By Kristin Schultz
Care ministry in the church is essential for the health and wellbeing of not only the people in your ministry but also your ministry as a whole. People face suffering and challenges every day. From health problems to coping with the death of a loved one to financial worries and mental health crises, there is not one person in your ministry who has not been touched by loss, stress, or heartache.
Caring for hurting people can feel overwhelming. Even in small congregations, there can be a large need for care. So what does an effective care ministry in the church look like? Who should do care ministry? What resources are available for people needing care and for those doing the caring?
CTA is here to support you and your care ministry. We not only provide expert advice and resources to reinforce your efforts but we also lift you up in prayer as you do the work the Lord has called you to.
Why Do We Care?
It may seem wrong to even ask, “Why does the church care?” but the truth is that care ministry can be hard. Some days are easy—like visiting a new healthy baby and her parents. Other days are much harder—like visiting parents who have just had to deliver a stillborn baby. It is in the joyous times and in times of tragedy that we must remember why this work is part of our duty and calling.
“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15–16 ESV).
We care because God, our heavenly Father, so graciously cared for us. During his earthly ministry, Jesus provided care nearly everywhere he went. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, and raised the dead. In addition to caring for people’s physical and emotional needs, he met humanity’s greatest need. By his life, death, and resurrection, he lovingly restored our relationship with out Creator. Blessed with the assurance of an eternity free from suffering, we share that same love with others.
More than just knowing why we care—because Christ first cared for and loved us—we know that in our work we are not alone.
“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:15–17 ESV).
In our work—on the easy days and the hard days alike—we know that the Holy Spirit strengthens us for the work we are called to.
The Care Team
Care ministry is a team effort. Even Jesus needed help passing out food to the 5,000! A team helps alleviate the burden of one person doing all the care, but there are also practical benefits to sharing the load. When thinking about creating or adding to your care team, consider these:
- Designating a care coordinator. This person (or people) don’t necessarily go on care calls or provide help. Instead, he or she keeps track of upcoming hospitalizations, funerals, etc. and makes sure the proper resources are on hand at the right time. This person can also triage care needs to members of the team best suited for the situation.
- Designating a person or group of people to be responsible solely for caring for the community outside your church. This community care person could be responsible for finding and collaborating with community care initiatives, like arranging to deliver Christian books for cancer patients to cancer support groups.
- Designating a person or people to provide age-based or life-stage-based care. A 14-year-old experiences the death of a friend differently than a 94-year-old. Similarly, a recently retired couple could provide just the care and respite a young single mother or father needs.
- Providing ongoing training or even certification for staff or volunteers who feel called to a particular aspect of care ministry.
- Making sure there is care in place for the care team. It can be hard to process suffering or tragedy. Give staff or volunteers a safe place to debrief or offer time off after a particularly difficult situation.
- Creating a policy that outlines when to refer someone in need to other professionals. Pastoral counseling is powerful because it brings the message of healing, forgiveness and hope in Jesus to people who are hurting. Some situations, however, require licensed professionals. Know when and how to refer people to psychiatrists or social workers, and document the process along with a list of contact information for your staff and volunteers.
No matter your congregation size or circumstance, you can equip your staff for care ministry by finding resources they need to be effective. Whether your staff needs resources like Scripture cards or faith tokens to leave behind after a visit or the resources to help them organize and prioritize care needs, equipping staff and volunteers will encourage them in their work.
What Does Good Care Ministry in the Church Look Like?
That was a trick question. The answer is that good care ministry in the church meets the needs of the members in your church! While care ministry like reaching out when someone dies is not age specific, a church with an elderly population may want to consider creating an end-of-life ministry. Such a ministry could include regular visits to the family of a hospice patient, providing the meal following the funeral, and coordinating follow-up visits and check-ins with family members in the weeks and months following the death.
On the other hand, if the average age of your church members skews younger, you can build a care ministry that meets the needs of teens, college students, and their parents. You could provide parents’ nights out or marriage retreats. You could bring in an expert to talk to parents about the increasing instances of youth and anxiety and what parents can do.
