5 words to those who minister in nursing homes

My brother Ron, age 80 as I write, is still active in the ministry after over 53 years.  In addition to preaching at a church near his home, he holds services at a nursing home. Ron says, “For the past 23 years, I’ve done a monthly service at a local nursing home. I enter, knowing that this may be the last message they will hear and I act accordingly. They love to hear me sing Fa Sol La and I accommodate them. No messages on tithing or knocking on doors but a message from the Word that will help them cross the bar a little easier.” (Note: Fa Sol La is also known as Sacred Harp Singing.)

My friend Charlotte Arthur flies under the radar in her nursing home ministry. Few people know of her ministry to these invalids. Charlotte visits and ministers and devotes herself to comforting these who are in the declining years of life. As her former pastor, I accompanied her on one occasion to visit an elderly friend who had served our church for decades. Charlotte and a friend or two had pulled the strings to get Cleve Davenport into that nursing home where he was being cared for night and day. I asked her how she got started in this work.

“When I was six years old,” she said, “my mother took me with her to visit people in nursing homes.  So, I’ve done it all my life.”  She paused and said, “I love it.”

Here are five statements on nursing home ministry to encourage you.

1. Try it; you might decide it’s what’s been missing in your life.

So many of us in the Lord’s work get used to crowds and orderly arrangements, and can get spoiled very quickly.  But when you drop in on the nursing home (I’m using the term loosely to refer to convalesce centers, assisted living residences, etc.), you have to ask for permission to hold a service, then go around and encourage people to come.  In my experience, you may end up with a dozen elderly people sitting around in what passes for their living room or activity center.

The hymns you lead them in had better be familiar or you’ll be singing solos.  Forget about passing out hymnals and telling them to turn to page 272. Just sing it and most will join in to some degree.

Most of us find we do better when we take along a half dozen friends from church to help out. They help to round up the participants and chat with everyone–an integral part of the service, by the way–and then, you are sure of having several to help carry the tune of the hymns.

2. You have to love it to do it well, in my judgment.

Some people simply cannot take the reminders of their own mortality that assault them when they enter a nursing or convalescent home.  I suppose the thoughts of themselves being in that situation sometime in the future strikes terror into their hearts, and they would just as soon be spared the pain.

Who doesn’t know that feeling?

I predict that if you do this enough, you soon get beyond all the surface panic and learn to love those seniors and to learn a big thing about them:  Their non-functioning bodies often house some mighty sharp minds and personalities.  Soon, you find yourself looking forward to the worship times at the nursing home.

3. There are hundreds of ways to do nursing home ministry.

But I don’t know what they are.  Some people do nothing but read to the patients. Others comb their hair, give the men haircuts and the women perms.  Others hold religious services.  My young friend Stephanie Screen, a classically trained musician, takes her violin into nursing homes and hospitals and plays for the patients.

Some people write letters for the patients. Others counsel them, some pray for them and with them, and still others have learned the ministry of presence (that is, just being there and helping to fill their empty hours).

4. I tell the residents of these homes to keep a Bible by their bedside.

Then, when someone visits them, ask them, “Would you do something for me?”  Ask them to find one of their favorite scriptures and read it to you.

That will bless you, I tell them, and it could be life-changing for your visitor.

You never know.

Speaking of Bibles, what passage should you use when speaking to them?  Many residents will tell you they are plenty tired of hearing nothing but the 23rd Psalm and messages on love.  The last time I spoke, I quoted Psalm 23, Psalm 1, and Psalm 103, and made some remarks on the last psalm.  Then, I led in prayer and thanked them, and my co-workers passed out refreshments.

5. The Lord Jesus talked about you in Luke 14.

“When you give a party (or banquet or dinner), do not invite those who can repay the favor.  Instead, invite the poor and the blind, the lame and the maimed, the handicapped–those who cannot repay you–and you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

That last promise is Luke 14:14. Easy to remember, and infinitely worth remembering.

You and I don’t do a lot of partying or banquet-giving, as He refers to it in Luke 14. But it is possible for us to do things for the invalids that they will not be able to repay.  And nursing home ministry qualifies if anything does.

I believe the Lord Jesus takes it personally when His children go into nursing homes where often they know no one and minister to the patients, loving them, and leading them in worship and instruction in righteousness.

You will be rewarded, He promised, at the resurrection of the righteous.

Can you wait that long? believe that strong? sing that song?


29 thoughts on “5 words to those who minister in nursing homes

  1. I go to one of the Assisted Living Homes in our town every 5th Sunday. LOVE it! We sing all the songs that they learned as children. My sister helps when she is home. We give devotions of encouragement and God’s Love. Love to remind them about the verse in Isaiah that says their name is written in the palm of His hand!

  2. I’m always amazed. I intentionally sought out the most dilapidated nursing home in our town that housed the most destitute patients in our community. These folks are lonely and uncomfortable. Many of them are just plain lost so I preach the Gospel to them in as simple terms as I can muster. The Gospel is FOR them TOO! I plant the seed and its up to God in His sovereignty to water it. Other patients appear to be in another dimension when I initially speak to them. I don’t feel like I’m getting through to them in any way. BUT.. As I open the Scripture and begin to read to them, quite often I feel a chilled trembling hand reach for mine. What joy! I am confident that these instances are the Spirit leading me to His saints. Let the Church be where you find it if it be the Master’s will. Amen.

