3 Ways of Doing Church: Hospice, Hospital, or Mobile Clinic

Could it be that there are 3 primary ways to do church? If so, the first way — maybe the default way — is to run it like a hospice unit; a place to take care of people who are dying.

Sound extreme? Maybe. But as Jon Foreman reminds us in a powerful and pointed song, we’re all dying. So, in a very real sense, we all need some version of hospice; we need to prepare to die. Some churches do this pretty well. They take care of their members (aged or otherwise), providing support, encouragement, and regular service times.

My dad served in ministry his entire working life; his final work was in this category, as he served for nearly 20 years as a nursing home chaplain. He faithfully loved the people, and was there for them in their final years of life — all while making sure to have services every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night. I love my dad, and I’m proud of how well he served the folks at the Christian Old People’s Home (seriously, that’s what it was called). Especially in a place with that kind of name, there’s a place for church-as-hospice-care.

But outside of caring for aging persons and aging churches, clearly the New Testament church is called to be more — which leads us to the 2nd way to do church: as a hospital. In this model, a church isn’t just concerned about caring for its own; it strives to care for others, too. It wants to reach hurting and broken people. It seeks to be a place where the sin-sick can find healing. It welcomes any who are ready to find wholeness in Jesus and in his church. This church sees how important it is to be a hospital.

So, it innovates and creates in ways to make outsiders feel welcome. It tries new things; it thinks about outsiders in how it plans the service; it finds new ways to do church. Now, we may not always agree on methods and means, but we can all agree that a healthy church is going to consider those outside of faith, and ways their church might reach them. It might be on Sunday mornings, but it also might be support groups, student ministry, marriage support, counseling ministry, and a variety of other ways to say, and show: we are here for the hurting.

Again, this is a vital part of what it means to be the Church. But I think there’s one more step a healthy, biblical church needs to make. And it’s to be a mobile clinic. This is where the church isn’t content to care for its own, though it does that. And it’s not okay with simply having hurting people find their way to the hospital on Sundays or special days. It seeks out folks where they are; it goes to them. It takes the love and mercy and compassion and this-is-for-everyone heart of Jesus out to where the people are. It goes to the prisons and the clinics, the streets and parks and coffee shops; and yes, to the nursing homes and the hospitals. It empowers people not simply to come to church, but to go and take the church to their homes and neighborhoods, their workplaces and schools. Church-as-mobile-clinic sees its calling as one that cannot — must not — be contained by a building or by a day of the week. This kind of church can’t be contained.

So, what kind of church is your church? Better yet: what kind of church are you?

 

Seeing Peter Jennings in NYC; Or, What the Nightly News Can Teach the Church

When I was in college, I spent the summer with my sister and her family in New York City. It was an amazing experience, as we lived right across the street from Central Park, and just a couple of blocks from the American Museum of Natural History, where I worked. I loved being in the middle of the action; it was a cool summer, full of unique and memorable experiences.

One sticks out, though it wasn’t all that exciting. It was the day I was walking to work and I happened by Peter Jennings, who was also heading to work. Maybe I remember it because he was the only “celebrity” I saw that summer. Or maybe it was memorable because that was the day when the work Jennings did — being the nightly news anchor — made him a well-known personality. Today, if my kids walked by David Muir (Peter Jennings’ current successor), they wouldn’t have a clue who he is. I’m guessing most people under 30 wouldn’t.

This week, my dad had some surgery, so I went to see him and my mom. One evening, while we were with my dad in his hospital room, my mom turned on the TV to watch the evening news. We were in St Louis, so 5:30 is the time when the nightly news comes on. And so, the TV came on, because my mom likes the news. I’m pretty sure she knows who David Muir is.

In fact, my 84-year-old mother plans her evening around the evening news. My 21-year-old daughter, however, does not. In fact, she likely has not, and probably never will, watch the evening news. How my child gets news is very different than how my mother gets news. Even so, they both have a need to know what’s going on. So, as the major networks search for ways to continue to connect to people like my mom, they also must search for new ways to connect to people like my daughter. (Good luck with that.)

But let’s expand the idea out even further. ABC, CBS, and NBC aren’t the only outlets struggling to remain relevant in the news business. Every newspaper and news magazine in America is facing the challenge of digital media, which is completely free of having to broadcast at a certain time or having to actually print the news once a day.

So, why do I bring all of this up? Not because I care that much how people get their news — but because I care how people approach change. Because, for all the lessons the news-delivery business can teach us, it sure can teach us about change.

For many, change is difficult. This is especially true for my mom. There is no wifi at her apartment. She has no smart phone. She talks about how “they don’t make things like they used to.”

My daughter, meanwhile, can’t imagine life without the internet. She will never not have a smart phone. She has very little appreciation of how they used to make things.

Who is right? My mom? My daughter? Or neither one?

Maybe the question isn’t about who is right, but about learning the lessons of communication in a world that is changing — whether we like it, or not. Just as both my mom and daughter want to get the news, but access it different ways, so also we who follow Jesus have to recognize that we have the news — and not just any news, but the Good News; the freedom-giving, hope-filling, life-changing transformation of God in Jesus Christ. And what matters more than how we get it to people, is that we do.

For the Church to be serious about loving people like my mom, we have to value the ways that they are used to hearing the Good News. But if the Church is going to be serious about loving people like my daughter, then we also have to value the ways she is most likely to hear the Good News. In fact, I’ll go a step further: We must never stop valuing and honoring those who already know the Good News, but we must choose ways for those who don’t know it — or who are just learning it — to hear it. We have got to stop worrying less about how we share the Good News, and spend more time considering actually sharing it in ways that clearly and consistently point people to Jesus.

Because here’s the thing: eventually, the Evening News will cease to exist as we know it. Or, at the very least, it will only reach a handful of folks. (In fact, that is already true: less than 10% of Americans currently watch any of the 3 major networks’ nightly news programs.) At the same time, print publications are falling by the wayside. There is no one in the news business who has any doubt that the news-delivery business is changing, and will continue to change. What won’t change, of course, is that there is news to deliver.

The Church must pay attention this reality. We have the Good News. That does not change; never has, never will. But what does change — and is changing, whether we like it or not — is how that news is delivered, and received. We who care about Jesus, and his mission, cannot miss this lesson.

In my next post, I’ll say more about this. Stay tuned….