Ministry

Providentially Hindered: Is Your Church Taking Care of Caretakers?

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“I desperately want to go to church, but I take care of my elderly mother who has Alzheimer’s. I can’t take her with me, I can’t leave her alone, and I can’t afford someone to sit with her while I’m at church.”

“We’d love to be faithful church members, but our child has a disability that makes him extremely sensitive to the light and sound stimuli in the worship service and he becomes uncomfortable and disruptive. Attending church is rarely an option for us.”

“I’m the sole caretaker of my husband who is a quadriplegic. It takes several hours to get him up, dressed, and ready in the morning. We’ve tried, but there’s no way we can make it to the 9:00 a.m. service of the only doctrinally sound church near us, and no other service times are offered.”

These are just a sampling of the stories I’ve heard from readers recently as I’ve written about the importance of church membership and attendance. The Bible is clear that we’re to be faithful members of a local body of believers. The entire New Testament assumes that Christians need to meet together to worship, pray, encourage and exhort each other, study and hear the preaching of God’s word, celebrate the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and serve one another. “Lone Ranger Christians” don’t exist in the New Testament. Neither do Christians who are perfectly able to attend church, but choose to skip it in favor of sleeping in, kids’ soccer games, birthday parties, frequent travel, shopping, and other non-essential activities. We aren’t to place such a low value on meeting together that we attend church only if it happens to fit into our busy schedules; we arrange our busy schedules around being faithful, active members of a local church. Yes, Scripture insists, it’s that important.

When I was a child, there was still the notion among Christians that you were to attend church unless “Providentially hindered,” meaning that God, in His providence and sovereignty placed you in a situation that made it impossible for you to go to church that day- illness, death, unavoidable imperative travel, an emergency.

But what about people who are Providentially hindered from attending church week after week – maybe for years on end, maybe even for the rest of their lives – because they’re taking care of somebody else who’s Providentially hindered by illness or disability from attending church? How are these precious brothers and sisters who are honoring their parents or laying down their lives for their children not only to obey the Scriptural admonition to meet together, but also to receive the encouragement, edification, and spiritual nourishment they desperately need and want?

It takes two, baby. Both the caretaker and the church itself bear some responsibility here.

The caretaker needs to make sure she’s put in the effort to explore all possibilities of physically attending a doctrinally sound church or meeting of believers before concluding that she can’t. Her first priority is to pray fervently that God will provide a way. God honors the prayers of believers who are looking for ways to be obedient to Him. The caretaker might have to make some sacrifices of time, money, convenience, or preferences, but God can and will make a way.

Most of the caretakers I’ve heard from are praying. They have made the effort. And that’s where the local church comes in.

It is to our shame (and I include myself in this obliviousness) that local churches often don’t even think about what it’s like to be a caretaker. To long to simply attend church for worship, fellowship, and refreshing of soul, only to realize it’s the impossible dream. Christian caretakers are often out of sight, and, thus, out of mind, but they are not out of God’s heart, His mindfulness, or His family, and we need to be ministering to them.

How? It’s a great question, and I don’t have all the answers because each situation is unique. But guess who can answer that question? God, and the caretakers your church needs to minister to.

Pray:

Does your church have a heart to reach out to caretakers, but isn’t quite sure how to go about it? Pray. Ask God for the wisdom to find caretakers who need to be ministered to and to know how best to meet their needs for fellowship and worship.

Find Them:

Go to your pastor or church secretary and ask for the names of families who are already on your church roll or who are in some way connected to your church, and start with them. Ask friends and family members for names of caretakers your church can minister to. Go to your local agencies, hospitals, organizations, schools, businesses, and other entities that provide services to people with disabilities or chronic illnesses and let them know your church wants to reach out to caretakers.

Ask Them:

Contact caretakers and ask them how your church can meet their needs both inside and outside the church. Caretakers often feel invisible to the church. They need to know Christ loves them- that they matter to Him. We can demonstrate His love by coming alongside them and making a sacrificial effort to help. And, who knows? It might be simpler than you think.