A care ministry can be—but does not have to be—crisis ministry. Ongoing care in small ways like hosting cancer- or grief-support groups are impactful in the lives of the people we are called to serve. Similarly, care ministry does not have to involve providing care that you or your staff and volunteers are unqualified to provide. Sometimes a youth pastor can adequately counsel a teenager experiencing trouble at home or at school, but sometimes, caring for teens means sending them to mental-health professionals.
Good care ministry in the church means caring for the people God has put in your midst to the best of your ability.
The Challenges of Care Ministry
Starting or maintaining a care ministry in the church comes with many challenges. Some of these challenges are logistical and practical:
- Recruiting staff and volunteers
- Training staff and volunteers
- Establishing a communication system so people don’t fall through the cracks
- Finding and coordinating with resources outside of your church
- Starting and promoting programs and services
- Setting up a network of people and systems so that all the needs are met
Care ministry also presents personal and professional challenges:
- Avoiding burnout
- Mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion
- Providing comfort in tragic situations and addressing topics like children and grief
- Caring for the whole community in cases of senseless death or violence
- Knowing your limits
- Steering clear of becoming enmeshed in family disputes
- Knowing what resources are best in situations
- Identifying helps and resources for your staff and volunteers
As the challenges in people’s lives become greater and more complicated, the need for care increases. The complexity of human suffering adds to the challenge of providing care. Care ministry in church is a challenge, but it is a challenge we can meet with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Resolving the Challenges of Care Ministry
While care ministry can be hard, it doesn’t have to be. There is great joy in serving God’s people and bringing the light of the Gospel into situations darkened by sin and death. We are called to love and serve people because Jesus loved and served us. And as he promised, we are not alone. The Holy Spirit strengthens us for the tasks we are called to do, and God has given us earthly tools and resources that help us care for others.
Since God has called us to care, pray that he would stir people to join the care ministry in the church. Invite people to join you in ministry. Utilize technology to keep yourself and your team organized. Whether a group text, Google calendar, or other organization system, commit to unified constant communication.
Block off an hour or two per month to meet with care organizations outside your church. Whether a local women’s shelter, teen center, soup kitchen or cancer support group, connect and learn how you can support their care efforts.
Identify professional medical, mental health, and human-service organizations in your area and introduce yourself so that if and when you need to refer someone to them, you have established a relationship.
Make care accessible to everyone in your church. Just because people aren’t officially on the care team doesn’t mean they wouldn’t benefit from tips and tricks that help them care for others. Consider including Care Tips in your Sunday morning announcements. A simple message like 5 Ideas for Saying “I care” in Tangible Ways encourages everyone to share Jesus’ love.
Let leave-behind resources encourage people after your visit is over. Scripture cards or faith tokens remind hurting people that Jesus loves them long after you’ve left. Devotion books or books that speak to specific situations like facing cancer are also a lasting reminder and valuable resource.
Acknowledge your own limitations and seek help when you need it. You cannot help others if you yourself are unwell. Find a ministry partner with whom you can share and debrief when you need to. Keep in mind confidentiality, of course. Staying strong and guarding your own heart and mind is essential if you are to care for others.
God has called us to this wonderful, life-giving ministry of care. Care ministry in the church enables people to be restored—to each other and to the Lord. While it isn’t always easy, God give us strength in his Holy Spirit and in the staff and volunteers who work alongside us to do this essential work.
We are not alone! In this age of increased challenges, we have all the more resources—human and otherwise—to identify and meet the needs of people who need to know the healing power of grace, forgiveness, and love that we have in Jesus.
While we at CTA – Christ to All are not physically present on your care calls, counseling sessions and meal-ministry deliveries, we are here to support you in prayer and with resources as you go about the work of caring for God’s people. We, too, have experienced caring for others and being cared for. We have experienced the loss of loved ones and have comforted the grieving. We are honored to walk beside you in this ministry.
In addition to lifting you up in prayer, we feel called to develop resources and materials that will enhance your ministry and encourage those you minister to with the Gospel promises of Jesus—the Great Physician, the Good Shepherd, and our ultimate Healer. Check out all of our care resources and find the ones that are right for your circumstance.