As children’s pastors, one way we can minister to kids is through hospital visits. Being at the hospital is usually a very frightening experience for both the child and the child’s family. Showing up in person to offer prayer and some listening ears can do wonderful things for the child and the family. I’ve had a few recent hospital visits where I have noticed a some things that helped them go well. Here is a list of helpful keys to a great hospital visit, in no particular order and by no means exhaustive:
1. Call ahead make the proper arrangements for the visit.
Make sure you know the building, the floor, the room number, and the best time to arrive. I call the child’s parent/guardian and express that I’d like to pay a “cheer up” visit to the child. With heightened security in children’s areas, make sure you know what kind of ID to bring along.
2. Call the child by name.
My wife gave birth to our first child a few weeks ago. While in the hospital after the birth, we were happy to receive a visit from the Hospital Chaplain for prayer. But we noticed that during the 5-10 minute visit, he never asked my wife what her name was. Then when he prayed for us, he said something like, “Lord, please help ‘the wife’…” Again, I appreciate his visit and prayer, but it seemed very impersonal due to not using her name. Everyone, including children, love to hear their names. So get their name and call them by name in conversation and prayer.
3. Bring along a “bag of tricks” (puppets, cards, games, coloring, magic tricks, etc.).
I happen to be able to juggle. So I bring along some balls to juggle for the kid. I also bring a few simple magic tricks that anyone can do (the change bag and the magic coloring book). But the real hit of the hospital visit is the puppet friend. I bring along a small female puppet named “Sunny.” Sunny loves to play games like “I Spy” and sing songs like “Old MacDonald Had a Farm…” with the child. If you’re a seasoned ventriloquist, then that’s great. But if you’re like me and cannot do ventriloquism, then don’t worry. I have found out that the child is never looking at you anyway when the puppet is talking. So bring a puppet (or a sock or a brown paper bag if you don’t have one) and have fun with it!
4. Be conscious of time – don’t stay too long.
We can really wear out the child and the family if we stay too long or visit too many times. Every situation is different and every family is different. So exercise wisdom and discernment depending on your situation. I have found that 15-30 minutes can be plenty of time to connect with the child, play a few games, and pray together with the family. The visit can be even shorter if there are scheduled check-ups and procedures the child needs to undergo. A visit that is too long can suddenly become counterproductive and become a drain on the child and the family.
5. Pray and read the Bible with the child and family.
This helps us remember our purpose for coming. The puppets and magic tricks are good for cheering up. But ultimately, we are here to offer spiritual comfort and encouragement in the name of Jesus. I believe prayer and Scripture reading are the best ways to facilitate this. The prayers and Scripture obviously don’t have to be long and drawn-out, but rather sincere and appropriate. Passages from Psalms can be good.
6. Be sensitive when it comes to discussing anything about the child’s medical issues or condition.
Why the child is in the hospital is really none of my business unless the family chooses to disclose that information to me. When speaking with the child, I try not to talk too much (if at all) about their medical condition. They have doctors who work with them all day concerning the medical issues. When praying for the child and family, we can simply ask them how we can pray for them. Then we can pray accordingly. Furthermore, as pastors and leaders we should not discuss any medical information with the public or the congregation unless given permission by the family.
7. Mourn with those who mourn.
Most of us have had to experience a chronic illness or death of a young person somewhere in the circle of our influence and ministry. Entire books are written on pastoral care for children who die or have chronic illnesses. And I am no expert on those things. All I can say is that we will never have all the answers and should never appear to have them. We are here to listen, pray, offer hope, and mourn with those who mourn.
Hospital visits are an effective way to be the hands and feet of Jesus to children and families. May God guide you and your ministry when you visit the sick and pray for their needs.
Jesse Joyner lives with his bride of 7 years, Sarah, and their brand new daughter, Keziah Grace (born Sept 30th, 2010) in Richmond, Virginia. For the past 11 years, Jesse has entertained and inspired audiences around the world with a juggling show that teaches kids about the Bible. He is also the Children’s Pastor at Commonwealth Chapel in Richmond, Virginia. He and Sarah are both graduates of Taylor University in Upland, Indiana and Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky.
For more information on Jesse and his ministry, Jesse the Juggler, go to www.JesseTheJuggler.com.
You can also find Jesse on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JesseTheJuggler and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Jesse-the-Juggler/139511922567.