Inspi(re)ality is a series for people who serve/volunteer/work in any kind of ministry setting. It is a year long series about the practical things we face in ministry, as well as why doing these things matter. Today’s blog is a guest post from Jordan Hubbard. Jordan serves as Senior Minister at the Belton Church of Christ in Belton, TX., he spent over a decade in student ministry before stepping into preaching ministry. Here’s Jordan:
“OK. That’s it. He’s gone. Time of death is 8:20.”
The hospice nurse said these words and at this moment, every eye in the room turned to the young minister in the room. What Louis’ family didn’t know was that the young minister was just as confused and stunned as they were.
“What am I supposed to do with THIS?” I asked myself.
I received my ministry training with some pastoral care training. I started ministry as a youth minister. The typical pastoral concerns for youth ministry involved counseling with parents and students about relationships, decisions, planning the future, processing hurts, and dealing with developmental issues. When I stepped into pulpit ministry, I moved to a small town with an older population. Now I dealt with a different set of pastoral concerns. Nothing in my youth ministry training and experience prepared me for one of the most pastoral ministries I would be called upon to perform: Helping people die.
Pastors and ministers stand in the gap representing Christ in some of the most difficult and crucial times of life. Dying is a time when individuals and families reach out for the presence of God, and often that means they will be reaching out to you. Here are some thoughts about how we can help people and families in the last days, hours and moments before death. I do not consider myself an expert in any way and so I am including alongside mine the thoughts of one of my friends and mentors, Joe Baisden, a veteran of over 50 years of ministry.
- Pray often– When entering a situation where people are close to death, there is no “right way” to do things. The best preparation for this is to rely upon the Holy Spirit to guide and lead. Silently pray and ask, “What is most beneficial to the person and to the family?”
- Put aside your agenda– This is difficult for ministers to do. Instead of coming in with a playbook, the minister must come in as a servant to the person and family. Do what is best for them, not what makes you feel better about yourself. It might be that the individual or family does not want you around. Do not stay if you are not wanted. In other cases, the family will want you to sit with them through the entire process. Respect their wishes and not your agenda.
- Listen– A conversation with the dying should be driven by them and not you. If they are ready to talk about death, you can ask the question, “How do you feel about going on?” It might be that they are not ready to talk about death. It is okay to listen to them talk about their family or about their life. Don’t be afraid to be silent.
- Talk with the family– Dying persons often fight and battle for life not because they want to live but because they feel they must stay for family members. In some cases it is appropriate to have a private conversation with family and ask them, “Have you given him/her permission to die?” If they have not, you might help lead them in a prayer with their loved one where they give their blessing and permission for them to go be with the Lord.
- Be a person of peace– Death is a crisis that will expose dysfunction in family systems. Be sensitive to the conflicts that might arise, help those who are struggling, and commit to being a peacemaker.
- Connect this story to the bigger Story…– One of the most helpful things you can do in the moments leading up to death and just after is to remember the story in which we live. The Christian lives a story of life, death and resurrection. We live the story that begins in the Garden of Genesis 1, but ends in the New Jerusalem of Revelation 22. God is active even in this moment. Remembering this story can be very orienting. I do this through these methods:
- Singing- Ask if the individual or family have any favorite songs and sing them.
- Prayer- Lead them in prayers of thanksgiving and blessing.
- Scriptures Examples of orienting and comforting verses are Psalm 23, Romans 8, and Revelation 21:1-4.
- Affirm Disorientation: Remember that sometimes the most orienting move is to help individuals and families understand that Scripture (and God) is on their side in times of grief. There is no document that more accurately portrays the depths of human suffering and grief than scriptures like Lamentations or many of the psalms of lament. If you sense that someone is angry with God or upset with the situation, don’t attempt to defend and do not make anyone feel guilty because they have these feelings. They need to know that our faith-heroes in Scripture struggled with these very emotions.
7. Pray often– Have you been praying for the Spirit’s lead? Do it again.
Louis’ family turned to me. Children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and friends looked to me for the next step as their beloved family member ceased his labored breathing. The hospice nurse stepped back. I met their eyes and the Spirit moved me. I was a person of peace representing Christ in this holy moment. My bible opened to the words of Revelation 21, and Amazing Grace welled up in my heart.
What was I supposed to do with this?
Just be Jesus.