Saturday, August 20, 2022

Disability and Pentecostal Ministry


From the July/August 2022 issue of Influence Magazazine - Assemblies of God national pastors magazine.

Articles by George P. Wood, Gary Hoyt, Joe Butler, Nilda Rivera, Joanna French, and Marvin Miller

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Book Review: Disability and the Church by Dr. Lamar Hardwick


The last decade has seen an abundance of serious academic scholarship focused on disability theology, coupled with an increase amount of first-person literature on disability experience within the church. Lamar Hardwick brings forth fresh nuanced perspective in this latter category in a very accessible read entitled Disability and the Church: A Vision for Diversity and Inclusion.    

In a genre replete with disability theologians and parent advocates, his voice as a pastor with a disability (diagnosed with Autism in 2014 at age 36), places him within the vanguard of a new wave of insight.  His latest work  is a direct message to reimagining what church can be, particularly in light of the dueling challenges of a global pandemic and racial inequality.  Make no mistake – this is not just a challenge to open up sacred space to those who experience disability – it is a prophetic cry, coupled with a pragmatic framework,  to allow those without power to become a voice from the pulpit.


This work is divided into a tripart  structure: birth, barriers ,and the building the body.  Hardwick makes it abundantly clear that he writes from pastor’s perspective who believes firmly in the role of the local church in building true Christian community revealed in Revelation 7. He weaves stories, anecdotes, contemporary memes, and scriptural refences as a masterful narrator – the crescendoing wave powerfully landing his points.  To the experienced disability theologian, there is not much new exegetical insight, but the notes have been re-arranged, re-mastered, and re-sung in a stronger  key.  The first 3 chapters utilizes disability presentations on television, interpreted through his own personal experiences and artistically segues  into the birth narrative of the church (Acts 2) and its predictive precursor – the Lukan banquet where persons with disabilities are given preference.

In perhaps the most striking and pivotal chapter, Hardwick emphasizes a theme that is interwoven throughout the chapters.  Most disability literature unintentionally imagines the disabled body as white.  The chapter on Barriers to Inclusion bridges both disability and diversity and critiques this ideal in  stark vividity.  The reader is reminded that the body of people with disabilities and those of African Americans both bear the marks of a society and too often a church that rejects them in pursuit of a perfect body – instead of the body of Christ.

Having presented the problem, Hardwick draws upon the Parable of the Sower to paint the broad strokes of creating an inclusive church.  Drawing upon leadership literature, he recognizes the change can only be permanent of the culture itself is rebuilt.  He devotes three chapters to practical steps in creating an inclusive church, moving from programs to people, to developing leaders from the ranks of disabled self-advocates.

Hardwick concludes the book with a series of affirmations – primarily for people with disabilities who question their call to leadership within the church.  Strategies are presented to help existing churches mentor leaders into their roles.  Only when all are utilizing their gifts, will the church be complete.


Disability and the Church is an excellent primer for the local church pastor who desires to be purposefully building a diverse and inclusive community.  It contains many practical and engaging ways for special needs lay leaders and others to change culture.  And most importantly, it illustrates a path forward for people who are identified with disabilities to serve in leadership roles in their local church.  It is rare for a book to cover as many aspects of pastoral care ministry as this one does; it should become a standard text not just in disability contexts, but in general pastoral leadership.


Disability and the Church: A vision for Diversity and Inclusion (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2021). 208 pp. Paperback, $18.00   ISBN: 978-0-8308-4160-8

Friday, December 30, 2016

PROQUEST Dissertation Available

For pastors and researchers exploring disability theology, church culture, and Christian special education, I hope that my research can assist you.

The full dissertation is available free of charge through PROQUEST.  The link is provided here.


Miller, M. J. (2016). Serving people with intellectual disabilities: A comparative investigation of the perception of family caregivers and Kansas Ministry Network credential holders (Doctoral dissertation, Evangel Assemblies of God Theological Seminary). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. (UMI No. 10100500)

-- Dr. Marvin J. Miller

Monday, April 11, 2016


As many of you know, I have been working on my doctorate from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary at Evangel University (AGTS@EU)  After many years, my project dissertation on comparative perceptions between clergy members and family caregivers of persons with disability is finally completed.

