Many of the homebound wrote that they don't feel less faithful because they can't be in church and emphasized that the church is not a building. But this really misses the point: each of us truly needs community. The discussion was never intended to suggest those who are homebound are less spiritual because they cannot connect to a church community, but it was intended to stimulate the rest of us to be aware and do something about those who are physically cut off from regular Christian fellowship. And Jesus clearly emphasized that it is not the homebound person who is responsible to make community happen, but for those who follow Jesus to help be community to those cut off from it (Matthew 25:31-46; James 1:26-27).
The following comment really captured the need in a succinct way:
Had a stroke nearly 8 years ago. Have not had one visit. ... Watch services on the web every Sunday. Enjoy very much. I know the Lord is beside me all the time, but it would be nice to have some flesh and bones representing our Lord.
Then notice this comment:
Being hampered somewhat because of total deafness, I am most interested in this ... will be watching intently for the progression of this ... a very needful thing.
But maybe one of the most powerful reminders of our need to help those who are homebound is this:
I have a brother who is paralyzed from the neck down and sometimes he doesn't get a chance to go to worship. It's a blessing that my parents are members of the church because they give him communion and they have a devotional every night as a family. The sad part is that the congregation doesn't come to worship with him. It's very important that the congregation doesn't forget about the sick and shut in. My brother is very encouraging and motivated and I thank God for that and that his spirit isn't down in spite of the way they treat him. I thank God for my parents being strong Christians also.
And then this powerfully clear statement of truth reminds us about the need for fellowship:
Local church communities need to bring fellowship to the homes of the home bound. It's simple. The elderly have the same needs as a teenager. They will miss their friends. I don't know how many times my kids said that to me. "I want to see my friends!" That could be old or young. Parents let their kids have friends over. Kids, let your parents have friends over! It's role reversal. The kids provide for the elderly parents. The parents provided. Now it's the kid's turn. The parents of the church provided for the kids, now it's their turn to provide for them. Simple! Just do it! No lip service or good intentions. ACT!
Many of those who are homebound challenged churches not discount the power of people who are homebound to minister to others.
My Mom, 84 years of age and homebound, supervises the prayer chain at her church by telephone. She counsels both by telephone and in her home ...
Take note of this related comment:
I started an email newsletter with the sisters in Christ that I have met over my years of relocation. It is a great way for me to express what the LORD is doing in my life and vice versa. And we open our Bibles to find our answers. We are also reading through the Bible together in a one-year format.
And finally, these words of challenge and encouragement from one who faces increasing challenges from a progressive hereditary disease:
Being homebound shouldn't be a prescription for ceasing to be involved in our necessary Christian community life. Instead, we should see these or any limitations as an empowerment to meet God through others by uniting in different and creatively unique ways.
As several of our homebound respondents suggested, they can and should speak up to their church leaders and challenge them to provide some ways to connect to the life of Jesus' community. Others emphasized the incredible resources that are available online that allow for a vibrant spiritual life (e.g., all the devotional resources at www.heartlight.org/devotionals or as one commenter suggested, www.joniandfriends.com) and also ways to connect to other believers (my blog and other discussion groups are examples of this).
Finally, I wanted to make one brief nudge to our readers. Several talked about this being a responsibility of church leaders and pastoral staff to fix. However, I want to remind us all that while leadership will have to give an account to God for how they have served their flock (Hebrews 13:17), the call to care for those in need is the responsibility of ALL of us (James 1:26-27). We shouldn't and mustn't wait to have ministry to those homebound started or assigned to us by church leaders. This is a matter of knowing someone who has the need of community and friendship, and offering it. Clearly, some of the organized ministry needs the support and confirmation of church leaders, but much of the ministry described below can and should be done by all of us who call Jesus our Lord. This final comment says it better than I can:
What an excellent chance for members of the church to be involved with a ministry that is explained in Acts 6 and James 1:25-27. Do I need to be a Minister or a Deacon to do this work? Absolutely not. Is this not what the Lord would have us all do? Absolutely!
Recommendations for Helping Homebound Stay Included in Church Community
Responses from the Blog and From Email
- Have an organized group that takes the homebound Communion each week and sings and prays with the homebound. Even have a mini-worship service for the homebound person at their home led by a group who had this as their ministry each week.
