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?