Posted on : Friday May 18, 2018
Tom Stolle, chief financial officer and chief operating officer for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware

Tom Stolle, chief financial officer and chief operating officer for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware

By Shannon Baker

BALTIMORE—Pointing to the Luke 5 story of friends who cut through a roof to bring their disabled friend to Jesus, Tom Stolle urged attendees to the April 28, 2018, “Indispensable: Equipping the Body of Christ to Engage Disability” disability conference to do whatever it takes to bring the special needs community to Jesus.

Stolle, chief financial officer and chief operating officer for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D), said approximately 56 million Americans or 19 percent of the population in the United States has a disability. Nearly half of these report their disability as severe.

He also cited World Health Organization statistics that reveal more than 1 billion people, or 15 percent of the world’s population, have a disability.

“Disability is everywhere,” he told attendees at the third annual special needs conference, sponsored by the BCM/D and The Banquet Network, at Freedom Church in Baltimore.

“The point is the opportunity for the touch of Jesus was so valued by this man who was paralyzed and by his friends that they would not let obstacles stop them,” Stolle stressed. “So, we need to ask ourselves the question: What do we value? What do we really value?”

Pointing to the impending judgment found in Matthew 25:35-46, he pressed, “Jesus is going to start pointing out what really matters and what we should value.”

Because “they valued their friend,” the paralyzed man’s friends carried him on his mat to see Jesus. But when they got there, there was no room and nobody was moving (5:18-19).

“This got hard because they couldn’t get him in front of Jesus the conventional way,” Stolle shared. “Let’s be honest. Most of us would say, ‘We tried, God! We really tried but it’s just too hard!’ So, we’ll do it another day.”

But that’s not what these friends did. They went through the roof to present their friend to Jesus.

Tom Stolle assists a participant at the “Indispensable: Equipping the Body of Christ to Engage Disability” special needs conference on Saturday, April 28, 2018, at Freedom Church in Baltimore.

“They valued his healing; they wanted him to get the touch of Jesus; and there’s no doubt they believed who Jesus says He is, or otherwise, they wouldn’t have put a hole in the roof and dropped their friend down.”

Stolle said they came to receive Jesus’ power, and they weren’t leaving without it.

“This man had something great. He had friends,” Stolle continued. “My son Jimmy doesn’t have any friends. My son Jimmy has teachers who care about him and teach him but my son Jimmy’s never been to a birthday party. He’s never been to a sleepover. I’ve never seen him play at the playground with friends.”

He lamented, there are many children and, sadly, adults who don’t have friends. Thank God this man in scripture had friends and these friends were committed to getting him in front of Jesus.

Stolle shared his heart: “If we’re going to reach out to individuals and families affected by disabilities, there are going to be obstacles in your way, obstacles like they’re used to being alone; obstacles like society tends to marginalize them, and Satan doesn’t want you doing that. There are physical obstacles and spiritual obstacles that are real, and I believe that when you go intentionally to take the Gospel to the poor, to the sick and to individuals affected by disabilities, you are literally attacking the very gates of hell, which means that you will encounter resistance.”

Indispensable conference participant feels the Braille version of 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, which inspired the name of the third annual special needs conference sponsored by the BCM/D and The Banquet Network.

Case in point: After healing the paralytic and even more, forgiving him for his sins, Jesus encountered resistance from the Pharisees, who accused Him of blasphemy (5:21).

Stolle noted, often in Christian life and in the church, Christians take “a hands-off approach” and expect God will just take care of things. But “God’s method is one of partnership,” he stressed.

“Just think about your church for a moment. If 19 percent of the population is affected by a disability, where are they? I can tell you where they’re not. Most are not in our churches because most of them believe they’re probably not welcome,” he said.

But Zephaniah 3:19 HCSB says, “At that time I will deal with all who afflict you. I will save the lame and gather the scattered; I will make those who were disgraced throughout the earth receive praise and fame.”

Stolle urged, “If we as the church knowingly don’t reach out and share Jesus with those in need, such as individuals and families affected with disabilities, if we knowingly allow them to continue to suffer, if we say that we are unwilling to change, if we say that we feel bad for them, but it’s too hard for us or our church to help… then you’re playing a part in afflicting them.”

From the passage, Stolle pointed out that “God stands against those that afflict people.”

“You can be immoral by the way that you just intentionally ignore people that are disabled and sick and poor and with racist attitudes,” he said, adding, “If you afflict people, you will be punished by God. You can decide to disobey God, the church can decide to disobey God. You have that freedom of choice, but you don’t get to escape the consequences of the choice.”

He pleaded, “We have the ability to hear and to see and to walk and to get places where we can go. Nineteen percent of the population has much more difficulty with that. If you want to be a true missionary, go share Jesus with individuals affected by disabilities. Go share Jesus with the poor. Go share Jesus with the sick.”

In closing, Stolle asked his listeners who the paralyzed men in their lives were.

“Are you willing to go to them? Are you willing to bring them to Jesus? Are you willing to be their friend?” he said, asking a series of provoking questions.

“Or will you determine that change is too hard, and therefore someone else can do the hard work of loving them? On the authority of God’s Word, you will be judged… You see, the choice is yours, but the final say is God’s. Let’s pray.”

View conference materials at and conference photos on Flickr.