I’ve been attempting to glorify God and advance His kingdom at my favorite nursing home since the year 2000. And if you're involved in such a ministry, I'd like to share some thoughts with you on how to most effectively serve our Savior in facilities that are, in theory at least, spiritually neutral.
If you are a Christian who wants to focus exclusively on comforting the elderly without evangelizing anyone, then I don’t imagine any of this will be of interest to you. But if you’re here to spread the Gospel, advance the kingdom and rejoice with those who are already His, I hope you’ll find these thoughts useful.
First things first
The most important step is to pray for the people we’re witnessing to … for the wisdom to recognize opportunities … for guidance in what to say and do to reach these people ... and for a responsive and obedient heart.
Sometimes we volunteers will pray together – what
a wonderful and encouraging way to re-energize our
Bringing Jesus up
Some volunteers like to build a relationship before embarking on the spiritual – and that’s fine. I personally like to cut to the chase as early as possible, just to see where we are.
There are many ways of doing it, of course – just as there are in the outside world. Let's look at a few possibilities.
Use a resident’s comment to interject a favorite Bible passage. One of my favorites is “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
Once in a while you’ll get a great surprise. Not long ago, I started reciting this passage to a new resident who was losing her eyesight. I faltered as I so often do, and was amazed when she completed it for me, word by perfect word. What joy to stumble across a sister in Christ in this way!
That’s admittedly unusual. But at the very least, such quotes will make it easier to bring God into the conversation at hand – addressing topics ranging from why He allows suffering to what we must do to be saved to how this life is a blink of an eye and the best is yet to come for His children.
Talk about Christ in your own life. That might mean describing an experience that would have destroyed the “old” you, but was a cause for rejoicing for the you of today, transformed as you have been by Jesus Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit.
It might mean bringing up a great message you heard in church last week, or a lecture you’re going to this Saturday or a secular TV program that angered you by denying the existence of God or the divinity of Christ.
Ask for permission. A fellow volunteer suggests simply asking residents for permission to share your testimony. "May I tell you about the difference Jesus Christ has made in my life, and why?”
Offer to pray for him or her. What a segue this can be into the power of prayer – and at some point, into the attributes and character of our sovereign God, as He has revealed Himself in the Bible.
Search out and address an area of particular interest. God has something to say about virtually every aspect of our lives, right? Spend some time finding out what’s important to a particular resident, and then bring Him into it.
For instance, do you visit someone who’s distraught over her fading beauty? Maybe you could gently move the conversation to the spiritual by commenting on how your own passion for makeup and hairstyles was squelched by Jesus telling us to consider the lilies of the field – and how much better life is now that your focus is on enhancing your eternal eyes.
Or perhaps you’re visiting a younger unbeliever who’s convinced that science has made God unnecessary. But you know there’s tons of evidence that “In the beginning, God.” If you’re not already immersed in the subject, a good place to begin is Ray Comfort’s little book Scientific Facts in the Bible. Or if you’re talking with someone who’s a scientist himself, try Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box or Henry Morris’s The Modern Creation Trilogy.
Issue an invitation to an upcoming event. Some facilities are gracious about allowing Christians to host Christ-glorifying activities. "My" nursing home, for example, welcomes a full menu of monthly non-denominational services and works hard to bring as many residents as possible into each one.
If the same can be said of "your" facility, be sure to invite the residents you call on to attend any or all of these events – and feel free to come to them yourself, for fellowship, edification, and a chance to strengthen your bonds with the residents.
Sharing the Gospel
You no doubt have your own favorite ways of presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I personally have been trained in James Kennedy’s Evangelism Explosion method, and am also a great fan of Ray Comfort’s Way of the Master approach. Both are good ways of explaining the Gospel in just a few minutes. And I’m sure there are many others.
One thing a fellow volunteer and I have done on occasion, to make our points as inoffensively as possible, is to role-play the Way of the Master approach to letting the law show us our sinfulness and need for the Savior (watch some of these videos if you’re not familiar with this ministry). I’m not sure I really understood the Gospel until I stumbled across this teaching on our local Christian TV station.
Another excellent way to reach the lost is to offer to read the Bible to them. If they have no special requests, you might begin with John or Genesis, or by walking them down the Romans Road (3:23, 6:23, 5:8 and 10:9-13).
One of the great joys of volunteering is having the chance to fellowship with the born-again believers among the residents. I always feel a little guilty spending too much time with them, figuring I should be moving on and talking with those who don’t yet seem to be believers. But maybe that’s silly; part of our job, I believe, is to encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ – and to help them remain fruitful servants of the Lord. For instance:
Most can pray, even if they can do nothing else. What a critical role to play in the kingdom, interceding on behalf of others!
Some can share the gospel with family members, friends, staff and other residents.
Many can at least hand out Gospel tracts to these people, and you can keep them supplied with materials from your church or a five-star source such as www.LivingWaters.com.
Some can show the difference Christ makes to their lives simply by the way they think, speak and act.
It may pay eternal dividends if you will take the time
to encourage them in such activities.
Keep this in mind
There will be times when our best efforts are frustrated. Some absolutely will not hear us, and may even be hostile. Or their family members may be hostile. I was even admonished once by the Christian Science practitioner who was profiting mightily from a resident who was a life-long Christian Scientist (I hope not by the time she died, however).
It is frustrating. But we have to remember that only God saves people: “Salvation is of the Lord,” according to Jonah 2:9. We also have to recognize that, when we run into obstacles, He has allowed them to be erected. In such cases, perhaps the best thing we can do is back off and continue praying for new opportunities to reach these residents, and soft hearts to receive His message when they finally hear it from us, or from a brother or sister in Christ.
Sometimes I’ll continue calling on such a resident, keeping my visits relatively short and letting him or her direct the conversation. I don’t know if it does any good, long term, but I hope it’s a way of watering the seeds I’ve tried to plant simply by showing the love of Christ.
But there have been times when I’ve decided not to visit a particular resident anymore. There’s scriptural justification for such drastic action. Mark 2:11, for instance, tells us “And whoever will not receive you nor hear you, when you depart from there, shake off the dust under your feet as a testimony against them.” After all, there are plenty of others down the hall who will hear His word gladly.
What not to do, IMHO
I have learned over the years that it’s usually counter-productive to directly criticize a resident’s beliefs, no matter how crazy they may be. In most cases, overt criticism will just make them stop listening to you. Worse, sometimes they’ll complain about you, threatening the open door you've enjoyed. Either way, you’re not doing much to glorify God or advance His kingdom.
What are your thoughts?
Feel free to comment via the contact page. In the meantime, may the Lord bless you in all
your efforts on His behalf!