Tag: helping others

Five Things I Learned in the Hospital

duke_univ_hospWith my almost 3-week hospital stay behind me, I realized there are several things I learned from the experience. Here are five of them:

1. People who are in the hospital are really sick.

You might think that would be obvious, but when I say sick, I mean really sick. With today’s cost-driven medical care, you’ve got to be really sick to be admitted, and really, really sick to stay for almost 3-weeks like I did. Recognizing the degree of a person’s illness should have a great deal to do with how we minister to those in the hospital.

2. Brief visits are good visits.

While I enjoyed seeing everyone who came to see me, when I was at my sickest the shorter the visit the more I appreciated it. There are several reasons for brief visits. First, the patient is really sick (see Item #1 above). Second, being really sick means your attention span, your strength, and your ability to carry on a conversation are all limited. Third, hospital patients often have to use the bathroom more frequently than others due to the nature of their illness and medications they might be receiving. Keeping your visit short avoids the embarrassment of their having to ask you to leave while they call for the nurse for assistance.

3. Privacy and Dignity Need to Be Preserved by Visitors.

I discovered that being in the hospital means that doctors and nurses ask you about bowel movements, urination, incontinence, and other personal body functions. Often they do this right in front of everyone in the room, assuming that its okay to ask any question with guests present. Visitors should help the patient preserve what little privacy and dignity they have left, by excusing themselves when the doctor enters the room, or the nurse comes in to check on the patient. By exhibiting sensitivity toward the patient’s privacy and dignity, guests will show respect for the patient.

4. Let Sleeping Patients Lie.

Believe it or not, hospital life is not conducive to sleep. Almost every night at 3 AM, a lab technician would come in to draw blood for lab tests. Of course, she had to turn on the overhead light, and I had to sit up for her to find an unused vein (they grew harder to find each day) from which to draw blood. So, if you come into a hospital room where the patient is asleep, write a note and then quietly leave. The patient will appreciate your visit and your thoughtfulness.

5. Offer specific ways you can help.

Offer specific ways you are able to help make the patient’s stay easier. While there we had people offer to take our dirty clothes home and wash them. Others brought us food, or drinks, and some offered to do so when we got home. Two men in our church installed a new shower head in our shower so I could shower seated. Others offered transportation, help with travel and parking expenses, and many assured us of their prayers. Saying, “I can’t do everything, but I can wash clothes. Can I take yours home and wash them and return them tomorrow,” is a great way of offering to do something specific.

Of course, I learned more than 5 things while in the hospital and maybe I’ll share some of those later. But for now, these are things that can enhance your hospital ministry whether you’re a pastor or concerned church member. I’m also interested in what you’ve learned from your experience being hospitalized. What things would you add to this list. Put them in the comments, and I’ll add them in a later post. Thanks, and it’s good to be home again!

The Care of Souls as Outreach

My latest interest focuses on exploring pastoral care as outreach.  I talk to lots of small church pastors and leaders, picking their brains for stories of smaller churches doing effective ministry.  More and more I’m hearing stories of people helping people — people caring for people —  as a means of outreach.

Pastoral care, to use the well-worn phrase, has not been in vogue in the past 20-years or so — really since the church growth movement changed the pastor from shepherd to CEO.  (But that’s another story for another post.)

David Augsburger, Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling at Fuller Seminary,  bemoans the neglect of pastoral care in evangelical churches today.  In their new book, Connected, sociologists Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler point out that 12% of Americans have no one in their network with whom they can discuss important matters, or go out with socially.  That in itself should present churches with new opportunities for caring ministry.  But, too often the care of souls, or “the cure of souls” as it was called about 500 years ago, conjures up images of the pastor as pseudo-counselor or chaplain. Hand-holding is not what most pastors aspire to, even if we all have to do some of it on occasion.

But the kind of care I’m talking about isn’t psycho-spiritual navel-gazing.  Nor is it practiced only by pastors.  I’m talking about the kind of care that seeks out those in need and helps them.  And, help isn’t just defined in spiritual or psychological terms.  Help, or care, is that which responds actively — with food, rent, a warm meal, a heartfelt conversation, or a word of encouragement.

Just about every church I’ve written about exhibits some form of caring ministry.  Small churches can do that because caring is about relationships with people; not programs or marketing.  The big kicker is that the unchurched are ahead of us on this one — they think the church ought to do more caring for people in need.

What are your experiences?  Have you used a caring ministry as outreach?  What were your results?  How did caring change both you, and your church?  Let me know because this is a topic I’m going to visit regularly from time to time.

Powerpoint: Small Churches Make Good Neighbors

Here’s the powerpoint I used in my NOC2008 workshop, Small Churches Make Good Neighbors.   I’m using the abbey church model, and discussing the 10 aspects of the ancient celtic abbeys applied to churches today.  The ppt is on SlideShare, so you can view and download the presentation, if you find it helpful.  I am going to edit and add to the notes, but I think you’ll get the thrust of the presentation as it is.  Let me know if you have questions or comments.

The Upside of the Economic Downturn

Today the stock market fell another 500 points.  Iceland may go bankrupt, NPR reported today.  Euro-countries are aligning their financial strategies so they speak with one economic voice.  Government leaders are already talking about more federal dollars, in addition to the $700-billion just voted by Congress.  And the bad news keeps coming.  Churches, I pointed out yesterday, will feel the fallout from this economic meltdown.  But, is there an upside?  Not to trivialize the situation, but yes, I think there is an upside for churches in this economic turndown.

