Pastoral Hospital Visits: A Doctor of the Soul

I remember the first time I was going to visit a person in the hospital. I had no idea what I would say, I barely knew the person, I had no idea where I was going, and I didn’t know what to do with the Bible that I carried in. It was stressful because I had seen the senior pastor do hospital visits. Every time he did them they were effortless and he brought joy to the room when he entered. It was like someone they had been hoping to see finally arrived. I felt like I was clumsy and about to bring awkwardness. Not only was I unexpected but I was unknown since I was new. I had to stop and pray before I continued. On one hand I knew this was something I had to do as a pastor. I needed to go in and try my best and then come out and learn from it. Additionally, I honestly believed the person in the hospital needed this as well. So this was for them and me. We both needed this. So I prayed.

I then googled some potential Bible verses on my phone and in the process ran across some articles. It appeared I wasn’t the first pastor to run across this type of uncertainty. I don’t recall if I read this on an article online or if it was something I read in a book, but I know I didn’t come up with this realization. That I was a doctor of the soul. And I was there to minister to their soul. With this new found “revelation” in my heart I was renewed in my motivation and encouraged in what I could say and what I could do. This is now my mindset when I visit a person in the hospital. They have doctors to care for their bodies. But I’m a doctor of the soul and that’s why I’m there.

This last hospital visit I greeted by an incredibly polite and thankful person. I find that people are usually very happy to have a minister, especially their pastor, there to pray for and with them. We talked about their day to day routine for a moment and I stayed away from the technical questions. Some want to give me a summary of their procedures, analysis, or prognosis. Of course I’m interested to know how they’re healing up (or not healing) and it’s helpful in knowing how I can pray specifically. However, I usually ask something to bring the conversation into my lane such as, “How is your soul?” and then I listen.

I find that this is a very helpful question. Because it always makes them remember who I am as a pastor, it makes them examine their heart, and it shows why I’m there. I’m not coming as a friend (though I can be that as well), I’m coming as a brother in Christ, as a minister of the Gospel, as a doctor of the soul. I want to know how they are doing spiritually so I ask them a question that will cause them to self-diagnose. One that causes them to think about their attitude toward God and the situation they are in. Additionally, it helps me “diagnose” them and to see if they’re discouraged, bitter, joyful, scared, worried, or all of the above. When they are finished I can speak.

The pastor is someone who usually preaches and teaches a couple of times a week. He runs around speaking to groups of people and perhaps has time to speak one on one briefly. This situation however is different. Now as a pastor we need to be ministers to their heart. They have us one on one for this brief time and it is one of the most personal times they will have all day with anyone. They may have no one else come in and encourage in prayer and with Scripture.

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