church. It is time for the church to finally welcome these amazing families and change the way it thinks. Every ministry must see through the eyes of a family with disabilities and plan accordingly. Thank you once again, Lamar, for leading the way in calling all of us to step up and welcome families with disabilities with open arms! Churches need to receive the full blessing that God wants to bestow on them!"
"With unassailable grace, Disability and the Church compels the church to claim her birthright as the cultural leader, by articulating the whys and hows of biblical inclusion and diversity. Dr. Hardwick weaves together an exquisite triple-threat of scholarly insight and practical, ministerial wisdom, validated by a rare, first-person account as a pastor diagnosed with autism. I know no other voice as uniquely qualified to address the church's long-standing hidden disability regarding diversity and inclusion as Dr. Lamar Hardwick: a prophetic voice for such a time as this."
"If you are a church member, a volunteer, or in vocational ministry, this book is a must-read! Dr. Hardwick has taken the vision that God laid out for the church in his Scripture for intertwining the faith and disabilities communities and eloquently communicated the whole vision in one succinct book. This book offers powerful and compelling words to the modern church, challenging it to take a look at its systems and culture that were designed to separate, and to bring them into alignment with the Word of God. Pastor Lamar offers biblical evidence and practical steps on achieving unity in the body of Christ without having to strive for uniformity. As the church as whole continues to marginalize and ostracize the disability community, I believe this book will become a catalyst for understanding the perspective of the voices of the disabled that often that go unheard in faith communities. It is a beautiful reminder of how we should value and celebrate people because we are better together. Every pastor that I know will be receiving a copy of this book!"
Foreword by Bill Gaventa
Introduction: A Love Letter to the Church from an Autistic Pastor
1. Born This Way
2. Begin at the Banquet
3. A Better Question
4. Barriers to Inclusion
5. Building a Learning Culture
6. Building a Linking Culture
7. Building a Leadership Culture
8. The Future of Faith