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Some Questions About Deaf Ministry

Tim Challies wrote a beautiful reflection on attending this year’s Ligonier Conference and watching the Deaf attendees there, which he titled “The Ears of the Deaf.” You can read it here.

In the meta of that post a hearing pastor made some comments which caused me to feel the need to speak up. After I addressed his comments, the wife of a Deaf man asked me some questions regarding Deaf ministry. I did not want her excellent questions to go unnoticed, especially since they are relevant to one of this blog’s purposes, so I have copied her questions and the answers I gave her below. Please enjoy and feel free to chime in if you think I have missed anything!

[Name],

Thanks for your questions!

1. What if the only deaf preaching available is not biblical or is always shallow?
This is just my fallen view of it: I would suggest that a person in this situation follow Matthew 18 with the pastor, and follow it to its conclusion. If, at the end of the process, the pastor refuses to change and the church supports him, such a person may have no recourse but to leave, because one would only be pierced to the heart by the trampling of the Gospel. [Stephen’s Note: for more on this, please read my brief series on FBC Starbucks under the “Classic Holocron” category in the sidebar, especially Part 3a.]

I am not a believer in leaving a church for any reason unless there are serious issues such as this one. One could choose to stay, working and praying for faithfulness to be brought in the church. I like this idea much better than leaving, but if one chooses to leave there is no shame in availing oneself of alternatives, including interpreted ministry.

2. What is more important, that Deaf be taught by Deaf or that Deaf be taught God’s Word?
My answer to your first question points at this. The Gospel is central, no exceptions. How that Gospel is communicated is a different matter. From 13 years of being around Deaf ministries, including 10 years active in Deaf ministry, I’m convinced that Deaf ministers do this better than interpreted ministries. I’m convinced it is the ideal. But I’m like Paul in this — they’re preaching the Gospel, therefore we’re on the same team. In fact, until a couple of years ago one of our church’s closest relationships was with an interpreted ministry across town; they now have a Deaf minister on staff with their own worship and Bible classes. Short answer, I will endorse a faithful, Gospel-centered Deaf-led ministry over and above any interpreted ministry any day of the week. But in connection with your first question, if there’s no acceptable Deaf-led ministries, being personally faithful ought not exclude the alternative.

3. Who should the leaders of deaf ministries be accountable to?
That depends on the structure of the ministry. There are two common ways this is set up: as a Deaf church and as a ministry under a hearing church. I’ve been in both environments in my brief time in ministry.

If it is a Deaf church, obviously the leaders are accountable first to God and His Word and second to the congregation. That’s what makes Matthew 18 so very important. Without that, we as members would have no recourse. As an associate pastor, I strive for faithfulness to Scripture above all. Next I am accountable to our senior pastor, since I serve under his leadership. Last I am accountable to our congregation through our church council specifically and individual members generally.

If it is a ministry under a hearing church, it is similar to my role as an associate pastor. Again the leaders are first accountable to God and His Word. Next they are accountable to the church through those staff members responsible for them. Last they are accountable to their people.

Please understand, what I have spoken of is a trend becoming more and more widespread that expects Deaf ministries in hearing churches to follow the lead of the hearing congregations. When they resist, they are in many cases forced to comply, which results in the Deaf and/or their ministry leaving. Having the Deaf join hearing worship is usually the first step towards such practice. It waves a red flag in my mind and in that of other Deaf ministers.

I would encourage [hearing pastor] (and again, this is just my perspective) to have as a goal the raising up of a man within his Deaf people to take responsibility for them and their discipleship. Take up his training and disciple him towards ministry. I see interpreted ministry as a stepping stone towards Deaf-led ministry. It should not be the end result, but a rung on the ladder. That’s how our church came to be and from what I have learned it is how many Deaf-led churches began as well.

Deaf-led ministry does not necessarily mean independent Deaf-led churches such as ours, but can and will mean ministry as part of a larger church. In fact, I am coming to suspect that independent Deaf-led churches may soon disappear entirely. Deaf-led ministries under the umbrella of hearing churches may out of necessity become the future of Deaf ministry. That makes it important that hearing churches understand the boundaries between ministries and respect them.

Categories: Deaf Ministry
  1. Steve Dye
    March 26, 2009 at 10:22 am

    Very well said, Stephen. i am going to take this and add my own thoughts on my own blog. Good stuff!

  2. June 21, 2009 at 11:47 pm

    Stephen, I was just wondering if you were any relation to Bill Newell ? He once lived in New England until he went to SBTS as the first deaf student. And he then moved to Illinois. Please email me if you are related. Thanks. selahV

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