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.