2 SEPT 2019

Meet Michael Leader from new Beverly Hills Jesus Club

Interview with Michael Leader | By Melisa Ng

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Being involved with Jesus Club seems to be what God has planned for Michael Leader, the pastor at Beverly Hills Baptist Church, and the coordinator of their new Jesus Club.

Michael learnt about Jesus Club while working at CABC Thornleigh. Janice, the coordinator of Jesus Club there first brought the idea to his attention, but he left too soon for his new position at Beverly Hills Baptist Church and didn't see it to its fruition. Though not one to be sidetracked when he spotted a good ministry opportunity, Michael quickly got to work and opened the Beverly Hills club in July this year.

"We’ve got a lot of larger churches in the area that are doing all these wonderful things, and I thought, well there is an area that no one else is doing ... no one in the St George area [has] a Jesus Club.”

Indeed, the Beverly Hills club is currently the only club serving the St George area and already it has found a niche in providing bible studies pitched at the level just right for people with intellectual disabilities. Their new club started with one member from their church and was soon joined by three others from churches within the area.

"[I] talked to other churches, said we are running it if you have some people in your congregation that could need this. We are not interested in taking them away from your Sunday fellowship, we just want to give them the benefit of Jesus Club and then send them back to your congregation a little bit closer to God.”

Michael finds Jesus Club a great program to nurture and grow the faith of people with intellectual disabilities:

"Jesus Club is a very simple program to use, simple to adapt, you just add people. It’s easy to roll into a church and easy to do.”

And good for churches that are looking to minister to people with special needs but don’t have the know-how:

“Without support, to be able to make something for people with intellectual disabilities takes a lot of extra time and effort… And because pastors are simply too busy and stretched, to work out how to tailor things to specific needs of an individual when there are dozens of people that need to be organised, is beyond most pastors.”

To anyone skeptical about the need for disability ministry, Michael has this to say about discipling people with disabilities,

"I think all people can understand the Gospel… because all people can have an encounter with God and it’s about the gospel for this life, as well as the next. We want to encounter Jesus… and have a life that reflects Christ's character and I believe all people can do that, whether they are 2 or 100 or have an intellectual disability.”

“It is resource-heavy to run a program for different types of people, but we spend a lot of time and money on children’s programs, and we see them as valuable things. So why do we exclude those with disabilities or mental health issues?"

Michael is also a believer that people of all abilities should be allowed to serve and utilise their gifts at church,

"I don’t see why someone with an intellectual disability would be treated or should be treated any differently, than anyone else if they present gifts and if they have an expression of faith, that is, … they love Jesus in their own capacity. The more we put people into boxes and label them as such [the more we] limit people."

And being a father to a son with autism and having worked at 3 different churches, Michael has certainly come across many people with disabilities and mental illness and seen how when balanced with wisdom and common sense, churches can benefit from the different gifts offered by people with disabilities.

He gave an example of a girl in his previous congregation with down syndrome,

“[She was] one of the most encouraging young people I have ever encountered. It was a church that gave very little comment on the sermon, but [this girl] after every service would say to me, 'you have done a great job Michael' and give me a high 5. I don’t even know how much she took in, but she still seemed to think it was enjoyable enough for her to high 5 me and take the time out to say well done. It was enormously encouraging!”

And in the boldness and sensitivity of one is of his current members, Lee, Michael sees great potential to reach out to others in his community:

"I came in thinking about how I can utilise this person's gift for the kingdom. And one of the main reasons I saw was he has a huge outreach opportunity amongst the special needs community. He was baptised last year and now he has a platform to invite them to at Jesus Club. I think he is one of our front line evangelists!”

The future of Beverly Hills Jesus Club is certainly looking bright. At the time of our conversation, Michael’s goal for the club was to reach four members by the end of the year but within a week, God answered his prayer and their club welcomed their fourth member in its third week!

So join us in thanking God for his provision and his active work in bringing people with disabilities into his kingdom. Please pray that He will bring many more people to Beverly Hills, particularly, those from non-church avenues. Equip his members to be inviting and bold as they reach out and bring the love of Jesus to their friends and families.

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