Becoming a Caring Congregation

January 1st, 2012

Life is messy and often painful. No one can avoid the grief and loss that happens in all of our lives at some point. What we do to help one another get through difficult times can be complex, yet it can be so simple. As people of faith committed to healing and wholeness, sometimes we can just show up and reach out. Other times, we offer words of comfort or a listening ear.

Jesus was a healer. You only need to read the Gospel of Luke to find the multiple times that Jesus healed bodies, minds, and spirits. He understood the depths of suffering and its stranglehold on the lives of people. He did not learn this from formal training but rather from his intimate connection to God, and this allowed him to extend understanding and empathy. As caregivers, this is our task too, and the purpose of this book is to try to give words and clues so that you may offer Christlike healing.

First and foremost, anyone embarking on the task of being a Christian caregiver must always seek ways to be transformed into a Christlike healer. Sometimes this means taking stock of your own life lessons, those experiences that help us become wounded healers. And, as it did with Jesus and the woman who was about to be stoned by her accusers, it may mean getting your hands dirty. Jesus got down in the dirt, literally and figuratively, with the woman. He wrote in the dirt. He showed kindness to a woman whose crime was considered “dirty.” His purpose was more than to save the woman’s life and bring insight to her accusers; it was to bring healing and wholeness, thereby preparing all of them to receive God’s redemptive gift of grace. In these actions he was bold, but he was also careful.

Anyone who is a healer seeks the ability to be bold yet gracefilled. You can tell those caregivers who “get it” by what they say and do. They cannot help themselves; they are drawn to the depressed, the downtrodden, the marginalized, the grieving, or the dying. I have worked with people who “get it” intuitively as well as those who are more task-oriented. In ministry we need both kinds of people, and both kinds benefit from the gifts and graces of the other. This book will help prepare you with the how-to for getting down in the dirt with people in order to offer healing and compassion.

Finally, healing ministry is about the collective body and all of its constitutive parts. As a healer, you have to understand your particular context and how it affects your community. If there is a financial crisis going on, you have to be keenly aware of what is necessary and possible. If there have been a multitude of deaths, you still have to be able to find ways for healing to happen. If there is deep segregation, disparity of roles, or injustice, you have to be willing to address what is necessary for the larger community.

No one person, lay or clergy, can address all the hurt of a congregation or community. Caregiving is not a job for Lone Rangers. Your job as a leader is to evaluate the needs of your community and then prioritize them as you assess available resources. As your ministry blossoms, you can begin to invite others to help you create a comprehensive healing ministry through a variety of means: teaching, worship, study, counseling, support groups, and so on.

Redemption is key to caregiving. The simple definition of redemption is to restore. Restore to what? Restored to being the whole person God intends you to be, a person who lives a gracefilled life in service to God and other people, a person who communes with God and whose character is marked by the fruits of the Spirit as found in Galatians 5:22-23. Good congregational care offers redemption—restoration—as we partner with God to care for weary, heavy-laden souls and those souls who are just trying to hang on and cope. Redemption can mean healing of relationships or restoration of a community.

Through our acts of care, people can find restoration in the middle of death and grief, and they can find it in our simple acts of kindness. When we think about congregational care in this way, it becomes both the cornerstone and aim for everything else we do in ministry.

The ministry of congregational care takes patience and a nonjudgmental approach. It can be complex, exhausting, and perplexing (sometimes all at once), and you need a confidant for your own well-being. You’ll need to debrief and sometimes laugh and cry with a trusted someone, even as you continue to honor confidentiality. Just a quick word of advice: don’t use your spouse or family. Seek someone else; a professional caregiver or counselor is best. Caregiving is like almost everything else, the more you do it, the more you’ll realize how little you actually know and how much help you really need.

Healing can be fast, or it may be very, very slow. And on this side of heaven, none of us is ever entirely whole. While different facets of a healing ministry can be taught through volumes and volumes of texts, it is best learned through practice and then being open to the suggestions of peers, mentors, and even sometimes those for whom we care.

As you create your own care team or become more involved in the congregational care of your church, keep in mind that there is a need to collaborate with every part of the church. Let the entire church embrace this ministry so that they too can see its benefits. Help the church see that congregational care is their ministry too. It is a ministry of all the people, not just a specialized group.

My prayer for you is that you will be able to take your congregational care to the next level in your own ministry setting as you offer redemption to those in need.

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