Some of the components of the study have been shared on this blog over the last few years, but now the full copy is available.

I believe that my research will help other disability organizations, churches, parents, and pastors collaborate even better in the future.

The full dissertation and its appendixes are 289 pages long and is available free of any charge for any researcher.  It has been uploaded to PRO-QUEST.

The seminary is also graciously hosting it at their site.  The link for that is here.

If you haven't been able to obtain a copy and would like one, simply contact me ( and I will be glad to forward you a copy.

Thank you for serving Jesus Christ, the church, and people with vital abilities.

Dr. Marvin J. Miller
founder, AbilityChurch
pastor, Wellington First Assembly (Kansas)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Neurodiversity and the Church

If you haven't been paying attention to NPR NEWS, the LA TIMES or TED TALKS, you may have missed the strong discussion occuring today among some leading figures in the Autism community who are paving different path into the future.

Steve Silberman burst onto the scene recently with NeuroTribes and  Dr. Thomas Armstrong released Neurodiversity.  The overarching theme is that people have brain differences, yet their gifts can and must positively impact our society-- if only we take a moment to listen.

 Ron Sandison, a pastor identified with Asberger's Syndrome desires that people within the church hear these voices.  His upcoming book A Parents Guide to Autism: Practical Advice, Biblical Wisdom (CharismaHouse) attempts to do just that.

I look forward to reading these books and seeing how the church will listen!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Reflections on Day 3 (Thursday) #SITD15

Erik Carter introducing Mark Crenshaw
The third day of #SITD actually started a half an hour earlier than the last few days… unfortunately, most of us were dragging a little bit!  But the speakers were well worth it.  Bishop David Talley of the Atlanta Archdiocese, Barb Newman of the CLC Network (and a frequent Friendship Ministries collaborator) and Mark Crenshaw, our host at Georgia State University and Director for the Center for Leadership in Disability.

Bishop Talley addressed Humility and Service as part of his own spiritual journey.  A former Baptist and seminarian dropout who finally studied canon law in Rome, he was challenged to action by a mother years ago.  Since then, he has made serving people with disabilities a non-negotiable as a local parish pastor and now in his present responsibilities as bishop.

A dynamic speaker, several of his comments stuck with me… 
  • As a member of the clergy, if I am to serve you, I must know how you learn and process.
  •  A life of humility is both a gift and a learned art  -- only then can we move from arrogance and isolation to joy and connection.

There is no question that Bishop Talley is prophetically speaking to congregations unwilling to move towards full worshiping participation.  He juxtaposes the isolation that is often experienced by people with disabilities, with the isolation that will occur when those in the church find they are not living out God’s path.

Barb Newman walked through several chapters of her new book Accessible Gospel, Inclusive Worship and concentrated on Vertical Habits – encouraging us to take the skeleton of the liturgy and dress it with musculature that is universally accessible (Talley’s description).  Her approach from a special education consultant gave practical ideas (fidgets, rubber bands, visual schedules, early warnings, assistive tech) for people to access the curriculum in kinesthetic, visual, and physical means.  The challenge for many (as evidenced in twitter conversations) is to utilize her ideas outside of the reformed ordered worship setting in which they originated.

Mark Crenshaw, in Recipients Towards Bearers, exegeted the blind Bartemeus story, telling it from the perspective of the subject who engaged Jesus, interrupting the crowd, and obtaining what he needed.  Mark reflected that the greatest gift he has to share (as a connector, often in religious communities) arose out of some of his most painful experiences of disability within the church.  He also reminded us that until we exegete and understand the community and context and are finally trusted to do work on behalf of the community, one may not belong yet.

In the discussion afterwards, we were reminded that a formal weekly liturgy is actually just the template for the real liturgy which occurs during the lifecycles of the rest of the week.
All three speakers revealed that all people with disabilities have gifts.  It is often those of us without current disabilities that must get out of their way in order for those gifts to be realized.
One critique leveled against the speakers this morning was the danger of imposing a particular spiritual communities voice upon those without the communicative capacity to reject that voice.  A danger may exist in that we often may force the presence of G-d or a sign of his into a situation where it does not exist. This is a danger that clergy members – and the larger community of faith – may need to guard against.


