There are different ways that the members of The Special Gathering tell me that they are growing in the Lord. I see in our members subtle changes that others would ignore. Nevertheless, each adjustment means a transformation has occurred in their lives. As the area director for Special Gathering of Indian River, it’s my joy to look for and mark those changes. We are a ministry within the intellectually disabled community and our mission is discipleship and evangelism.
One morning I sat with a group of pastors from churches populated by folks who are normal. Comparing notes with them, I said, “If I can get someone to Special Gathering, I can win them to the Lord. Evangelism is simple. Discipleship, though, is like extracting teeth with a pair of pliers.”
All the pastors in the group laughed. “Sounds pretty normal to me,” Rob said. “If they come to worship or a Bible study at our church, they get saved. But changes are slow at first. Then as time goes on, the changes get progressively slower.”
Recognizing this painful ascension of discipleship, I began to notice the less obvious signs of growth. Here are some of the behaviors in a few of our members which have signaled growth to me.
- When non-verbal Jimmy leaves his workshop, he looks at me as he enters the lunchroom where we hold our Special Gathering chapel service. When he catches my eye, he sits down. He now sits on the front row, rather than three rows back with his mother who is a Special Gathering co-worker.
- Steve began wearing a dress shirt and a tie several weeks ago to our Saturday afternoon program. This is a big departure from his casual, “don’t bother me” outfits he’s worn for ten years.
- Special Gathering has become part of John’s unbreakable route. Now, John wants to help with every aspect of the ministry.
- Simply asking, “Can I help?” is an enormous sign of growth for many of our members.
- An even larger sign that Christ is invading our members’ daily life is when they begin to help with the chairs, refreshments, trash or equipment without even asking or being asked. Patty is a helper by nature; but she has used these virtuous acts to draw attention to herself. “Look! I’m getting Michael’s walker,” she proudly announced each week. But when she started getting his walker without the usual fanfare, I noticed the difference. Was this a sign that the Holy Spirit was doing a new work in her? Now, she goes behind the other members picking up their napkins and paper cups. Cheerfully, she escorts the other members, holding their arms or guiding their wheelchairs. She no longer craves the attention those helping activities gained her in the past.
- The first time Terri raised her hand volunteering to pray, I’m certain the shocked expression on my face was apparent. Terri struggles with her speech patterns; and this was an enormous step of faith for her.
- After one year of camp, Melvin didn’t want to come again. It was a bit too spiritual for him. He didn’t say much. Yet as he sat hunched over during our chapel services, his body language screamed that two chapel programs a day was a bit excessive for his tastes. Therefore, when Melvin’s camp form arrived in the first batch of forms last year, I knew there had been a change in his heart and life.
Yesterday, Ron sat quietly during the worship. He wasn’t shouting or dancing. Beth says, “Ron talks too much” and she isn’t far off the mark. I watched Ron to see if perhaps the Holy Spirit is working in a new way in his life. Will this subtle change in his behavior mark new growth and vibrant change? Time will tell.
Perhaps you’ve seen subtle changes in your life that mark new growth. What are they? Is it easier for you to carve out time to read your Bible? Is your alloted prayer time now filled with request for others? Have you been able to turn down that second slice of blackberry pie? What are some of the subtle changes that you see in your family that may mark growth?