Counseling One Another

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Counseling One Another

Visiting the Sick

A seminary student of mine, who is also a pastor, called this week to ask how to begin a visiting the sick ministry team in his church. Here’s the counsel I gave to him: Do the following simultaneously.

Teach your congregation that visiting the sick is an every-member-ministry.

Just like every cell in the human body runs to the aid of the part that is in trouble so the various parts of the body of Christ are to serve one another in times of need. Never tire of teaching your congregation that every believer is a minister and that it is your task to equip them (Eph. 4:12).

Give your church members these very simple instructions.

  • ALWAYS stop at the nurse’s station to inquire if it is a good time to visit. Tell the nurse who you are and who it is you hope to visit. Then ask, “Is this an appropriate time for a brief visit?” If they reply, “This is not the best time,” then ask when a better time might be.
  • Don’t visit the sick if you are sick. One disease is enough.
  • Limit your visit to 10-15 minutes. Remember, the person is in the hospital for a reason–they need rest! And stay within the hospital’s visitation hours. Pastors still have special visiting privileges in most hospitals, but the general public needs to honor the established time frame. When in doubt, call the hospital beforehand.
  • Read a few verses of appropriate Scripture and pray with them.
  • Invite them to let you know if there are any other ways the church can serve them.

Hand pick 2 or 3 men and 2 or 3 women to be part of a visitation team. Give them more concentrated training.

Choose people who demonstrate a heart of compassion and sensitivity and who may already be visiting people in the hospital or their home. Order that number of copies of the excellent book Visit the Sick by Brian Croft and meet weekly as a team to discuss each chapter. These people will become your main “visitation specialists” who will also then be able to train others. Having women on your visitation team is crucial! For instance, an older woman in your church will be a welcomed visitor for the young woman who has just learned she has ovarian cancer.

Encourage a Get Well Card ministry.

Some in your church may not be effective making face-to-face visits, but will have an equally important ministry of note writing. Enclosing a photocopy of a favorite hymn in the card will go a long way in ministering to their tired spirit.

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion” (Col 3:12).

Get the excellent discipleship tool, Visit the Sick by Brian Croft.

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7 Comments

  1. Thanks for this, Paul. I appreciate how you’ve set this ministry within the context of counseling one another rather than making this the exclusive domain of the pastor or elder.

    Would you say that, when at all possible, the pastors should visit the sick as well? Or is this a ministry that can truly be handed over? How can pastors know when and how often to visit?

  2. Thanks for the question, Tim. Yes, when at all possible, one of the pastors of the church should remain involved in visiting the sick. In our church, this often takes place before surgery (plan the timing of this carefully so you don’t get in the way of the nurse’s pre-op work. Then other church members will follow-up with visits. Depending on the length of hospital stay, one of the pastors may make multiple follow-up visits (sometimes bringing someone else along). Be sensitive to the person’s balanced need for time for rest and time for encouraging visits, and ask the medical caregivers when you are uncertain. And remember that in our day and age pastors still have visiting time privileges that the general public does not possess. What we try to guard against is the church culture’s long-held practice that it is only the pastor who makes visits. In the case of a James 5 request for prayer from the sick person, multiple elders/church leaders are involved. In the end, knowing when and how often to visit comes from how well the shepherd knows his sheep, their needs and expectations. Hope this helps!

  3. I don’t make sick visits but do deliver communion quarterly. Our pastor has noted previously that God began preparing him for ministry when his mom was ill as a little child and he was forced to attend hospital visits with his father. I ALWAYS take one or more of my children with me to deliver communion. I ask some of them to pray (age dependent). If I have to lay my hands on their little toe, I will do that. Jesus touched people. Use disgression, but most times that is ok. I have been blessed tremendously by this opportunity and am thankful that God has provided this as a means to teach my children as well. Good topic for a blog!

    • Wonderful advice, Dave! Yes, bringing children on visits is great when it is appropriate. People confined to nursing homes always love the sight of children too.

  4. Paul,

    Excellent advice and a helpful post! Thanks for your faithfulness to shepherd your people.

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