I just got back to my office from a trip to Children’s Mercy Hospital. A girl in my church is having chemo treatments this week. Brain cancer is back—and I’ll be back to see her again next round to chemo. After more than fifteen years of pastoral ministry in Kansas City, there are not many hospitals that I have not visited. This ministry has played a vital role in my long-term pastorate at The Master’s Community Church.
Let me suggest six steps we might take for maximizing this ministry task:
1.) View hospital visitation as an extension of our evangelism and discipleship efforts.
Time at someone’s bedside or in the surgery waiting room provides an opportunity to read Scripture and pray in a very focused manner. For those we preach to each week, reading Scripture and praying over a medical concern can augment theological development and deepen roots of discipleship. If someone new to our ministry has a medical procedure, we will likely enjoy greater influence in their life if we make it a point to see them at the hospital or doctor’s office. If we are called upon to visit someone we do not know well, the hospital provides the kind of serious environment for discussing the gospel. So, take a Bible and think Great Commission.
2.) Make a plan and be early.
Some medical procedures are private and our prayer support is appreciated from a distance. In other instances, the hospitalized person may not be feeling well enough for a visit. The hospital is not a place for surprises. So inquire about when you might arrive and then be a few minutes early. We can show our flock we truly love them if we greet them when they walk into the hospital at 5:00 am for major surgery scheduled for 7:00 am.
3.) Stay for a bit if necessary, but do not feel obligated to clear your schedule.
Some surgeries and critical procedures require our presence for extended periods of time. Hours in a surgery waiting room can help provide comfort to a family and accomplish some of the aforementioned concerns for the Great Commission. If church family is the only family the hospitalized individual has in town, an extended visit may provide them with a greater appreciation for the body of Christ. But in most cases, thirty minutes is sufficient to check in, read the Word and intercede for the person’s recovery.
4.) Dress in business casual.
If we dress in professional attire, hospital staff will likely treat us as such. On multiple occasions over the years, the medical teams caring for the folks in my church have allowed me to stay in pre-op areas and chemo rooms where only medical professionals were generally allowed. The hipster, unkept look might help us to carry out the Great Commission in some contexts but at the hospital, wear khakis.
5.) Be sympathetic, but always positive.
I have received calls from frantic families following an ambulance carrying a loved one who just had a heart attack. I have been in a physician’s conference room when a family was told that their 11-year old had serious brain cancer. Mother’s weeping, spouses throbbing in anguish. In these instances I pray silently and say very little. But in time I become a cheerleader carrying a Bible in place of pom-poms. Jesus’ death and resurrection provides a basis for hope in the most severe situations. Our leadership in these crises can help shape the theology our church will practice in many lesser trials.
6.) Inform the church body of how they can help.
After major hospital visits I send an email to our church family so they can know the status of their brother or sister. These notes occasionally include needs the person will have and information about a church member who is coordinating the efforts. If we see hospital visitation and care as something to lead and pass along, we will broaden the fellowship of our church.
We may not be able to make it to every hospital stay; in some instances, a phone call will provide the best avenue for visitation. But in most instances, presence at the hospital, surgery center or doctor’s office will provide a strategic Great Commission platform. Let’s not waste it.