- Put together a prayer visitation team that also includes members who would help tidy up the house as needed or wanted and visit the homebound.
- Assemble an on the road pastoral team to conduct mini-classes in the homes of the homebound and help them integrate some of the ideas listed here as ministry opportunities into their daily routine.
- Use pastoral staff and deacons to visit the homebound and take them tapes/cd's of sermons or services or encouraging messages.
- Put together a praise and worship team that would use their gifts to sing and bless those who are homebound.
- Church members "adopt" homebound members and check on them regularly. This works especially well having younger members adopt older ones and vice versa.
- Have retired nurses go by on a regular basis for home checks on the homebound to express love and care as well as be able to assess greater needs of assistance that might be needed.
- Have the homebound form email fellowship and accountability teams: email to maintain friendships and have set periods when email was expected to make sure the person was still doing well and in good health. This is a homebound to homebound ministry and validates the importance of the homebound to minister.
- "Phone call Friends" — phone to check on each other at regular intervals (daily or weekly) for friendship or accountability. The community does not have to be bound by locality if you use mobile phones that have no long distance charge.
- Visits from other church members (those not on the regular ministry to the homebound) on semi-regular basis.
- Cards and notes from homebound to homebound and from others who love and have concern for those who are homebound to help provide encouragement.
- Include the homebound as a key part of the prayer ministry team and keep them up to date with prayer needs in the ministry or church. Find ways to connect with them around the prayer ministry and make sure their prayers are shared with the church or ministry. Some groups have come up with the term "Bathrobe Prophets" for the ministry of the homebound who pray, write notes of encouragement to missionaries, and offer phone calls and encouragement notes to those who are ill.
- Provide live broadcast or webcast of Sunday services so they can stay connected to the church assembly even if they cannot get out for a time.
- Mini-IT team that helps older members get email and other online services set up to be able to stay in touch — maybe even setting up older computers and donating them to the homebound to do email and simple things so the homebound can stay in touch.
- Use Instant Messaging and Text Messaging as ways of visiting with the homebound, encourage the homebound to visit with others in similar circumstances, and encourage other believers to stay in touch
- Use blogs and appropriate chat groups as a means of staying in touch and being in regular discussion with other believers. (Google Groups is a great example as are Facebook groups.)
- Skype can be used as a tool to stay in touch with other believers. (Skype is a chat, audio, or audio/video way of staying in touch with people all over the world. A microphone and webcam are needed for live video chatting.) This allows folks to actually visit face-to-face over the Internet.
- The homebound can support and maintain correspondence with children sponsored through groups like Compassion International.
- Use a speakerphone for your small groups when they have homebound members so they can be a part of the Bible study, fellowship and prayer time. Web cams even allow them to participate in a visual way — several software applications allow this like Instant Messaging, Google Messenger, and also Skype.
- Have the home groups of your church meet in the home of the homebound person. However, make sure there is a set up team and clean up team so as not to leave them with a mess. This includes the homebound and makes sure they are a part of the fellowship and life of the congregation and get to practice the gift of hospitality.
- Help the homebound in your church or area start a Christian email group or email newsletter that reaches out to folks who share similar circumstances and can offer real life insight and encouragement and the opportunity to respond. This would include participation in online ministries and their blogs or discussion groups.
- Don't just visit in the home of the homebound, but help them find ways to get out of the house that fits their physical challenges. This doesn't need to be a "church" event, but any kind of event where they are around other believers and can participate in "everyday life."
- Have visitation teams (physical visits or calls) that check on the homebound on different days of the week so that they get a variety of connections and contacts.
- Have a prayer team that specifically prays each day, by name, for each of the folks in your church who are homebound. Even better, make sure those who are homebound know what is prayed for them!
- Encourage and help equip the homebound so that they can invite folks over for visits — maybe even for tea or coffee or prayer or visiting — and help them take responsibility for being hospitable. This may mean helping them make changes to their house, but can be a vital role in helping them realize they have a role to play in life and in ministry.
There are, of course, many other ways to involve the homebound and we intend to keep this discussion going. We encourage you to continue to share your ideas on the blog and with your church leaders!
Let's do a better job of being real community to all of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
To keep the conversation and comments in one place, I would urge you to comment and add your ideas to the discussion on this blog post: