Thursday, March 20, 2008

Hospice Care Anyone?

Let’s face it! Some churches are never going to recover from the decline they have allowed themselves to go into. It is time for churches to recognize if they are not making disciples and growing that they have failed to be what Jesus called them to be. The primary purpose of the church is to make people want to be students of Jesus Christ. That is what a disciple is, a student, a person that wants to learn about who and what Jesus is. There are a lot of people out there that are seeking a relationship with God. That is what a disciple of Jesus learns to have in their life. That is the primary purpose of the church and yet many are failing to make or develop disciples and are therefore declining and moving toward death.

As a pastor I am called to be with people when they are told that there is no longer any treatment that will help them and that they need to understand that they are not going to get any better than they are now. At some point many choose to enter hospice care. They recognize that they are dying and want to die with some comfort and dignity.

Is it time that some of our churches enter into hospice care? I believe that it is. I have been in a number of churches that have said something like “We don’t have the energy to do what needs to be done anymore” or “There are not enough of us to do what it would take to turn us around again.” I am not sure that I think either of those statements is really true. We always have the energy and the number of people to make new disciples. A small group of disciples that started out in and around Jerusalem 2000 years ago began to make a difference in the lives of those around them by living as they had been taught to live by Jesus and then teaching those things to others. We are the church today because they decided they had something important to share with others. The message hasn’t changed over all those years.

The fact is that some churches have no interest in making and growing disciples. They want to be cared for until they die. Maybe it is time to let them die with dignity and begin to allow that process to be recognized and cared for. When someone we love is told that they are terminal, we begin a process of grieving. What would happen if we started putting churches that are no longer making disciples and are not willing to develop a plan to on hospice care?

There are pastors out there that would be very good at doing hospice care for these churches. We could make sure they were able to die with dignity and that the resources are better invested somewhere that wants to reach out for new disciples and grow them as they enter the church. What would we have to do to train and prepare pastors and churches to enter the final stages of life?

It is time that churches either becomes disciple making churches that are growing in numbers or building disciples and using their facility to the fullest. If not it is time stop using resources that could better be used in churches that are answering the call go and make disciples.

6 comments:

Sheila said...

This column rings so true that I must shout a resounding "AMEN!" You know my story about one such dying congregation, Jeff. I know from experience that they were not the only congregation to "erect a building and forget to build a church." Alas, there are far more pastors in any Annual Conference who are eager and willing to serve Disciple making congregations than there are churches who fill that bill. The result? A lot of discouraged and frustrated pastors.

Pamela said...

I think if a pastor knows from the outset that a congregation has a terminal illness they will feel less burn out from the get go. In other denominations the status of some churches is changed to that of a mission rather than fully functioning church, and a pastor with missional gifts or a lay person with missional gifts is sents. I am thinking specifically of the Anglican communion. There are those cases though where the "patient"has been declared "dead" and has had a resurrection, not often but it has happened...but to thrown loads of resources at a shinking ship, it's time to get out the life boats...

Keith McIlwain said...

Jeff, I agree wholeheartedly. There are some practical problems, of course...

* ...so many hospice-type congregations are connected to congregations who may not be at that point (or don't want to admit it) via our "charge system", that it would take some real partnering by the DS to make it work...

* ...not every DS has the delicate gifts necessary to make this work...

* ...not every pastor has these gifts, and the danger could arise that we might FORCE a pastor into a hopsice-style appointment when they don't have the gifts for it.

It seems to me that former DSs would be the PERFECT people for this kind of work, but I'm not sure ANY Bishop or Cabinet would be brave enough to make that kind of appointment!

bhughes said...

I work for a hospice program and found your posting when searching church programs and hospice and watchman. Coming from a strong faith background I understand your sentiments, but felt a bit cheated. By the end of your comments, I almost felt a sting in what you intended as a "mild shock" to wake up the church. It seems you spoke glibly and perhaps insensitively w/ your hospice analogy. while, indeed there is a real need for churches to consider the value of hospice care for real terminal patients (parishoners) and their agonized families.
I would encourage you to volunteer at a local hospice and see the real mission opportunities there.

Pastor Jeff said...

I have great respect for those that provide hospice care for people. My dad died this past November under hospice care and I have experienced the love and care these people do.

One of the wonderful benefits of hospice care is that people are allowed to die with dignity. Sometimes a church needs this same kind of hope that it will be allowed to die as well. My hope is that church leaders will help this process with the sensitivity of those that care for people.

Sandra said...

I agree, Jeff. Hospice services also take care of all the medications, hygiene, and cleanliness of the surroundings for the patient.