Welcome to this journey of discovery and hope for the future of the Deaf Church! Let’s start with the bad news… what is generally being done in our local churches currently is not sustainable, or even appropriate for younger generations. They are raised in a world dramatically different from previous age groups. There is little cause to describe this new reality but there is plenty of reason to prayerfully adapt. Now, here is the good news: none of these dramatic changes as a result of the secularization of our culture comes as a surprise to God! “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
However, these rapid changes in our world demand we embrace new ways of thinking when it comes to evangelism, formation, discipleship, and service. The gospel remains eternal but the post-modern context focuses us to thoughtful conversations and intentional decisions about church priorities, values, practices, and structure. To experience renewal in the Deaf Church, willingness to address difficult questions is necessary for plotting a reasonable plan of action. Our efforts are to position ourselves faithfully in response to what the Holy Spirit is doing. Change always involves taking risks and often requires embracing new paradigms of life as part of a missional community of reconciliation. God can lead us to fruitful ministry within a secular culture without abandoning our historic faith and biblical theology.
The journey that led to this book began in September 2012 with the establishment of a Facebook group called “21st Century Deaf Church”. This discussion group on Facebook began with fifty-five personal contacts. During the two years the Facebook group remained open, more than 200 people were added by their own request or recommendation by others in the group. Considering the limited number of people involved in Deaf ministry, this group would be considered sizable and members representative of many churches, denominations, and Deaf ministries. Most in the group maintained a high level of thoughtful interactions and comments. The growth and participation in this group discussion helped confirm the assumption of the need for a new vision of Deaf Church for the next generations.
With help from friend and colleague, Dr. Rick McClain, a diverse group of Deaf Ministry leaders were brought together by Bob Ayres to serve as a “Think-Tank” for determining essential priorities for ministry with the next generation of young adults. As the founder and past-director of Deaf Teen Quest, Dr. Ayres was often confronted by the challenges of connecting young people, who aged-out of the high school ministry, with local churches. Likewise, it is difficult for Deaf young adults to find Deaf Churches or Deaf Ministries in churches that meet their spiritual, relational, and emotional needs. This journey emerged from a deep concern about the lack of youth and young adult sensitive fellowships and the overall survival of current and future Deaf churches.
In a departure from the structure of most academic books, DEAFCHURCH 21 begins with the informal and moves towards the more academic. The reason for this unusual structure is to allow for both the casual reader who will respond to the narrative style as well as the classroom student who will pursue a deeper contemplation of the process and theological and biblical foundations. Therefore, there are several shifts between first-person to third-person narrative between certain sections. Wherever practical, this is smoothed out for readability.
DEAFCHURCH 21: Vision for a New Generation is designed to create space for the Holy Spirit to work in your heart and ministry by asking the hard questions and encouraging you to act upon the answers you discern.
This book is designed to be read as an individual, studied in a classroom or small group, or used by church or ministry leadership for strategic planning. Whether you are reading this as an individual seeking ideas for establishing a faith community, a Pastor or church leader in search of a meaningful model for church, a study group thinking strategically, or a student using this as a textbook, our hope is to broaden the possibilities for the emergence—by the power of the Holy Spirit—of a vibrant faith community that offers wholeness and purpose for those in the Deaf Community. Our prayer is DEAFCHURCH 21 will provide a legitimate framework in creating vision for reaching future generations in your ministry context.