I can still remember my first hospital visit. I was a new pastor at a big church. No one knew me and I didn’t know anyone. Fears swarmed my mind.
What do I say that will bring comfort to this person?
What Scripture do I read?
How do I even introduce myself?
All these questions stemmed from my natural disposition as an introvert. Nothing felt more wrong to me than visiting someone in the hospital that I didn’t know, and sensing the pressure to make them feel better in 15 minutes or less.
You don’t have to become an extrovert to be a shepherd
You can’t magically switch from an introvert to an extrovert, and you don’t have to. Introverts have strengths that can be put to work, even in shepherding people they don’t feel comfortable with yet.
One strength that an introvert brings to any kind of pastoral visitation is that you’re energized by meaningful time with a few people, not superficial time with many peripheral acquaintances.
Visiting members of your church is just that: a simple and short – but meaningful – visit with someone who feels their need to be cared for.
3 ways to hack your introversion
Introverts value authentic personal connections when they interact with someone. So the underlying fear is that, since you don’t know the person you are visiting, they will feel unaffected by your visit.
I wanted to shepherd these people, and I wanted them to feel shepherded. But I feared that I would not accomplish that because of the absence of a prior relationship. Here’s how to get over it.
1. Hack your fear of coming across like you’re only doing your job. Introverts like to be known as people who care. This fear comes from thinking that the person in the hospital bed will assume you are there only because you have to be. You wouldn’t be coming unless it was your job to, because you don’t even know them.
Hack this fear by actually caring for the other person. If you care, they will be able to tell.
If you don’t care for them, pray for them all the way up the elevator until you do.
2. Hack feeling disqualified to make the visit because you don’t know them. When you are about to visit someone in the hospital, it feels like you are intruding upon them because you don’t have a relationship with them.
The solution is to view the visit as an opportunity to start a relationship with this person.
Hospital visitation is how I have built relationships with the 60 and over crowd at my church. Now I see these people on Sunday morning, say hi to them by name, and get updates on how they are progressing.
3. Hack the pressure to say the perfect thing. You feel pressure to say the perfect thing, read the perfect Bible passage, or pray the perfect prayer. But the problem is that you don’t know this person, or much about their condition. What are you going to say?
Instead of ruminating about what you are going to say, get the other person talking. If you’re an introvert, you have probably developed the skill of asking open-ended questions in conversation. Put that gift to work when you visit people. Here are some questions I tend to ask during a visit:
-Tell me about yourself: how long have you been at this church? How did you get here?
-What news is there about your condition?
-Are you anxious about anything related to your condition? (This will reveal the needs of their heart, and thus how you can reassure them of God’s promises.)
-How would you like me and the pastoral staff to pray for you?
Those questions usually result in about a 15 minute visit. If you stay much longer than that, you run the risk of overtaxing the patient.
If you let your introversion control you, you will fail as a pastor
Luckily, I learned second hand how pastorally dangerous it is to succumb to your introversion.
Someone from my church told me about a pastor at his former church. A child of one of the leaders of the church tragically passed away, and the pastor didn’t go to the funeral. He was known as a great preacher, but a poor pastor. He studied well, but shepherded poorly.
After I heard the story, I thought to myself, “If I’m not careful, that could be me.”
Don’t let that be you. Jesus went out of his comfort zone for you. Go out of your comfort zone for your people.