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?


15 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!

    • 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.

  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!

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