A position on the staff of a church will bring expectations that not every musician is prepared to meet. One time, I had an artist (who had been offered a staff position) ask me what I thought about musicians being church leaders… I responded, “Are you ready for 6:00 a.m. gall bladder surgery?”
I went on to explain that ministry on a church staff involves touching the lives of people – and sometimes that means being at the hospital at 6:00 a.m. Some might argue, “My church only wants me to plan and lead worship. I don’t have to do that pastoral stuff.”
Well, you can sell that to someone else.
Because, if you serve a church in any capacity, you will need to step into pastoral moments – at least some of the time. Over the years, I learned to highly-value those moments of impact with the people I served.
So, in the that spirit, here are some tips I’ve learned about this aspect of ministry:
- Check Your Agenda at the Door
It’s easy to think about pastoral ministry in terms of what you get out of it. You might even be tempted to think like this: “If I visit the deacon’s son in the hospital, he might support my ministry better in the future.” Thinking like that becomes a trap and will negate the spiritual nature of the pastoral role. Next time you feel that attitude coming on, reject it!
- Put their needs first.
If you have navigated around tip #1, you can now consider how the needs of the person come first. Don’t just show up for pastoral ministry if possible. Talk to the family to make sure it’s a good time for you to come.
Recently, I had a family member of someone recovering from a stroke tell me that just when they had settled their Dad down for some rest, an unexpected guest arrived. Sadly, their Dad became so frustrated with the realities of not being able to communicate that he lost completely lost his composure. It took several hours after the pastor left to get their Dad back to the comfortable rest he so desperately needed. The pastor may have felt great about his visit the rest of the day, but his visit ruined the day for the family and was actually a set back for the patient.
- Short is Sweet.
In pastoral ministry, shorter is almost always sweeter. Ten minutes is a much more effective ministry appointment than one lasting two hours. Don’t over-pastor. Go, serve, and leave. Quickly. It will be obvious when exceptions to this need to happen. Always default to brevity.
- Sensitivity to the Scene.
Whenever you arrive in a pastoral moment – and you can’t always tell when one will appear – quickly assess the circumstances. Sometimes it may be a moment so personal, you just simply need to exit. Other times – especially in a hospital setting – there may be a procedure or consultation happening and you need to leave.
NOTE: Always defer to medical professionals anytime you are in a hospital. If they walk in, you walk out unless requested otherwise. You can always wait in the hall and reenter after they complete their work.
It other settings, the person may want or need to you to stay. I learned years ago that individuals hearing news from a surgery or test often struggle to get all the facts while the Doctor is discussing the outcome. You can serve as their “ears” in moments like these.
The best idea in any setting is to ask, “Do you want me to leave and come back later? Is there a better time?” And, it is always a great idea – if possible – to call ahead and arrange a time to visit.
- The Ministry of Presence.
Some may be hesitant to engage in pastoral ministry because you don’t feel like you would know what to say. The truth is, people will rarely remember anything you say in pastoral moments. But, they will always remember your presence.
It is always appropriate to pray. Ask first – “Can I pray for you before I go?” Or, “How can I pray for you?” A short, meaningful prayer (specifically for the person) will encourage them more than anything else you can share.
Some of the most meaningful experiences I’ve had in a variety of ministry settings – hospitals, bedsides, memorial visitations – is to sing. But again, always with permission.
I have to admit, in the early days of ministry, I was intimidated when moments of pastoral ministry presented themselves. But, over the years, I’ve become grateful to the Lord for the awesome moments I’ve been able to share with the people I loved and led as a staff member.
You will too. Pray and ask the Lord to give you both opportunity and wisdom to shepherd the people you serve within the Worship ministry of your church.
Mike Harland is the Director of LifeWay Worship. When he’s not directing 30+ employees, you’ll find him leading worship at various churches around the country, writing/arranging worship songs and/or, writing his next book. In his spare time, he loves playing basketball and spending time with his family. Mike can be found on Twitter @MikeHarlandLW and on facebook.com/Mike.Harland.37.