Think Outside the Box:

Put yourself in the caretaker’s shoes. What could be a creative solution to helping her attend church while still tending to her loved one? Just a few ideas…

Sitter rotation– The caretaker in the first scenario of this article could attend worship if just a handful of church members would volunteer to come over to her house and sit with her mother during church on a rotating basis. It wouldn’t even cost anything.

Transportation– Maybe the caretaker’s loved one uses a wheelchair and could attend church with her, but she doesn’t have access to wheelchair accessible transportation on Sundays. Could your church borrow or rent a van and set that up for her?

Special classes– We already provide things like nurseries and children’s church for babies and small children. What about a similar concept for ill or disabled people of any age?

Home church– Perhaps there are a few families with disabled loved ones who would like to meet together for worship in one of their homes. Could the church send a pastor or elder to lead and teach them?

Home groups– Does your church do home groups? Could one of them meet in the caretaker’s home and bring church to her?

Medical needs– Could a caretaker bring her loved one to church if there were medical help available should the need arise? Perhaps a church member who’s a doctor or nurse would agree to be “on call” if needed while the family is at church.

Service times– The caretaker in the third scenario would be helped by the church simply pushing back its service time an hour or so. Could your church adjust its Sunday morning worship time or offer additional services, Bible studies, or small groups on Sunday evenings, on Saturdays, or on a week night?

Accommodations– Could your church make structural changes such as installing wheelchair ramps, elevators, modified seating, or other adjustments to the physical property that would make it possible for the caretaker’s loved one to attend with her? What about turning off the strobe lights and turning down the volume of the sound system for those sensitive to these stimuli? If the caretaker’s main concern is the distraction (noises, etc.) her loved one might create, would it be possible to simply educate the church body about the disability and train them to make loving allowance for these distractions during the worship service?

In home help– Perhaps it would be helpful to the caretaker for a church member to volunteer to come to the caretaker’s home and help get the disabled person ready for church on Sunday mornings while the caretaker gets herself ready.

Professional help– Are there members of your church who are special education teachers, doctors, nurses, home health care aides, contractors? Enlist their help for suggestions on how to make your church accessible to the ill and disabled and how to help caretakers both at home and inside the church.

The spiritual needs of caretakers have been overlooked by the church for far too long. Thanks to technology, transportation, and other modern conveniences God has blessed us with, it has never been easier to reach out to caretakers and meet their needs. Are you looking for a place of service in the church? Maybe you’ve been a caretaker and are all too familiar with ways the church failed to help you? Reaching out to meet the needs of caretakers is a ministry that’s practically tailor made for godly, nurturing women, especially since the majority of caretakers are also women. Could God be calling you to help bridge the gap between caretakers and the church?


Additional Resources:

Want more suggestions? Check out how these churches and ministries are assisting caretakers and their loved ones, and if you have a helpful idea or link, or if your church offers a ministry to caretakers, please share it in the comments below. Another reader could be looking for your church, resource, or idea!

Does your church have the resources to “go big” in ministry to families with disabled children both inside and outside the church? Could you partner with Jill’s House and import their respite services to your area? Could you replicate their services at a level your church could fund and staff? Check out this amazing ministry. No doubt there’s a need for it in your area.

What is the biggest mistake churches make when caring for children with special needs?

Valley Community Church, Pleasanton, California, Disability Ministry

How to Love Those Who Care for the Hurting

Six Ways Not to Forsake the Assembly

Suggestions from a reader:

My former church was a megachurch that had a great special needs kids ministry: A special classroom for children and a classroom for teens who needed more care, pairing a special kiddo with a buddy to go to the regular kids’ program, a once a month respite night.

1) The first step is to welcome the family. Caregivers are tired and can be easily discouraged. If your church only has one service, consider adding another service.

2) Be patient. You may not see them every Sunday; medical emergencies and other stuff happens. They also may not have time to volunteer or attend Bible studies. Someone from the church will have to take the initiative to contact them: a phone call, an email, a postcard are HUGE. Also, having sermons available to stream online may help the caregivers to catch up on missed sermons.

