In a culture that places an inordinate value on youth and image, caring for those who lack both can be a lost art in church ministry. Pastors who practice this art, however, will come to see how church members who are most connected to the past can have a positive impact on shepherding the local church in the present, as well as the future.
When I first accepted a position on a church staff, nursing home visitation wasn’t in my job description. There was another pastor on the leadership team who had that responsibility.
That all changed one day when the pastor sent me a text message that he was sick and would be out of the office for the next few days.
He asked if I’d handle his regular rounds of visiting shut-in members of our church. I agreed and quickly tried to imagine how this was going to go.
As a new pastor, nursing home visitation wasn’t something I’d tackled before. Further, my ministerial education didn’t include any theoretical or practical training in this kind of thing.
What took place that day, however, was transformative. There was something about each visit and experience that I needed. I came to realize I needed these visits more than our oldest church members needed to see me.
If we’re not careful, ministry can be life-draining. These regular nursing home visits, however, became life-giving to me.
Through these life-giving moments, God taught me three valuable lessons that equipped me to better shepherd the congregation entrusted to my care.
1. I learned the unvarnished history of our church.
I was as much of an outsider as one could be to the congregation that had called me to their pastoral team.
They were a small, rural church in a small, rural town. I had moved there from a large church ministry in a large metropolitan city. The church and the community were unfamiliar surroundings.
The “family tree” of the church consisted of about a dozen families that, over the years, became the largest contributors to church membership.
I wasn’t related to anyone in the congregation, but it seemed as if each of them were related to any number of people in the congregation. Inclusion was difficult. I wasn’t one of them.
Understanding the church’s history was even more difficult. What many congregants told me about the church was what they wanted the pastor to hear. It wasn’t necessarily a true reflection of the historical record.
Nevertheless, as I spent time visiting our “senior saints,” I learned from them the unvarnished history of our church. These men and women were always more than willing to share both the strengths and weaknesses of the church.
I learned how ministries got started and who started them, why the congregation was a mix of close family relationships, how God had blessed the church over the past 125 years, and the challenges and struggles the church faced during that time.
These weekly history lessons helped me understand how to minister in a community where I was a transplant and an outsider. It helped me understand their unwritten rules of congregational life and how to minister in a paradigm unfamiliar to me.