While recently reflecting upon Jesus’ compassion toward those who were “distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36), I determined to find similarly downcast people in my neighborhood so that I might serve them and tell them about Christ. I now find myself regularly in a nursing home, and the ministry opportunities abound.
Perhaps you might consider ministering in a nursing home. Maybe there are others in your church who would enjoy such an outreach. I’ve compiled ten reasons why nursing homes are great places to minister. Perhaps this will inspire you to give this important ministry a try:
1.Nursing homes provide an avenue to obey God, Who tells us to serve the downcast and rejected.
Not every resident in a nursing home is sad. Many are very happy. Some are only there for a brief time of rehabilitation, and then they will go home. Others will probably die soon, but they have loving families who visit often and comfort them greatly.
However, walk around any nursing home and you will see people who appear hopeless, and you will have a much better understanding of the ladies James calls “widows in their distress” (James 1:27). I’m reminded of the woman who weighs perhaps 75 pounds, and every time I see her she is quietly saying, “Would somebody help me? Would somebody please help me?” She says it over and over again, even though the nurses (most of whom are heroes of our society!) work diligently to take care of her needs. God, through James, tells us to “visit” ladies like her (James 1:27), and the author of Hebrews writes, “And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (13:16). You may have other ways to obey these verses, but if not, I’m sure that in your neighborhood there is a nursing home with men and women who would rejoice to have you come for a visit this week.
2. Nursing homes offer numerous opportunities for evangelism.
Even if you are not a pastor, most (if not all) nursing homes will allow almost anybody to spend time visiting with the residents. Just check in at the front desk, tell them the church you represent, say that you would like to be an encouragement to any of the residents they think might enjoy a visit, and ask whom they would like you to see. Most nursing homes I have visited are understaffed, so the employees are grateful for any help they can get, even if they put you with “Mrs. Pester” just so she’ll stop pressing her call button every 30 seconds.
If you decide to go, you might want to arrive with a few prepared questions for the residents. For example, after the obligatory small talk, you might ask, “Do you have a church?” If so, find out what the church teaches. You could say, “What does your church teach about Jesus?” Another approach is to inquire, “Could I read to you one of my favorite passages in the Bible?” Then you could explain why you like the passage so much. Reading verses and passages that make the gospel plain is helpful (like Isaiah 53 or John 10), and you’ll want to hear their insights as well in order to know what they believe and what you may need to address. “What do you love the most about Jesus” may be a good question to ask the person who professes to know Christ.
Along with one-on-one visits, your church might contact the activities coordinator of the nursing home (if they have one) to see when you could come and provide a Bible study or even a gathering with singing and preaching. One caution: Before you commit to anything long-term, tell the coordinator that you would like to visit a couple of times and evaluate if you should keep coming.
3. Nursing home residents will increase your trust in a sovereign God.
I once was called in to a nursing home by a family who found my church’s listing in the phone book. A family member was dying, and they wanted a local pastor to come and minister to their loved one. I didn’t know what to expect, but when I arrived, I was whisked away to the section of the nursing home where most people never enter—the place where the most volatile and/or most physically challenged are housed. After a nurse walked me through two sets of double doors, the foul odor took my breath away, and then I was taken into a room of a man near death. He was hooked up to an extremely loud breathing machine, and his eyes were shut. His chest would fill with air, causing his back to arch, and then he would exhale, causing the bedsprings to rattle. What was I going to do? Should I just pray with the man, and then depart? No, I remembered Jesus’ words in John 10:27, “My sheep hear My voice.” I didn’t know if this man had ever heard the Good Shepherd’s voice, but I did realize at that moment that if he hadn’t, and if he was one of the Lord’s sheep, God would somehow intervene and help that man to hear and believe in Christ in those final hours. So I preached the gospel (quite loudly!).
Conversation is possible with a large number of those staying in a nursing home, but some are simply not able to communicate. This is frustrating at times, but it often reminds me that God is sovereign and I must trust Him. When we are all gathered together on the new earth, we might hear many accounts of individuals who came to Christ through the faithful witness of someone who didn’t let closed eyes or a breathing machine keep them from proclaiming the gospel.
4. Nursing homes make available a place of real and life-impacting ministry for young men contemplating or heading into the ministry.
Most churches do not provide frequent teaching opportunities for young men considering the pastorate. This is where a nursing home could be very strategic. The residents of nursing homes long for somebody to spend time with them, and they really don’t care about the quality of the conversation or teaching.
Do you see what this opens up for young men who desire to preach? They could go to a local nursing home, arrange for a Bible study, and preach away. The ministry would be real and life-impacting, and the training would be extremely valuable.
I often meet seminary students who are members at churches where they get to teach only rarely, if at all, yet they express to me their burning desire to preach. I now respond with this: “Have you considered preaching in a local nursing home?”
