How Can Churches Reclaim Health-Care Ministries?
Sybil D. Smith
In preparation to reclaim health and caring ministries, the first call is to recognize our deep dependence on a government-regulated, insurance- and pharmacy-controlled way of existence.
Our deep dependence on health care is almost like an addiction. We want all of our body pieces and parts functioning at optimal levels, and we desire pharmacy control over the pieces and parts that we cannot get fixed or replaced.
We default most decisions to those who make profits from giving us more and more of what we crave. Our demands are increasing as we see our supply drying up. We demand health care as a commodity with little regard for those who have none.
Once we recognize our dependence and craving for health care as defined by the marketplace, the call becomes revisiting the biblical view of health and care. Drilling down to the biblical view of health and healing is the beginning of a transformational journey.
A conflict exists with what the health-care marketplace tries to have one believe about health and healing. People may not fully realize or search for the difference until a crisis comes into their lives. Many begin the journey of learning about their faith system's view of health and healing when specific needs develop.
Health is more than the external guidelines for healthy lifestyle such as diet, exercise and stress reduction. The desired outcome is the internal discovery processes that take place in the journey of faith that causes one to choose God's ways to health, healing and wholeness.
The journey of faith and discovery of the internal processes that can promote health and healing seems like a giant leap from the health-care marketplace. Over the years in the United States, confidence has been placed in doctors, medicine and surgeries for the promotion of health and healing.
Even when we claim in humility that God guides the hands of those who render health care to us, it is an incomplete picture of health and healing. The substance of one's faith is called to bear on defining health and healing.
Because our faith informs our beliefs and values, our faith defines health and healing. The belief system is an outgrowth of the faith system and orders our lives to a particular focus. Have our beliefs drifted away from our anchor in the life-giving ways of Christ? Have we acquired a tolerance for the marketplace to define health and healing for us?
The supply of health care, as we have known it prior to 2009, is beginning to dwindle. Caring congregations will be challenged to respond to the concerns and perhaps strained to provide support at both a theological level and a sociological level. From a theological perspective those in situations of pain, suffering and disabling conditions will look to caring congregations to find meaning and purpose in their suffering.
As a death-denying society we are not prepared as individuals to live with a long course of declining health and loss of functioning abilities. Those who care for persons who suffer will also be seeking answers. From a sociological dimension, communities of faith in true fellowship provide an opportunity to share one another's burden. Sharing in one another's suffering requires a mature faith.
Preparation for caring ministries is necessary. Planning for the needs ahead is a responsibility, not an option. We see this in Joseph's interpretation of Pharaoh's dream – the famine is coming, and now is the time to get ready.
A compassionate, caring congregation is the outgrowth of persons within the congregation owning their own spiritual famine and brokenness. As they are discovering the life-giving ways of Christ for their own health, healing and wholeness, they are compelled as stewards of the faith to carry the healing to others.
Obvious in today's situation is that the abundance of the past is not going to be available in the future. We can also see that brokenness exists both inside and outside the congregation.
The plan becomes spending time building up the inside for the purpose of becoming an extension of the goodness of God to all who are left out, broken and suffering. The call becomes rebuilding the sense of community.
As we learn more about becoming a compassionate and caring congregation, we also learn we cannot become a system of including some while excluding others.
Sybil Smith, a registered nurse, lives in Lyman, S.C., and is an independent consultant for ministries of health. She is the author of "Parish Nursing: A Handbook for the New Millennium," a guide to designing health ministry programs that will complement a congregation's ministry priorities.
"The Unbroken Circle" by James L. Brooks
"After the Example of Christ: Congregational Care Model" by Jan Durham