How do you care for a dying church member whose family is not allowing you do to so?

This is one of the most painful experiences I have had as a pastor.  Fortunately, it has not been common for me.  However, this past year I faced this on more than one occasion in a single month.  I experienced a flurry of emotions.  I realized part of the blessing of a pastor to care for his people as they die, is how the pastor is able to grieve as he ushers them to their grave.  When that is taken from us by non-Christian or difficult family not respecting the special relationship a pastor has with his people, the hurt makes it hard to discern how to act in that moment.  So then, how are we to think, act, pray, and serve this dying church member when those who make the calls about their care are unsympathetic to the role you as a pastor desire to play in their life?  Here are a few that came to my mind as I was in the middle of it:

Seize every opportunity as your last.  If I learned anything from this, it is to do all you can to care for your people in such a way so that if you find yourself in this position, you have already prepared that person to face Christ.

Remember you have no rights.  Regardless how much you want to be by their side and how much you know they want you there, most of the time family legally possess the power to make this call.  Though your possess a deep love for this person, sadly that doesn’t hold up in court if you tried to fight it.  One of the ways I was prevented from caring for a church member was the family moved her and wouldn’t tell me where she was.  That was their right.  Regardless how I felt about it.  We are the gatekeepers from a divine perspective.  Yet, from an earthly perspective we have little we can say or do.  We must accept that.

Realize the family is trying to cope.  As my frustration grew for the family prohibiting me to come, I realized their decision may not be directed towards me at all.  Instead, in the emotion of the moment, they did what they thought was right and in the best interest of their loved one.  It might have been personal.  But it might not have been personal at all.  The benefit of the doubt for the grieving family is a good and gracious way to face this challenging time for everyone.

God is ruling over this circumstance.  As I felt my pastoral rights revoked, betrayed by the family, and sadden that I was kept from that which a pastor longs to do…God was still on his throne.  God is sovereign and was ruling over this circumstance.  It was this truth that caused me to step back and begin to ponder what He wanted me to learn from these circumstances, instead of making it so much about me. 

This post is in part a result of that self-examination and a reflection of the sweet time I had as I went to my sympathetic high priest in those moment for care and comfort.  Remember, whether you miss being there or are prohibited from being there…our Savior and Redeemer is always there.  He is truly the one who ushers all of his sons and daughters from this world to the next…from life to death, then to eternal life with Him.  As I sat on the sidelines against my will for this one, that glorious truth was a comforting thought.

Posted in Oversight of Souls
3 comments on “How do you care for a dying church member whose family is not allowing you do to so?
  1. Jody Gates says:

    Hi Brian,
    I am a pastor’s wife and have found your blog helpful for me personally and to better understand what my husband may be experiencing in his own flock. We have had this experience where the wife of a couple in our church would not allow ANY visitors, including pastors, to visit her dying husband in the hospital. My husband and his associate walked with this couple when he was paralyzed in an accident, diagnosed with cancer, and all his hospital stays. They always heard through the grapevine that he was back in. Long story, but same ending, the wife did not want anyone to come see her husband when he spent his last days on the earth. Thank you for this post and this blog, it is very helpful. Amen to our Savior always being there for us.

  2. Chad Beck says:

    Good post. Although, I have never experienced this as a pastor, however, I did as a hospice chaplain. As a chaplain I ministered to people at the end of their life and was able to build relationship with them when no one else would or could. When the patient passed away the family would literally, “close the door on you.” This would “kill” me knowing I spent time with them and labored with them in the word to help strengthen their faith in Christ or to hopefully share Christ with them. However, I pray I would never face the time where a family of a member would not allow me to minister to them at the end of their loved ones life. I believe you nailed the responses on the head and namely “God is on His throne.” Thanks for sharing your heart!

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