5. Nursing homes present a way to teach children to love their neighbor.
The Lord’s law includes this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). Nursing homes are full of our neighbors, and the presence of children brings smiles to their faces. In this setting, children can introduce themselves to the residents, bring them crafts they’ve made, or show off their favorite toys. If you have a gathering with singing and preaching, the kids can participate by passing out song sheets (with very large font, by the way) and by sitting next to the residents. Some of my church’s kids will soon take lotion to nursing home residents, and offer a hand massage.
What about when children do not want to participate? Such a scenario provides an easy opportunity to explain to them that they are lawbreakers who deeply need a Savior.
6. Nursing homes remind us that sickness and death are coming.
Everybody in a nursing home used to be your age. Most at one time were as healthy, or in better shape, than you are. But now they are sick, and they are tired, and some may not make it through another week. Here’s my point: You may go to a nursing home to preach to the residents, but every time you visit they will preach to you about the brevity of life and the reality of death.
We need such reminders. We will be helped by seeing people who cannot assemble with the church anymore because they might cause us not to take for granted our gatherings with God’s people. We will be reminded of the importance of filling our minds and hearts with Scripture now while our minds are younger and more able to retain information. We will be inspired to live our lives to the fullest for the Lord while we can still walk and talk and see and feel.
7. Nursing homes put you in the presence of older saints who are persevering in the Lord.
A faithful older believer is an inspiring sight. I am quick to introduce my children to these authentic, time-tested saints, and I personally seek out conversations with these believers because they are a tremendous blessing to me.
Recently, I was not motivated to head out to the nursing home. I was tired. I was barely prepared to teach my church that evening. I wanted to stay home. When we got to the nursing home, everything changed when a sweet lady struggling with diabetes greeted us with a hug and a smile. She was quite happy to see us, she sat in the front during the singing and preaching, she was a terrific listener during the teaching time, she articulated her love for Christ to the residents around her, and she was quick to express her thanks to me for teaching the Bible carefully and without compromise. On the way home, I prayed, “Father, thank you for teaching me today. Give me grace to persevere to the end like Mrs. Minor.”
8. Nursing homes put you in the presence of people who have hardened their hearts, rejected Christ, and may never again have a coherent thought.
Christ-hating people are everywhere, including nursing homes. Sadly, some have lost the ability to think, even though they are still breathing. Every time I’m with a person who is no longer able to communicate, I realize that he or she may be a Christian, but I also know that I often sit in the presence of people who will soon be in hell. This is a sobering reality.
Even if you never have a regular ministry within a nursing home, at some point in your life you will probably visit someone there. When you do, listen to the messages these unbelievers preach. Hear them proclaiming with their malnourished souls, “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Heb. 3:15). Listen as they declare with their wasted lives, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries” (Heb. 10:26-27). For these people, sadly, the opportunity to trust and obey is lost. Time spent in a nursing home, with hell-bound people like this, will help us to “pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it” (Heb. 2:1).
9. Nursing homes open doors to new relationships with those related to or associated with the residents.
Often, the residents will have family or friends with them who will appreciate knowing that somebody else cares for their loved ones. Greeting the residents by name in the presence of their guests communicates an especially kind heart and makes the Christ we proclaim attractive. Some will eventually move back home, but remain close enough that further ministry is possible. Others will die in the nursing home. Imagine the love it would express to these families if several people from your church attended the funerals. And consider all of the evangelism that could potentially take place among unbelieving families! Also, a family might need somebody to lead the funeral, and a pastor or a young man from your church training for the ministry might be asked to oversee the service. When we show people that we truly care, and when we ask the Lord for new friendships and witnessing opportunities, both the people and God respond favorably.
Nurses, staff, and sometimes doctors are also present in nursing homes. Most often when I visit, I’m greeted by a nurse. Like most people, they appreciate kind words and they are grateful when a person shows genuine interest in their lives. They might even participate in a Bible study you or your church leads. Recently, two nurses joined us for part of our singing and Bible study. The residents appreciated it, and the nurses heard the gospel in the process.
10. Nursing homes provide a ministry environment where what really matters takes priority.
In our churches, we sometimes get obsessed with the latest technology or style of dress. Those things basically won’t matter in a nursing home. Yes, a small, portable microphone system would probably do the residents good, but think about this: What percentage of the residents do you really think will be able to see something projected up on a wall or screen? And how “cool” do you really have to dress when those in attendance are sitting before you in their bath robes with crumbs from breakfast still clinging to the fabric?
What then takes center stage? Things which really matter, like Scripture. And love. And prayer. And Jesus.
I hope these ten reasons inspire you to at least consider ministering in a nursing home. Let me know if you do (or already have), and what you might add to the list above. I’m looking forward to learning from you. Please send me an e-mail with your thoughts, stories, and/or questions (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Copyright Steve Burchett 2008