Q. I have an elderly Christian parent who is a shut-in. How can I minister to him more effectively?
A. Biblical counselors help counselees to learn God's answers for spiritual and emotional needs, and they look to counselee's personal physicians to care for any physical problems that may affect their general health or emotions.
Even though this is not a medical advice column, there is some practical advice that can be of help to family members who have the responsibility for elderly parents or relatives.
You should review your father's problems with his personal physician. He may want to run some additional medical tests to determine if other medication or treatment is indicated.
If your father does not have a particular physician to look after all of his medical needs, you should attempt to find one who is interested in older people and who will care for all of his medical needs personally, or who will advise you concerning any other treatment that is recommended or supplied by others.
Ask the doctor about the medications that your father is taking and the importance of continuing them. Ask about possible side effects of each one.
It may be that various doctors have added one medication after another until your father is over-medicated. Or, since older people's kidneys are not as efficient at excreting medications, it may be that he is no longer able to tolerate the level of medication that was originally prescribed. It may be that he is over-medicated by a moderate dosage of even a single medication.
Elderly people often lose their appetites and even their sense of taste so that they become malnourished. Your father's physician may want to give his nutrition a boost with some supplements.
Be sure that his eyeglasses, dentures and hearing aid are functioning optimally. Does his telephone have an amplifier so that he can communicate with friends outside the home?
If your father is in a health care facility, check with the nurse periodically to see that his medical care is following the doctor's prescriptions. There may have been an inadvertent change to his medications.
Now with regard to your father's spiritual and emotional needs, be as sure as you possibly can that your father is really saved by grace rather than his depending on his good works (Eph. 2:8,9). If he is saved but lacks assurance of his salvation, use such verses as Hebrews 7:24,25; 10:12-14; John 6:37; John 10:28,29; and 1 John 2:1 to give him assurance.
It may be that he is carrying a load of guilt and has not learned, or does not remember, that he will receive forgiveness by confessing his sins (1 John 1:9). It may be that he is holding resentments against many people, so that he needs to practice forgiveness (Mark 11:25) Honoring him as your parent, talk to him as tactfully as possible about these spiritual matters.
Your father may be feeling worthless, helpless and hopeless. He may be frustrated, discouraged and disheartened.
While considering your father's needs and how you can minister to him, we will consider his needs as typical of a large number of the elderly and shut-ins, and we will consider you as typical of those who want to minster effectively to others.
Many churches, Sunday school classes, schools and civic groups present programs to shut-ins in health-care facilities. To the extent that these programs bring some joy into lives, it is good. To the extent that these programs present biblical truth that is needful, helpful and edifying, this is better. To the extent that these programs help believers worship their Savior, this is even better.
The value of this type of ministry depends to a great extent on whether the shut-in feels like he is a participant or just an observer. The shut-in may feel that those conducting the program are strangers who do not know him, and who do not really care about him.
A second, and higher, level of ministry is to minister to the elderly and shut-in personally. In this type of ministry, good and helpful things are done that meet individual needs. These may include playing cassette tapes of church services for him, arranging pictures on the wall, writing letters for him, reading the Scriptures to him, and praying with him.
Ministering on this second level to the elderly and shut-ins must include listening to them. Many of the elderly have wisdom to impart, an edifying testimony of their faith, and interesting experiences to relate. To be interested in someone inherently includes listening to them.
However, some may not be able to talk to you. Do not assume that a person is without understanding or that God is not able to use scripture in the person's life if he is unable to respond intelligibly, if he gives no signs of understanding, or even if he is comatose.
Always read scripture to those who are in any of these physical conditions. Use the Scriptures that teach salvation for the unsaved and that give assurance and comfort for the saved.
The third and highest level of ministry to the elderly and shut-ins is helping them to minister to others. One who is really ministering to the elderly and shut-ins will allow, and will encourage, that person to be a help and a blessing to others.
Help them to experience the truth that there is more happiness in giving than in receiving (Acts 20:35). Help them to minister effectively for their Lord and to earn rewards at the Judgement Seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3: 11-15).
To a great extent the elderly and shut-ins are ignored. They seem to be considered obsolete. They seem to be thought of as little value to society or to their Savior, by both individual Christians and churches. Some are given TV sets and encouraged to let their spirituality deteriorate while they stare at "the box." What a waste!
As a Christian, the shut-in can have his most productive years of ministry as he edifies his own spiritual life and reaches out to others in prayer (Col. 4:12,13).
It could well be that there are enough elderly and shut-in Christians in our country to "pray in" a Supreme Court that would interpret the Constitution of the United States from God's perspective, and that would end the legal slaughter of unborn babies.
I was counseling a shut-in who spent each day sitting in his chair into the living room. He was so frail that he was taken to the living room in the morning, ate all his meals there and was taken back to bed at night.
He felt useless. He would have liked to have the strength to serve the Lord. What he really wanted to do was mow the church lawn. But God had far more valuable things for him to do--things that he could do with the physical strength that remained. He had been "too busy" to serve the Lord earlier in his life, but now he had the time.
He could see everyone who passed by on the sidewalk. As his counselor, I assigned him the ministry of praying for every child who went past his window. Could it be that he was the only one who had ever prayed for some of these children--or who would ever pray for them?
As a biblical counselor I hear many grievous things. The burdens many counselees bear are most difficult, and it is difficult for me to bear their problems with them.
It would be helpful to have others praying for them, knowing their names and their needs, and praying specifically for them.
However, we are extremely careful to maintain confidentiality (except when required to do otherwise for some compelling reason such as church discipline or civil law). So I have been reluctant to divulge sufficient information to others for them to help by specific prayers. However, I have enlisted the help of a spiritually mature Christian to help bear the load ofpraying for some of the most difficult counseling situations. I provide this person with enough information to pray knowledgeably, but I withhold information that would identify the counselee or others who are involved. Unless the situation is public knowledge through the newspapers, my helper has no way of recognizing the identity of the counselee.
Her name is Donna White. She is a blind paraplegic living in a nursing home and spending most of her waking hours listening to Christian radio programs and Christian tapes. She is now an important part of the counseling ministry as she sits in her wheelchair, praying for counselees. She is faithfully interceding in lives where only spiritual power can avail.
There must be thousands upon thousands of "Donna Whites" who are ready and available for Christian service. There must be other multiplied thousands who should be built up in the faith and put to work ministering to others in prayer.
Some of the elderly and shut-ins may be relatively immature Christians. They should be discipled and put to work ministering for their Lord.
Some have poor memories. Give them edifying Scripture verses in large print on cards. Give them prayer requests in large print on cards. Build them up in the faith through the Scriptures. Put them to work in prayer.
After Donna knew that her help in prayer could be an important and effective part of the counseling ministry, she said, "It is the first time in a long time that I have felt worthwhile."
Others like her long to be of service. Other ministries need the help of Christians like her.
Minister to the elderly and the shut-in! Put them to work ministering to others! This is the best way to minister to them.
May be reprinted and distributed in quantities if distributed free or at cost, and if
copyright, download, and permission information is included.
Return to Q&A Counseling Articles Index
Return to Home Page