      • My husband and I have been doing nursing home ministry for 10 years now. We minister at two different nursing homes a month. He is in charge of the songs and I am in charge of the teaching. However, we do it corporately as the Lord leads us.

        • i help at retirement homes and nursing homes. i am asked to give a 10 minute teaching. i often struggle with what to share with them. can you give me some suggestions.

          • Sandy, I hope you return to the website and read this. First, residents of nursing homes tell me all they ever hear are messages on Psalm 23. So, try to vary it. Here are several suggestions: ENCOURAGEMENT (Galatians 6:9 and 2 Corinthians 4:16). THE BIBLE (suggest they put a Bible by their bedside and when visitors come, ask them to read something. Maybe a favorite Psalm. 2 Timothy 3:16ff.) THE PSALMS. (I tell about an elderly Catholic lady who told me, “I was 50 years old before I discovered the Psalms. I could just die!” As we get older and more experienced, the Psalms mean more to us. Case in point, the 103rd, my favorite. So much here that is wonderful. I usually quote the entire thing to them.) PRAYER. (Use the Lord’s Prayer as an example.) SOME FAVORITE PERSON IN THE SCRIPTURES. (My favorites: Bartimaeus in Luke 18:35ff. The prodigal son in Luke 15. The woman who anointed JEsus’ feet and worshiped Him in John 12 and Luke 7.) There!

          • I like to share simple bible stories about gods power and love, i keep it short under ten minutes, a story they know keeps their attention and helps them stay awake,
            then i just sing a few songs and play guitar. and try to start a conversation if i cant start a conversation i just play another song .

    • Hi Will, just wanted to share my mom’s prayer that was answered. My mom prayed and asked God that even though a lot of the patients seem to be out of it, were they being reached?That same day they were singing the song “In the garden” and one lady that we have seen for a few years that never talked, but just rocked back and forth in her wheel chair and made noises sang at the top of her voice “And he walks with me”. The nurse’s mouth dropped when she witnessed it and all my mom could do was praise the Lord.

        • Amen. My mom was in a rest home/nursing home for several years. She did not talk because she had had a stroke. But she would brighten right up when someone would sing, she would join right in. Thank you and God bless you. Linda Gail Linder, Kentucky

  3. Thank you for all these words. I go with my Pastor every other month to minister at the rest home. After reading this, I must confess that I don’t think I have had the right attitude… a real burden for these people, and I confess I am ashamed of myself for this. May the Lord help me concerning this ministry, because I do know God values those folks as much as any of the rest of us… and it is a privilege to minister to anyone in this world. Thank you.

  4. My father, a small church pastor, and my mother, ran a nursing home. In his 80’s, dad was himself a resident of a nursing home. Missing his pastoring role, I sought permission to give him a chaplain badge, and he began leading worship services in the home. At 92, I visited following a10 drive, and found him napping fully attired in his suit. As I waited, he soon arose, greeted me, adjusted his suit, straightened his tie, smoothed his hair, and began to leave the room. Asking where he was going, he replied, “well, I have to get down the halls and pray with some of these “old” people.” THAT’S WHY I HAVE TO LEAD A NURSING HOME MINISTRY.. I have to pray with the “old folks” as I now turn 76.

  5. I have a nursing home ministry.play elvis presley, tenn ernie ford and alan jackson gospel and they love it. read bible verses and show a collection of christian videos.
    all done in 1 hour and they love it and look forward tomy visits…juststarted gospel music amd read matthew 6 to alzheimers residents and watch drooping heads rise and sing the words to the old songs and say the Our Father…givethe glory to God!!!!!! and have fun praising and worshippingGod!

  6. Thank you so much for this article. It is such a blessing. The Lord put a burden in my heart for the elderly mid last year. He’s quickened it again recently. I am still trying to figure it all out. That’s how I landed here. Please pray for me. Thanks.

  7. We have a nursing home ministry. We have a service with the residents in the activity room. We open with prayer and have praise and worship and during the praise and worship I ask if anyone have a favorite song they would like to hear or sing. There’s one lady who always lead a song or two and we enjoy them so much. After praise and worship we have one of our ladies do some encouraging words and then we share from the Word of God. After we share the Word, we have prayer for each person that’s there. Even the caregiver wants prayer. We do this within 1 hour and they really enjoy the service as much as we do.

  8. I lead a weekly Bible ministry at a local nursing home. I desire to encourage the residents, and to always emphasize the gospel of Jesus Christ. Thank you for your ideas and encouragement. Today I was looking for a message to share joy with my dear nursing home church family. Your article lead me to Psalm 103. Perfect!

