I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ – Matthew 25:36
Jesus helped sick people. Out of all the things Jesus did with His brief time on earth, one of the ministries he prioritized was caring for the sick. It could be said then that ministry to the sick is a legitimate use of our time for those who are called to vocational ministry. If Jesus took time to do it, then we should too. However, not many of us are naturals when it comes to visiting people in the hospital. Pastors are usually gifted theologians, researchers, leaders and communicators. Most of us drew the short stick on mercy ministries. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t participate in caring for the sick through hospital visitation.
MY FIRST VISIT
My first hospital visit was awkward. I didn’t know what to do. I was nervous walking up to the room because I didn’t know what to say. To be honest, my first few years of making hospital visits were tough to say the least. Before every visit questions would fill my head; was I supposed to get there before the surgery and stay all day? Was I supposed to pray for healing? What if I forget their name? What if God doesn’t want to heal them? What if I pass out!?
As time went on though because of my position as a minister and later as a pastor the expectations of my bosses and church caused me to deal with my issues. Eventually I grew in the ministry of hospital visitation. Now I am on the other side and I get to encourage my staff to grow in this ministry. Knowing it can be hard at first I try to coach them as much as possible. Here’s some things I share with my staff when it comes to teaching them how to make effective hospital visits.
- If they are in your ministry area go.
At JVBC each staff person has a day they make hospital visits. Nancy goes on Monday, I go on Tuesday, Leonard goes on Wednesday, Sky goes on Thursday and Wilson goes on Friday (Deacons cover weekends). However, if someone from the choir is in the hospital our worship pastor needs to be there regardless. If an elder or deacon is in the hospital I need to be there regardless. You get the idea. In a church our size (800 avg. attendance) the staff ‘pastor’ their ministry areas. So their presence in a hospital situation is just as important or even more important than mine.
- Visit Non Christians
I know you’re busy but if you hear of someone in the hospital with no affiliation to a church or relationship with Christ, go visit. It’s a great opportunity to share the gospel or show the gospel. The impact you will make on that person’s life could change their eternity. As pastor’s we sometime don’t get daily interaction with nonChristians. So when we can make these visits we should.
- If they are mad at you…make every effort to go!
I learned this from my last pastor. If someone was gossiping about him and they somehow ended up in the hospital, he would make it a point to go see them. It was a wonderful way to show them that he cared. It usually diffused whatever issues they had. So visit your grumblers even if it’s not your day. Show them you love them.
- You don’t have to stay all day
Something that makes hospital visits so daunting is the expectation that we have to stay all day. John Bisagno (Legendary pastor of FBC Houston) wrote in Letter’s to Timothy, a book he dedicated to his son to prepare him for ministry, that a hospital visit shouldn’t last any longer than 15 minutes. Seriously, sometimes it takes me longer to park than it does for me to actually make the visit. Don’t feel like you have to stay. Hear their story. Say a prayer. And leave. It’s okay.
- Enjoy the opportunity
Sometimes I walk into a hospital room and it’s a party. There are lots of people or family from church, the patient is awake and the atmosphere is electric! I am a party waiting to happen, so I love these moments! That’s when you must remember that the job of ministry is about shepherding people. So stop. Stay a little longer. Laugh. Mingle. Enjoy the time with everyone. These are some fun visits and will earn you a lot of relational points that you would not have gained sitting behind your desk reading a blog.
- Never Wake a Sleeping Patient
Never wake up someone sleeping. Sometimes I will drive downtown (30 minutes) to see a patient and they will be sleeping. Let them be. They’re in the hospital to get better not to see you. However, you can still be effective. Say a brief prayer over them as they sleep. Then I usually stop by the nurse’s station to get a piece of paper so I can leave a short note telling them I stopped by and their church is praying for them. I also leave my cell phone number so they can call if they need me.
- Be Sensitive
The hospital room is like a train station sometimes. Doctors will come in and interrupt. Nurses will come and check monitors. Friends and family will drop by. Be sensitive to all these interruptions. In some cases it may be appropriate for you to step out. Just ask them if they would like some privacy then step out. Or if the robes are coming off, quickly get out! Trust me!!
Jesus most often touched the sick when He prayed for them. So I usually touch an arm, and hand or a foot. I always ask before I touch. Then I ask them how I can pray for them. I know it’s simple. But so often we forget to ask. Where do they hurt? Are they scared? Do they need anything? Then I pray for their requests, pray for healing and for the doctors to have wisdom from God over the body that God created. I also pray that they will have a witness for the gospel while they are in the hospital. This is my subtle way of reminding them that they are still being used for the gospel even when they are sick. I invite everyone in the room to join me in prayer. If a nurse walks in right before we pray I usually invite her to pray with us too. Pray a simple prayer. Don’t go long. Stay to the point. When Jesus prayed for the sick it was usually a word or a sentence. Follow His example. Keep it short.
This should be the last thing you do. After you pray it’s a natural time to exit. Don’t rush out or anything. Just say good-bye and remind the patient that you will continue to pray for them.
We have a text thread between all the staff that is always open on our phones. When I get in the elevator I immediately send out a mass text to the staff informing them of the well being of the patients and update any new information. This is so beneficial. We never know when someone is going to ask us about how someone in the hospital is doing. This way we can all give a report on how the sick are doing in our congregation.
We also have a hospital list that is then emailed to elders and deacons everyday so they are empowered to take part in this ministry. After that though, you have to be sensitive to privacy. I don’t recommend broadcasting names and hospitals on social media sites or any other public sites (web pages, etc…).
As long as it is serious we keep going back every week to the hospital. However, usually by the time they get to rehab we stop visiting. Unless their rehab sessions are unusually long, like after a stroke, we trust that we have loved them well through the difficult season and focus on whomever else might be in the hospital.
That’s how we make hospital visits at JVBC. Whatever you do be sure you have a sustainable system for ensuring these people in your congregation are loved. In a church of any size the pastor should not be the only person making visits. So empower and train others to make this a part of their ministry. Following Jesus means caring for the sick. Making disciples means you are showing others how to live like Christ. So teach others how to care for the sick.
You’re going to mess up in the hospital. You’re going to say something dumb. Get lost on the way. Forget a name in a prayer. Don’t let that stop you. Keep growing in this ministry. It’s worth it.
Thanks for reading