If Jesus visited your church this week, which ministry team would he sign up for? This is a hypothetical scenario, but I think Jesus would sign up for the ministry of caregiving.
When you hear the word “caregiver” you might think of a trained professional like a home health worker or a nurse. However, the dictionary definition is much broader. A caregiver is described as anyone who regularly looks after or cares for a child, an elderly, or a disabled person. National surveys estimate that 40% of adults in the United States are caring for an adult and/or a child with unique health needs1,2.
For this article, I skimmed the book of Mark and counted thirteen stories of Jesus healing individuals, and three separate accounts of Jesus healing entire crowds. If we know God has a heart for caregiving, and we know that 40% of our church members are caregivers, the question to ask is: are we treating caregiving as a ministry? As caregivers, do we see ourselves as having been called into this role? And as churches, are we training, equipping, and supporting one another in this mission field?
In this caregiving series, Elizabeth Turnage and I want to help start some of these conversations. We will do that by shining a light on some of the lesser discussed aspects of caregiving. Things like anticipatory grief, giving dignity to a sick or dying loved one, and the difference between whining and biblically complaining.
But first, we want to reframe caregiving from an unexpected burden to a ministry that God lovingly calls us to.
Caregivers are Called
Years ago, I was asked to consider leading a women’s Bible study in my community. I agonized over that decision. I read Scripture, prayed, and sought wisdom from mentors to discern if God was calling me into that ministry role. But when God called me into caregiving, the process was very different. There was no time to worry about making the “right choice.” There was a simple phone call from a doctor with a diagnosis for my daughter, and just like that, I was called into the ministry of caregiving.
Now, at the time I didn’t see it as a ministry, and I didn’t understand that I had been called. I saw caregiving as a giant disruption to everything in my life and a burden that was forcing me to “step out of ministry” to do this caregiving thing that I hadn’t signed up for.
Over time, God has shown me that caregiving wasn’t a disruption; it was God’s plan for me all along. And his process of calling me into it wasn’t so different than how he called his original disciples.
Mark 1:19-20, “And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.”
James and John didn’t tell Jesus they’d “pray about” following him. Jesus called them, and they immediately left everything else behind. Following Jesus is always the original plan of God for us, and sometimes following Jesus means a sudden pivot to care for a loved one.
Caregiving as Ministry
When you sign up for a ministry team at your church, what does that entail? You are probably given some resources or tools to accomplish your task. Maybe there is some training you go through or at least a point person you can call to ask questions. There may even be a list of volunteers who can fill in for you if you wake up sick one day.
With the ministry of caregiving, usually none of this exists.
Like a missionary heading overseas, caregivers walk into a foreign land. It might look like navigating insurance claims, learning medical jargon, doing administrative tasks, lay-nursing, and therapy coordinating. Not to mention the emotional/mental/physical exhaustion of serving with little to no respite.
Like missionaries, caregivers often build relationships with non-believers (professionals who work closely with the family to provide care). A friend of mine recently shared that having a live-in nurse to help with her special needs son has been a gift, but also an added stress because there is always someone outside the family watching her be a parent and a wife. She longs for tools, encouragement, and resources to help her navigate this unique mission field.
God Equips Us for the Ministry of Caregiving
In Acts 3, Peter and John are headed to the temple when they pass a man who was lame from birth. The man calls out to them asking for alms (money or goods given to the poor). I find such hope in how Peter and John respond. Peter says, “I have no silver or gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (Acts 3:6).
Peter and John had nothing of their own to give this man. Their pockets were empty. Yet, they were humble and willing to be of service and they shared what they did have: they offered him Jesus.
Caregivers can relate to this story. So often they run on fumes, with little resources, sleep, or strength to get them through each day. But when they are willing to humble themselves and be of service, Christ works in and through them, equipping them to do all that he has called them to do.
Jesus cares deeply for the sick and suffering. Jesus cares for the caregivers, too. Let’s pray about how we can support and encourage one another as the Lord calls us into this ministry. And let’s set our eyes on the Lord – trusting him to complete all these good works in and through us.
Photo by Bret Kavanaugh on Unsplash