I stood in a hospital room crowded with family members of one who, without a single word, had summoned us all together. She was ready, after almost 94 years, to leave this life.
So that is what she did. She left a hushed silence unable to muffle the emotion of time spent, joys remembered, and sorrows borne.
Hospitals are places of healing. For those who work there it must be wonderful to take part in someone’s battle for life and equally devastating when healing does not occur. These caregivers are on the front-line, walking alongside people on the road toward wholeness.
Sometimes, after a visit to see a parishioner, I would imagine my life as a physician, instead of a pastor. That happened most often on Monday mornings, discouraged by a Sunday that was, at least by chosen metrics, showing signs of failing health, if not impending death.
Pastors put tremendous pressure on themselves, especially when it comes to the sermon. After all, pastors are purveyors of words, trained in seminary to craft powerful, life-giving words, as they lead Sunday morning worship. No wonder that on most weeks pastors feel weak in the knees as they ascend the steps to the pulpit. No pressure.
Hear me when I say that corporate worship on Sundays can and should be life-giving and healthy. The words proclaimed from the pulpit both in sermon and song should be dynamic and relevant, worthy of dedicated study and preparation.
But the truth is the pastoral call to ministry transcends the Sunday experience. Corporate worship can’t be all there is to a healthy church. Sunday morning can no longer be the sole focus of the spoken word.
For many, Sundays are a day to stay home, to catch up on household chores, a day dedicated to youth sports and activities, or to go shopping. We do not need a statistician to convince us that even the most committed among us in the church are less frequent in attendance.
So why is it that we continue to focus a major portion of church resources on Sunday mornings? Why is it that we still measure church health by the same metrics of “nickels and noses?”
It’s no longer just the “words from pulpit to pew” alone that attract people, but “words of engagement” around tables, in small groups, or side-by-side in service to others.
It’s no longer just a “sage-on-the-stage” alone that can awaken sleeping churches or reinvigorate declining congregations.
Church health, clear vision, innovation, and strategic implementation crystallize through a ministry of words that includes Sunday mornings, but also embraces collaborative leadership, meaningful mission experiences, market-place witness, and the “any day, anywhere” shared life of faith relationships.
This ministry of words is powerful especially when the church “converses” with one another inside and outside the physical structures of church. To “live among, to be familiar, and to keep company” with others within and beyond the format of Sunday mornings is where the healing strength of words is found.
I know it was true that particular day in the hospital.
Did I say how quiet the room was? Not a sound. Until one by one, from young to old, stories were shared and memories applied straight to our hearts.
These words were like medicine to all of us standing there — straight to the soul, soothing salve.
The heaviness in the room began to lift. There were tears, then a smile, a fresh remembrance, and a gleam in our eyes. Where once we were standing stiff, now we began to relax and touch one another. A hand, a shoulder, then an embrace. Our voices began to speak with lighter inflection. You could feel it. God was present.
Before I left I offered a familiar word. I recited the 23rd Psalm as one by one all joined in and then we held hands and prayed together.
Those words—theirs, mine, and the psalmist’s—were good news to every one of us that day even in the face of death.
We know Jesus as the Great Physician, one who healed the sick, made the lame to walk, and gave sight to the blind. His ministry with the poor, the prisoners, the broken and ill was also a ministry of words. He had been anointed to preach, to proclaim the good news of release and recovery. His were words of healing and wholeness…. That’s the wonderful thing about the ministry of the church wherever and whenever we go.