Pastors should be prepared to minister when they step foot in a hospital room. With someone under your care in frail condition, this is no time to wing it. Visiting someone is not just about what you do once you are in the room, it is about being prepared before you arrive.
You might feel out of place next to a hospital bed if you’re fresh out of seminary. You might feel awkward if you’re new to the church and haven’t built relationships with everyone yet. You might feel off your game if your church’s needs are not such that you make hospital visits frequently. These situations cause us to be unprepared
If you find yourself approaching hospital visits with fear and trepidation, consider some of these tips for being prepared to care for your people when they are sick.
1. Know their name and face. In my previous ministry as a junior high pastor, I often met our elderly members for the first time when I visited them in the hospital. If you don’t personally know who you are about to visit, look them up in the pictorial directory before you go. You don’t want to depend on matching names to hospital beds. Make sure you can pronounce their name correctly.
2. Know as much info on their situation as possible. You may not have made personal contact yet, but knowing their situation makes your visit personal from the start. It also informs what kind of demeanor you should carry into the room and what type of passage you should be ready to read (see #6).
3. Arrive early (if you have made an appointment). Parking at a hospital and navigating the halls can take 15 minutes or more. If they are expecting you at a certain time, give yourself margin for error.
4. Utilize clergy parking. You might have to drop a few bucks for the pass, but it will save you from worrying about #3.
5. Keep mints handy. You are in the middle of a spicy Thai lunch meeting. Your assistant texts you that someone was rushed to the hospital. You do the math.
6. Have a relevant Bible passage bookmarked before you leave the car. Don’t fumble through your Bible at their bedside hoping to happen upon just the right passage.
7. Bring a non-digital Bible to read out of. I was caught unprepared making a visit once, and all I had to read Scripture out of was an iPod Touch. I know that the words are just as powerful no matter what they are read out of, but it just felt weird. It may just be my opinion, but I think it is more comforting to read out of a physical Bible rather than off your phone.
8. Be open to engaging people in the halls or elevator. Last time I was at the hospital, someone noticed my Bible and struck up a conversation. We talked together on the way out, and I invited him to church. The next Sunday, as I was welcoming people before the service, he came into the church. I was able to greet him by name and invite him to sit with me in the service. You never know, God may want you to minister to more people than you expected.
9. Bring business cards or a note card with you. Sometimes when you arrive the person is sleeping, out of the room being treated at another part of the hospital, or indisposed for some other reason. Let them know you came and prayed for them by leaving a note.
10. Exude confidence in God’s promises. This one is the most important, obviously. You may be visiting with someone who has no hope of recovery, but God’s promises are still true for them. The bleakness of their circumstance may make it hard to see how God is for them at the moment. Remind them. Speak God’s promises gently, but confidently. Look into their eyes with your own confident, compassionate eyes.
When we dread hospital visits, ultimately we are concerned about ourselves, not the people we are visiting. We are worried about our own comfort and convenience, not about their condition physically or spiritually. None of these tips will make up for your uncaring, unmerciful, unsympathetic heart (if you have one).
So remember that you were sick. The Physician came to you and saved you. Rejoice at the mercy God has shown you in Christ, and that he has given you the Comforter, his Spirit. And in light of that, visit your sheep and tell them that the same is true for them. Show them tender, heartfelt compassion, and speak to them about God’s care for them.
Just pop a mint first.