Why You Shouldn't Want Me to Visit You in the Hospital
I make a LOT of pastoral visits. I visit people in the hospital. I visit people who can’t leave their homes often. I visit people at their jobs and at their social events. And our church members are deeply appreciative—they often tell me something like, “Thank you so much for coming. I feel so cared for because you came to see me.” Or often, church members will stop me at church and tell me, “Joe really needs a visit from you. Joe just feels like the church has forgotten about him. It would really be nice if you would go and see him.”
Now don’t get me wrong—one reason that I make so many visits to church members is because I really like to visit people. I care so much about Forest Hills, and I love to connect with our people when they need a friendly face. I really do like making pastoral visits.
But beneath this desire for a pastoral visit is a subtle lie that churches across the United States have bought into. The lie is this: the only care that counts is care from a minister. This is not just a lie—it is the exact opposite of the truth. Think about it for a second: if you’re a member of Forest Hills, and I’m visiting you in the hospital, the ultimate reason that I am visiting you is because Forest Hills is paying me to visit you. I’m visiting you because the church has given up its responsibility to care for you… and the church has contracted the Christian duty to love you out to me. And if Forest Hills stops paying me to visit you, I will go to another church where they will pay me to visit their people.
A minister visiting you in your hour of need is not proof that the church cares—if the minister is the only one there, it’s proof that the church has given up on its duty to care for one another. In John 13:34-35, Jesus tells us: “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus doesn’t say that the world will recognize us as disciples because they see us pay a staff member to show love! The world will know that we belong to Jesus if and only if they see us genuinely caring for each other.
How can we begin to break our churches out of this lie? How can we start caring for each other, and start believing that care from another member is more valuable than a visit from a minister? Let me suggest a few ways.
1. Start building relationships with others now. I tell the children that the way to have a friend is to be a friend, and that advice works for adults too! Some church members come to depend on visits from ministers in later life because they never built deep relationships with anyone else when they had the chance. God created us to be part of a community, and a real community will naturally care for its members. Start now to get to know others, invest in their lives, and care about them—if you show them you care, they’ll likely be there for you too!
2. Even a simple call or note makes a big difference. Most church members will not reach out to someone who needs care. Because of that, if you reach out with even a simple card or phone call that can make a big difference. You don’t have to say a lot—just let the other person know that you are thinking of them. And if you’re the recipient of such a call or card, recognize what a big deal it is that someone reached out to love on you!
3. Take the initiative to do something practical. Don’t just ask, “Is there anything I can do to help?” Take the initiative and make a concrete offer. If someone has had a new baby, offer to make them a meal. If someone has an injury, offer to help cut the grass. These practical helps demonstrate thoughtfulness and concern, and it deepens the bonds in our church. The more we help in practical ways, the more we build a culture where genuinely caring for one another is the expectation rather than the exception.
4. Join our In-Crowd care team. Our In-Crowd team cares for members of the “In-Crowd”—those members of our church who can’t leave home as often as they’d like. Each homebound person has at least one church member who is asked to check in with them. This is one of the most visionary and far-sighted ministries of our church, and it shows what it really means for a church to care for its own. You can be a part of this!
I hope to have many more years of visiting each of you in your hour of need…but I hope that my visit pales in comparison to all the church members who are reaching out to you!