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Some people prepare for and even enter the pastoral ministry with the mistaken idea that ministry primarily entails preaching to the multitudes. They envision grandly ascending the church platform to address the yearning masses who eagerly await each pearl that escapes from their lips, before being whisked away, only to prepare for the following week's glorious oration.

Any seasoned pastor would smile at the fallacy of such notions. Pastoral ministry certainly does include teaching and preaching, but it is primarily a "people business."

The Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Great Shepherd, certainly ministered to the multitudes. But He also spent time ministering one-on-one to people. He didn't just love crowds; He loved people.

Jesus revealed His Shepherd's heart when He spoke of a shepherd who left his 99 sheep and went into the mountains to find the one sheep that had gone astray (Matt. 18:12-14).

The local church is to be more than an evangelistic center, even though people should have an opportunity to be born again at church. And a church is also to be more than a teaching center, even though people need to hear the teaching of God's Word in order to grow spiritually.

The genuine pastoral anointing and ministry in operation produces something more than just an evangelistic or teaching center; it brings forth a true local church - a spiritual family.

In the Old Testament, God brought forth a strong rebuke through the prophet Ezekiel to the shepherds (representing the pastoral ministry), because they were not fulfilling their responsibility to God's people (Ezek. 34:1-16). A genuine pastor cares and is concerned for his flock, and he sees to it that they are ministered to properly.

This section focuses on an important area of pastoral ministry: hospital visitation.

The Purpose and Effect of Visitation
Although this section addresses hospital visitation, the same principles also apply when visiting others who are in need, including ill people who are housebound or people in nursing homes.

When a pastor reaches out with love and support in spiritual ministry to church members and their families in times of crisis and special challenges, a special bond of appreciation and respect is often established between the pastor and those to whom he is ministering. A pastor and congregation that strive to "be there when it counts" help people realize the value of belonging to a loving church family with a committed pastor.

For example, numerous RHEMA Bible Church members have related the great impact the pastoral staff and congregation made on them by their visible demonstrations of support shown during their own hospitalization or that of a family member.

Tangible expressions of love can come in the form of flowers from the church; regular visits by the pastor, pastoral staff, and other church members; meals brought to the home; assistance with child-care; and in some cases, assistance with housecleaning and even laundry.

Some of these examples of ministering to others may not sound "spiritual," but they are nonetheless important and are often extremely meaningful to the people receiving these expressions of care.

When and How Often to Visit
The type and nature of pastoral care to the hospitalized will be governed by the situation itself. It is advisable for a member of the pastoral staff to be with a person and his family prior to surgery. It is usually very appreciated if someone stays with the family throughout the entire procedure.

In critical, life-and-death situations, a member of the pastoral staff should stay with the family. In more routine procedures, a trained volunteer can usually perform this task quite well. It also works out well for care-workers to stay with the family in shifts during long operations. Unless a family requests their privacy, they are usually quite appreciative of having someone with them during such times.

Naturally, the regularity of necessary visits to the patient varies from case to case. But the visits should be frequent enough for the patient and family members to be assured of the church family's love and concern. Of course, the type of support given should increase in more critical situations.

As a general rule, RHEMA Bible Church endeavors to check on patients daily through either a member of the pastoral staff or a hospital care-team member. On some days, phone contact might be made, but a patient should typically receive several visits in a given week.

Understanding the Hospital
It is important for the pastor to obtain an understanding of hospitals in general, as well as of the particular hospitals where he will most often be visiting patients. It is recommended that he go to the chaplain's office (if the hospital has one), introduce himself, and inquire as to any policies or guidelines the hospital may have regarding clergy visitation. For example, some hospitals provide identification badges and special parking for ministers.

When visiting a patient, a pastor needs to keep in mind that the patient has submitted himself to the care of the hospital. Therefore, all guidelines of that institution should be respected and observed. A pastor should not do anything that would be considered intrusive within the medical arena (e.g., give medical advice, attempt to get patients out of bed, etc.).

Remember, you are visiting the patient to offer spiritual support, encouragement, and prayer, so it's important that you recognize and remain within those boundaries. It is also appropriate to show respect and deference to medical personnel. If you demonstrate good judgment and show proper respect, you'll find that your presence in the hospital will be welcomed.

Understanding the Patient
A pastor also needs to be sensitive to the needs of each particular patient. For example, in many cases, a person's recovery involves a process in which ample rest is an important part. It is usually best to keep visits short (five to 10 minutes is usually good). You don't want to wear the patient out by staying too long so that he wishes you hadn't come!

Also, it is important to respect the patient's privacy. Realize that he or she may feel quite vulnerable. When the patient attends or is a member of your church, you can usually safely assume that your presence is welcome. However, on referrals (e.g., when the patient is a relative of a church member), it is good to make sure that the patient (and not just the person who gave you the referral) desires that you visit him or her.

You should always knock first on the door before you enter the patient's room. Even after you've been told, "Come in," you should identify yourself before entering. The patient might think it is the nurse coming back for the bedpan!

Upon entering the room, the pastor should be sensitive, not only to the physical condition of the patient, but to his or her spiritual and emotional state. For instance, people who believe strongly in divine healing sometimes feel guilty that they are in the hospital. They can be concerned that other Christians might criticize them for having a "lack of faith."

Always remember the purpose of your visit. You are there to show the love of God and to encourage the person's faith. It is not appropriate to discourage a person from receiving medical treatment or to present faith in such a way as to promote or encourage "denial" in a patient.

Express love and encouragement to the person. If you sense guilt in the patient, don't hesitate to let him know you are glad he is receiving needed medical attention. You can also remind him that faith and medicine complement rather than oppose each other.

It is important to realize that the patient is already dealing with a physical condition. The last thing he needs is a condemning or judgmental church assuming that he has sin in his life!

Instead of being criticized, a patient is much better off when he is assured that not only are the doctors doing what they can do, but God is on his side, and the pastor and church are also praying for him!

When a person knows that God, the pastor, the church, and the doctors are all for him, that knowledge can greatly boost his confidence. And his recovery will be enhanced as he senses the love and support of his spiritual family.

Source: Pastoral Manual by Kenneth Hagin, Jr.
Excerpt permission granted by Faith Library Publications

Author Biography

Kenneth W. Hagin
Web site: Kenneth Hagin Ministries
Kenneth W. Hagin, President of Kenneth Hagin Ministries and pastor of RHEMA Bible Church, ministers around the world. Known for calling the Body of Christ to steadfast faith, he seizes every ministry opportunity to impart an attitude of “I cannot be defeated, and I will not quit.”

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