What is holistic care ministry, and why is it important? Wendy Herrberg, care ministry director at Indian Creek Christian Church, “The Creek,” in Indianapolis, IN (who formerly worked as an RN in an oncology hematology unit), and Susie Howard, assistant care ministry director, explain how their church’s care ministry views each facet of an individual’s life—the physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional—as interconnected and how they attempt to address all four in order to help the person to grow and heal.
Holistic care ministry and its importance
A person’s physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional needs are interconnected. As an individual faces difficulty in one area, other areas are impacted. This holistic view flavors how we do all of care ministry here at The Creek.
For example, if a person comes to us because he is depressed, we ask questions and may learn that he is facing extended unemployment, which in turn is causing worry and sleeplessness. He also feels God has abandoned him. He has become isolated. As we assess each area of his life, we can help him develop a plan of care that incorporates personal support and accountability, spiritual encouragement, and practical employment and financial coaching. Our close collaboration with our adult discipleship team keeps us well informed of available growth and support opportunities.
We are then equipped to pass on a variety of resource options and next steps to those in need.
Care and discipleship are good partners
Discipleship is truly the heartbeat of care. We believe that life challenges provide rich opportunities for growth. Our ultimate vision for care is spiritual transformation that impacts every aspect of the person’s life and glorifies God.
This vision includes three stages of growth and healing.
Connect and heal
The first is Connect and heal. Healing is more than symptom relief. As the hurting person engages in healthy relationships and is connected to helpful resources, deep healing can occur that infiltrates the person’s whole life. Many times these relationships and new resources combine to form a powerful catalyst for change within our support and recovery ministries.
The second stage of growth is Equip. Our goal is not to get this person back to his “normal” before the life challenge happened. We believe God calls each person to use difficult experiences to ultimately serve Him in an amplified manner, with more meaning and purpose as a result of their personal experience of redemption. We equip individuals through classes, groups, and trainings within our support and recovery ministries as well as with our broader discipleship community. The person continues the journey of healing while gaining the knowledge, experience, and maturity to begin envisioning how God may want to use the experience for His glory.
Finally, after connection and healing occurs along with equipping through training and new resources, the person is ready for the third stage of growth, which is Service. We find that those who have journeyed through these stages ultimately desire to find places to serve for which they are well suited and prepared. They use their challenges for God’s glory, to offer hope and share with others how God has redeemed their most difficult experiences.
Equipping lay volunteers to offer holistic care
We are training our lay leaders to intentionally broaden their conversation and ask specific questions regarding all four areas in a person’s life, for example, “Is there anything going on physically right now that might be affecting your initial concern?” Often someone will respond, “As a matter of fact, I’ve really been struggling with a chronic condition for years, and I never connected that with my emotional and spiritual health.” Lay leaders can help people put those pieces of the holistic puzzle together to give them a broader picture of what type of healing might need to occur.
Over the past year we have been introducing this relational, holistic care approach with our hospital visitation ministry. Under our previous model, we had a large number of volunteers, each assigned to a specific day of the month. When we had a request for a visit, the person on call for that day made the visit. The next day a different volunteer made a call to the same patient, and so on. Holistic care is built on relationship; therefore, we adjusted to a relational model. We now have a “lead” assigned for each patient. That volunteer develops a relationship with the patient, using questions to learn more about the patient and his or her needs—not only physical, but also spiritual, emotional, and social/support needs. The “lead” follows through with holistic care and discipleship. Ongoing one-on-one conversations, group trainings, practical tools, and written communications are helping our volunteers make this transition.
Providing sustainable holistic care
Undoubtedly it is a challenge for any church ministry (especially for larger churches) to sift through the plethora of good ideas out there and find the handful of great things that are deeply impactful and result in transformation.
Here are three baseline practices that we find helpful:
Decide what constitutes an immediate care need
One of the first things we clarified after beginning our roles in care ministry was defining “immediate need.” You can imagine that in a church of over four thousand people, everyone defines that term differently. It would be impossible to attend to four thousand plus individual definitions of what an immediate need is. Therefore, we decided to define it as (1) an emergency hospitalization or (2) a death in your family. Those are the two things we will address outside of normal business hours. This simple clarification helps our congregation know what to expect and how to navigate obtaining assistance when they are in need, depending on what the concern is and when it happens. In addition, it encourages our staff to uphold an appropriate and sustainable work/life balance. Ultimately, our deepest desire is to both care for our congregation and support our staff in maintaining healthy boundaries.
Have trained volunteers available after service
Our church has four services—two on Sunday, and two on Saturday—every weekend. At the end of the service, there are trained volunteers located in an area called “the Porch,” set right outside our sanctuary. The host on stage encourages people who need prayer, support, guidance, or more information about salvation to go to the Porch, where volunteers will greet them and explore their next step.
Provide weekday appointments
During the week we have one-on-one care appointments that can be scheduled by members of the congregation or community. During these appointments, people can meet with one of our care staff for an hour, and we pray with them, listen to what’s on their heart and mind, and then suggest resource recommendations (anything from a book to Christian counseling referrals in the community).
When people schedule a care appointment, they receive written instructions asking them to seek God first, to spend time with Him before we meet with them. People often don’t seek God initially in their time of need, so we’re encouraging that. Modeling doing “first things first” through our processes is another important way we care for and disciple those in need.
We have three to four hours of care appointments open daily that can be scheduled either online through our website, by calling the church office, or by stopping by the church office and using the computer and phone designated specifically for that purpose.
Our goal is to encourage people to respond to the challenges in their life as opposed to react; therefore, providing a scheduling process naturally slows things down and helps everyone take a breath. This “pause” moment is, again, when we encourage folks to spend time in prayer and reflection before their appointment so they are practicing the pursuit of God’s counsel first in their time of need.
We have experienced time and time again that if we attempt to meet people’s needs in reactive ways, no one wins, neither the person seeking help nor the staff member trying to care for that person. We believe this model is healthy, sustainable, and scalable as we continue to grow as a congregation.
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For a detailed view on developing a holistic understanding of a counselee’s specific problem, see Dr. Jeff Forrey’s (free) ebook titled Caring for the Depressed. The book, written for pastors, explains how depression manifests itself in a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Jeff shares, “The value of understanding depression in terms of both material (physical) and immaterial (spiritual) dimensions becomes apparent when we consider the range of symptoms associated with depression and the assistance that pastors, counselors, and physicians might offer to depressed people.”