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Pastoral Care at the Hospital and in Times of Loss

Recently I was asked to speak to a class in our Worship Leadership program on pastoral care issues, specifically hospital visitation and bereavement.  The professor rightly wanted these students to be prepared to participate in this work of pastoral care.

Below are my notes in bullet form for some key, basic thoughts on this realm of ministry. I also encouraged them to see several books by Brian Croft and others which are listed at the end.

Hospital Visits

  1. Go! Too many people just avoid this area of care because it makes them uncomfortable or they are unsure of what to do. This is inexcusable. We must be there to help care for people in their difficult times
  2. Be brief. They want to see you but you do not need to stay long. This is especially true the more pain or discomfort they are in or the less lucid they are. There will be times when you need to stay longer, but in general a 5 minute visit is great.
  3. Ask how they are doing and listen. Updates on their status will help you know how to pray and how to inform others or to set up support in ways needed. Primarily though the gift of your listening is the key here. In general people tend to have a deficit in the area of being listened to. This is particularly a need when you are unwell.
  4. Share scripture. Again, not long, but bring the Word of God. It may be a verse or two. Begin collecting suitable passages. Biblical benedictions are a good source since they are prayers for gospel grace. The Psalms are also a great source.
  5. Pray. It should be rare indeed for you to visit someone in the hospital without praying with them. You need not be complex in your prayer but lift them to the Lord asking for healing, comfort, and grace.
  6. Take a card. Always be prepared to leave a note if they are out or are asleep. You want to let them know you were there. Just state you came by, sorry to have missed them, praying for you. You might include a verse.

Bereavement

  1. Your presence is the main thing. Be there.
  2. Don’t feel like you have to say something. This is not the time to provide theological analysis. That day will likely come, but not now.
  3. Pray.
  4. Look for ways to meet (or mobilize the church to meet) physical needs. Do they have a funeral home? Do they have a funeral plan? You should familiarize yourself with area funeral homes, phone numbers, what services they provide, etc. Who’s bringing meals? What can the church do?
  5. This will often be the place for a longer visit, as you just remain around as others come and go. You may need to be on hand for a while.

Brian Croft, Visit the Sick: Ministering God’s Grace in Times of Illness

Brian Croft & Phil Newton, Conduct Gospel-Centered Funerals: Applying the Gospel at the Unique Challenges of Death

Brian Croft & Austin Walker, Caring for Widows

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