How does a pastor minister to his people when he is battling physical illness?

I rarely get sick anymore.  Because of this, I am always caught off guard by it and realize I did not pad my schedule for it.  Last week I had a day set aside to visit a new born baby in the hospital and then go to the home of a dear church member with terminal cancer.  Well, the night before I came down with something.  These are not the people you want to visit with any possibility that you could be sick.  I remember sitting in my office that morning (you know because I also rarely take a sick day) asking myself, “OK, now what?”  Since we are entering the cold and flu season for most of us, here are a few thoughts I had:

1) The best way I care for God’s people is not to be around them while sick, especially those who might have major problems if they caught whatever I have.  A new born baby and someone struggling with cancer would be two really good examples of this.  So, I called the man and the baby’s parents and explained why I would not be coming.  They were grateful.

2)  Call them on the phone.  I realized as much as I wanted to be with them face to face, everything I wanted to say to them I could do over the phone or even next week once I recovered.  Do not be embarrassed to pray over the phone with someone.

3)  Send emails, text messages, facebook, or hand written cards mailed to them (yes, I have church members without a computer) are wonderful ways to extend care for those you wish to visit, but should not because of illness.  They will have that message or card to read over and over if they choose and it will represent not just you effort to care for them, but that you spared them being exposed to your illness.

4)  Reschedule a visit with them as soon as possible.  Make it a priority for the following week.  They will be encouraged by your persistence.

Pastors should desire to be with their people at key moments in their lives.  That is why we do what we do.  Nevertheless, sometimes we will love and care for them best when we recognize our limitations and trust that God is at work in them.  It just might be what your people need to see to trust God is working in their weakness and unexpected difficulty in the same way.

For more practical advice on caring for the sick, see this book.

Posted in Caring for Widows, Hospital Visitation, The Pastor's Soul
2 comments on “How does a pastor minister to his people when he is battling physical illness?
  1. Rhoda McGill says:

    As the baby’s mother & speaking for the whole McGill family, we say thanks! :) We look forward to seeing you this week, & you meeting baby Judson!

  2. Wayne Roberts says:

    Sorry I’m just getting to this, but I have been busy with my Dad who has been in the hospital for a few weeks. One helpful tool I found as a deacon at my former church is the hospital website. All of the hospitals in Louisville have an e-card function on their websites. It does not of course substitute for the personal touch, but it is a good interim choice until the wider church knows about the situation.

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