  9. My wife, teenage son and I go every Sunday afternoon to sing, pray, worship and preach the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ at a local Rehab Home. What a joy in being faithful to this ministry for over 10 years now. I bring my guitar and lead the singing with a special large print hymnal that we created for this ministry. We pray and then preach a Bible message fitting for the weak and afflicted. Over the years we have seen many receive Christ as their Savior and a few have even been able to come to our a.m. church service with our help. One has even been baptized by our pastor and has become a member of our church. What a joy to plow, sow, water and even reap a harvest for the glory of God! We have found that we receive much more joy and comfort than we give out. We thank God who has graciously given us his grace and strength to do this ministry in our 60’s. We plan to continue as long as the LORD continues to bless. Thank you for your ministry and encouragement.

  10. The Lord is so very good to me! Have recently committed to serving a facility by leading a devotional time. It has been over a year since I’ve been involved in the nursing home ministry, which was always led by a pastor. Since it will be just a small group of 5 people, your many suggestions have given me much encouragement for what to present. Thank You for being faithful to what the Lord has called you to.

  11. I was very glad to come across your article and the comments section. I have recently become the full time Hospice Chaplain and have started setting up some LTF Devotionals. Your article and the comments section have given me a few more ideas to try and for these patients to help them become engaged.

  12. I started helping at a Nursing Home about 2 years ago—one of the best things I have ever done–These folk really appreciate us “helping” them with their service–They enjoy singing all the old hymns they know from days gone by. One of the things that really “hit me” happened when I first started helping at the service, We all ways end with “Jesus Loves Me.” which we all sang when we were children in Sunday School. As many of you know, some of the residents just stare or sleep during the service, but when we sang “that song”, “sleeping lips” began to move, staring eyes began the move around, there were even some smiles—-SOMETHING SPECIAL WAS HAPPENING—they were with us at the service—I hardly miss a Sunday after that.

  13. I love going to the nursing home as well. I go with a group from my church every sabbath. We go to different nursing home each week. It give me great joy to look into each face. I can see pain, I can see despair, I can loneliness, I can see heartache and etc. Something comes over me feeling compassionate. I love to after looking into their faces I just talk to them from my heart. like I said we go to different nursing home, they all have one thing in common, they all need ❤. Most of all they need Jesus.

  14. I go to the nursing home about 3 times a week, my mom is there and I never dreamed I would become this close to the others there. We play bingo after supper and I stay and whoever wants to stay we get around a table and sing hymns for about a half hour. The group is getting bigger started with 4 and last night we had 9 ladies. It truly warms your heart.

  15. My husband and I have been ministering at various nursing homes for 15 plus years in various capacities. Since I’ve been serving as a minister full time for 7 years and my husband a deacon.
    We both sing in several of our church choirs, prison,, food pantry, clothes closet, drama, and youth ministries. We are blessed as we bless them with prayers, songs, praise, scriptures and God’s Words of love, encouragement and hope.
    We do this several times a monthly. We also visit the personal care facilities. We are very active for our Father God. I’m 67 and Lloyd will be 80 March 2020. He’s full of life. Our church of worship is Springfield Missionary Baptist Church 523 Martin Luther King Street Thomson Georgia.

  16. Hi Joe;
    Glad I found you while looking for a message for a nursing home in a dementia lock down ward.
    I began visiting 2 patients weekly in a nursing home in 1984 and then I got saved and just continued.
    The first time God spoke to me while I was unsaved and walking with Andy a dementia patient and there were so many others crying out for help I cried out to God and asked Him why not just take these suffering people home to be with Him?
    I was shocked and pleasantly surprised at the same time to get His answer.
    His reply “To teach compassion to others” WOW.
    When I got saved 6 months later it all made sense and when I became active in a Pentecostal Church some months later, I was put in charge of monthly services at the nursing home I was already a volunteer at.
    I moved away to another city for work in January 1987 and after being connected with another Pentecostal Church I was asked to speak at a service at another Nursing Home that was July 1991 and still do monthly services there.
    Our meetings were held in a dining hall and we would have anywhere from 6 to 30 residents attending.
    About 3 years ago when we arrived we were told of an “outbreak” and we could not have our service on our regular floor.
    We were asked if we could go to the “locked in” ward to do our service there as that group of residents never has any religious groups ministering there.
    I was reluctant because I felt there would be many distractions and interruptions but since we were already there… sure lets go for it.
    I was shocked and blessed to have some 20 plus residents singing and listening as we shared God’s love and message with them. Yes there were some distractions and interruptions but now we rotate between the two floors.God did not send me to minister to a particular group but to “as many as He called to be His children”
    Please note that I love God’s Word and have had no formal training in ministry just a humble, obedient servant of our Lord Jesus Christ and filled with His Holy Spirit
    Surly if He can use Balaam’s donkey to get His message out He can use Bill and whosoever will obey His call. Praise His Holy Name!
    Love in Christ

  17. My wife and I have been ministering in Nursing Homes a little more than 10 years now. Cannot tell how much of a blessing it’s been. But the other side of the coin is how so many of them who have passed on. We try to bring them hope, joy and encouragement thru the Gospel. Preach Christ, and Him crucified.


    Nursing Home Ministry Resources – Materials and Resources for Christian …

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