Negotiating Boundaries - Dr. Priscilla Oh #SITD15

Dr. Oh recently completed her PhD at the University of Aberdeen in Practical Theology with Dr. John Swinton. Originally from Inchon, Korea,  her auto-biographical theology on mental health reflects upon her years as a roommate of a friend with manic mental health.  (See Stanley Hauerwas Hannah's Child for a similar sketch)

I enjoyed her presentation, but really was enraptured by her use of free verse poetry to encapsulate the emotions, relations, similarities, and differences in their mutual relationship over time. The prose has the power to proffer healing.   I look forward to the time when those will be published.


From Pig Farmer to Pastor #SITD15

I had a chance to chat with Pastor Dan DeVries for a bit between sessions at the Summer Institute.  A common question asked as part of introduction around here, is what brings you to the table of disability?

Dan currently serves as the Religious Services Coordinator for Hope Haven in Rock Valley, IA (near where my own parents were raised).

But his journey to get there took him through several different career paths.  A degree from Iowa State in agricultural, several years serving in world relief, a stint as a pig farmer, a distance seminary education (Western Seminary - RCA) and finally a call to serve people with Intellectual Disabilities.

The journey God calls his people to, wraps us around the world and utilizes all of our gifts.


Meet Dr. Evelyn McMullen #SITD15

I got to meet Dr. Evelyn McMullen,(D.Ed.Min, Columbia Theological Seminary) on Tuesday at the Summer Institute. She has been a leader in Friendship groups and her church for years in the Lakeland, Florida area.  Recently she has launched Bright Threads Ministries where she is helping churches and communities weave together intentional faith relationships with each other.   I'm also happy to report she has agreed to help author some of the new Friendship curriculum!


Reflections on Day 2- Wednesday AM #SITD15

Reflections on Day 2

This morning was a moving session – in tribute to one of the early pioneers of disability theology.  Dr. Nancy Eiesland (1964-2009) was known for her liberating work in disability theology with her groundbreaking book The Disabled G-D.   Julia Watts Belser, from the Jewish tradition paid homage to her legacy in an excellent lecture, by delving into the Hebrew Bible’s texts on disability and the life hereafter (eschaton) and then exploring the related rabbinical tradition.

During the post-lecture session, several key questions were raised that highlight the differences in Jewish and Christian (among its various forms) handling of these texts and of Eiesland’s work.  Dr. Hans Reinders pointed out the prominence of Eiesland’s Christological emphasis in her work and inquired how the work can be utilized outside of the Christian tradition.  To be sure, her contribution allowed others to access the texts (and G-D) through previously unthought ways.  Several ensuing twitter posts indicated that many found hope and substance in Eiesland’s work and could now think of a Disabled G-D without having to focus on the disabled Christ.  While I am glad her work has served as inspiration to others outside the Christian tradition, I too conclude with Dr. Reinders that it is the Christological piece that sets her work as viable within the Christian tradition – without it, it (in Pentecostal parlance) loses its power.

I am grateful for the insights that Julia Watts Belser gave – yet it also clarified for me the fundamental worldview perspective difference between the two religious traditions.  Dr. Becker, post lecture, also revealed that for her the eschaton is not nearly as important as the here and now.  For many evangelical Christians, the eschaton is the focus – often in my opinion, to our detriment of the social injustices present in the now. 

Why is the eschaton critical? – because of the role imagination plays with our self-identity and mutual relationship with the G-D-head in the future.  Identity body politics are important and can not be easily swept away.  The graveyard image of a person moving out of a support device  (wheelchair) is liberating to some who have not yet created a new identity (new creation?) in relationship with the disabled G-D, yet confining to those who have found their new identity melded with metal and plastic.  Perhaps, as Monica Coleman stated, people with disabilities will have a choose their own adventure experience as we reflect on our identity in the hereafter with our G-D.