  1. Churches will be forced to focus.  We’re cutting our church budget this year by about 10%.  To do that, we have to look carefully at what is really important to our mission and message.  That kind of attention and discipline will make us more effective in ministry.
  2. People will turn to churches for help.  Plan now for ways to help those who need money for utilities, food to feed their families, and warm coats for the cold winter.  This preparation must go beyond the typical food pantry, clothes closet that most churches have, although those can be a good starting point.  
  3. Communities will pull together.  When Katrina hit, our church called together the entire community to discuss ways we might help.  People want to help others, and churches can unite the community in that effort.
  4. Church can demonstrate an alternative to the consumer society.  If church is an alternative community living out the message of Christ, what better example is there than living out an alternative to the current consumerist approach that drives the global economy.  Generosity, hospitality, sharing, sacrificing, giving, saving, stewardship of resources are all attributes of a Christian lifestyle.  
Is this economic downturn good?  Not in my opinion because lots of real people will lose savings, retirement accounts, their homes, and their jobs.  But, churches can become a powerful force in the months, and possibly years, it will take to recover from the current turmoil.  This will not go away quickly according to most experts.  Churches can make a difference.  What about yours?

Keep warm and well fed

She called today. Soft-spoken, courteous, hesitant. “My husband just got laid-off,” she said. “He’s applied for unemployment, but that won’t start until next week. They’re going to turn our lights off if we don’t pay the $150 we owe. I was wondering if your church could help us?” The four churches in our small town contribute to a “ministers’ fund” which coordinates emergency help for local residents.

“Where do you live?” I asked. She was honest, “We live in Danville.” Danville is twenty miles away, not in our community, and our guidelines limit our help to the Chatham area. “I’m sorry, we have limited funds and we can only help folks in our community,” I explained. A long pause. “Well, thank you,” she said. I could hear the resignation in her voice. “God bless you,” I said. “Thank you.” She hung up. Immediately James 2:16 pushed its way into my consciousness:

“If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”

“We have our rules. We have limited funds. We can’t help everybody,” I argued to myself. But, I could have helped her. I could have broken the rules, made an exception, listened with my heart instead of my head. Ironically, I offer the invocation tomorrow night at the Community Action Annual Dinner where our community will celebrate another year of helping the poor. Today I missed an opportunity. Maybe I can find this soft-spoken, shy woman tomorrow. Maybe we can help after all. I’ll let you know.

UPDATE:  I called Social Services today and described the lady who called me.  The case worker I spoke with said, “We have so many people in that same situation, I have no idea who it might be.”  No luck.  Maybe some other church somewhere was able to help.  I hope so.

21 Potential Ministry Partners for Your Church

handshake.jpg Last year, after talking about how our church partnered with various groups in our community, someone remarked, “That’s fine for your church, but nobody in our community would work together.” In the interest of challenging that statement, here are 21 groups that I think your church (or any church) might partner with on community transformation:

  1. Schools — including the PTA, PTO, and other school organizations.
  2. Civic clubs — our Rotary Club gives away over $12,000 per year to local organizations.
  3. Local charitable organizations — shared agendas create new partnerships. Join with others to feed the hungry or shelter the homeless. Our church does both working with other groups.
  4. Local corporations and businesses — our Boys and Girls Club is supported in part by local business contributions. We get donations from other companies for other projects, too.
  5. Other churches — I know this is a stretch, but yes, churches can work together, too. Our community center began as an informal coalition of local churches.
  6. Law Enforcement agencies — the local sheriff’s department worked with our Boys and Girls Club on a baseball project last summer.
  7. Local fire department — our local fire department was a co-sponsor for the Boys and Girls Christmas Party this year. They bought toys for each of the 86 kids who attended.
  8. Hospitals — many hospitals provide programs for clergy. Why not a community project that involves healthcare, such as blood pressure screenings, etc?
  9. Transportation companies — some churches provide a “free ride day” with the cooperation of their local transit provider.
  10. Hobby clubs — local hobbyists could provide instruction or donate products they made for specific projects. One of our members organizes a blanket project, with all the blankets made by others. Blankets go to children involved in calls made by the Sheriff’s department.
  11. Hunting and fishing clubs — In rural areas, local hunters and fishermen provide game or fish for a community wild game dinner or fish fry.
  12. Professional partners — doctors, lawyers, and other professionals could partner with churches to provide legal advice for seniors, or health programs for the community.
  13. Banks and financial institutions — Banks often look for ways to do good in their communities, and you can tap that civic spirit in the form of sponsorships or volunteers.
  14. 12-step programs — Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and other 12-step type programs depend on church facilities for meeting space. But, there could also be other tie-ins with these groups.
  15. Local politicians — we invited local county supervisors to our community center groundbreaking and some came! During an election year especially, local politicians can lend their names to worthwhile projects. Maybe some money, too.
  16. Other religious groups — the church we attended in Nashville years ago partnered with other churches, synagogues, and mosques to create an interfaith dialogue group that met for dinner once a year.
  17. Colleges and universities — our community music school is a collaboration with Virginia Tech’s Outreach Department. Universities often need to do community outreach as part of their mission in their state.
  18. Community Development Corporations — these are groups whose mission and projects aim at community transformation. A lot of variety exists in CDC programs, from low-income housing, to rehabbing old buildings, to targeting specific civic problems.
  19. Social service organizations — our church hosts the annual Social Services Volunteer Luncheon each year, sponsored by our local county Social Services Department. We call them to check out folks who request help, and they call us when they have a need with which they need assistance.
  20. Scouts — often Scouts need projects to earn merit badges and churches need things done. Check with your local scout leaders.
  21. Professional sports teams — our local minor league baseball team sponsors church night and gives church groups discounts. But, this partnership could be expanded to provide visits to children in the local hospital, or to your church after-school program.