I’m writing these words under a requirement to shelter-in-space. I’m homebound. For the first time in my adult life, I know what it’s like to be confined to the four walls of my modest, ranch home. It’s not the worst of times, but it’s not the best, either. Being homebound is hard.
The church I serve normally has several homebound members. We have widows, widowers, and cancer patients on chemo. Not knowing when the COVID-19 threat will abate, many of them are beginning to wonder how long they should abstain from a corporate worship service. I’m homebound for a few weeks. They worry about being homebound for a few months—or longer. Now, more than ever, they need the care of their church.
Caring for the most vulnerable in our congregations is not rocket science, but it takes a healthy dose of both discipline and love. We must have discipline to keep this kind of outreach from becoming the lastthing we do. We must have love to keep this outreach from becoming something we simply haveto do.
What can our churches do as we anticipate an increasing number of homebound members in the months ahead?
1. Craft a plan.
Besides encouraging every member to reach out to each other regularly, we’ve divided up our congregation among the elders. While we aren’t meeting, we want to be sure each member hears from an elder at least once every two weeks. That range may vary depending on the size of your church. The key is to have a plan that, at least on paper, ensures every member has a personal opportunity to share a prayer request with an elder.
2. Target the vulnerable.
A young, married couple with family a few blocks away is in a different position than an elderly widower living in a nursing home across town. That couple needs outreach, yes! But the World War II veteran who’s truly alone needs more. It’s good to systematically work through your membership, but highlighting the especially needy is crucial. Paul says to “Honor widows who are truly widows” (1 Tim. 4:3). Likewise, we’re to pay special attention to those with unique needs.
3. Be creative.
The past few weeks, I’ve teared up being part of drive-by receptions for the recently married and graduates. Are cars lining up to say hello to your octogenarian church members? I’m not saying they have to, but in these days when a sit-down visit isn’t possible, dropping off a few cookies with a wave and a smile may be the next best thing.
4. Pick up the phone.
I’ve had some of the best pastoral “visits” with the elderly over the phone during the COVID-19 pandemic. My strange schedule has given me the freedom to talk longer. I’ve learned Jerrie lost an uncle to the Spanish flu; I’ve learned Jane doesn’t need to do much shopping because she cans every summer. I end each phone call praying for their needs and praising God for our crucified and resurrected Savior. It’s time well spent.
Eventually, the personal visits will begin again—probably with more awareness of the need for social distancing. Meanwhile, this pandemic should not be squandered. While we’re all stuck at home, let’s minister to our homebound members with renewed vigor.
Aaron Menikoff is the senior pastor of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church in Sandy Springs, Georgia.