3) Offer a once a month respite night to the whole community. If you can muster the volunteers then for 2 hours a month, you can offer parents (or spouses) the chance to drop off their special kids at your church and give them a much needed break to grocery shop or take a nap. Seriously, this is a huge ministry to parents – especially single parents. Also, I have seen teenage volunteers absolutely flourish by being a buddy to a special needs child. Another great opportunity for teens and adults is to be a buddy to a special needs child for your VBS or AWANA programs as well.

4) Joni and Friends is a Christian organization that ministers to the disabled. In California where I’m from, there are regional offices that offer to host disability ministry workshops to local churches.

5) Realize that at least with special needs children it is not all sunshine and lollipops. There are behavioral, cognitive, and physical challenges. But these kids need to hear about Jesus, and their parents need to feel loved and a part of the wider church body. They need to feel they’re not alone.

3 thoughts on “Providentially Hindered: Is Your Church Taking Care of Caretakers?”

  1. I agree with all you said, but at the same time, it breaks my heart. I’ve been disabled for 16 years now. Before I was hurt I was very, very involved in my church. As the pain got worse over the years, I had to drop being the Sunday School superintendent, and then drop out of the worship team, then drop out of the prayer team that prayed over the service, then had to stop doing the laundry for the nursery, until finally the most I could do was “go to church”. But then even that became impossible. Of course I didn’t know that then. To me at first, it was just missing that Sunday and I expected to go the next Sunday. Each week by Friday I’d be so excited thinking that it would finally be Sunday and I could go to church. Then Sunday would come and the pain would be so bad that I wouldn’t be able to go AGAIN. I prayed and prayed, but months and finally years went by. I called my church finally begging them to please send someone so I could take communion with them. They said they would but a month passed and they didn’t come. I called again, same response and the same thing happened. So I called another church in my area and asked them. I was sure they’d come because when I looked at their website they’d taken the workshops from Joni and Friends. They too said they’d come. Two weeks later someone from their church called me and said they’d be coming that week. I was thrilled! The day they were supposed to come, they called again and the man asked me if I had cats. I replied that I did, although it seemed like a very strange question. He then said gruffly that in that case they wouldn’t be coming as his wife was allergic to cats! It had now been over 3 months since I’d first called my church and asked for someone to come. I finally called someone else I knew from the church and asked them specifically to come. Several weeks later they finally did and I was able to take communion with them. I think they were at my house for maybe 15 minutes at the most. I’d learned my lesson, and didn’t bother to call anyone again. Years went by and whenever I felt up to going to church I went to one that was closer to me and started late enough that I’d be able to make it once in a very great while. Then that church moved. I finally found another church that was close by who had a new pastor and it looked like they were teaching the truth. (most churches in my area are full of false teaching) I went and loved it. It was only a couple of minutes away from my home and since they didn’t start until 10:45, I figured I’d be able to go much more often now; that instead of going a few times a year, that I’d be able to go two or maybe even 3 times a month. And I did for one month. I’d told the pastor how thrilled I was and how great it was to have a church that started that late so I could attend. At the 4th service I attended it was announced that they’d be changing their starting time to an hour earlier. I started crying and almost had to leave because I wasn’t sure I could stop. I was devastated. But I managed to make it through the rest of the service. I’ve tried again each Sunday, but each Sunday I’ve failed to go because the pain was too much for me. ( It generally takes quite a few hours before I can get dressed or walk much.) This part of my story, very much condensed, isn’t unique at all, which is why I’m sharing it with you. I had a website up till last year and had a private forum for other Christian women like me that live with pain and are disabled. There were several hundred women who joined it from all over the US and we spoke about the things that mattered to us and that people who don’t live with pain can’t understand. One of those things was our churches. You wouldn’t believe the horror stories I’ve heard. Let’s just say that when you love people, the people you love can hurt you more than anyone else, and since we were Christians, that meant the people in our church could hurt us more than anyone else could, and they did. In the long run, every single one of us were abandoned by our churches. Pretty amazing isn’t it? It’s certainly not what you would expect to have happen to such a large group of people over and over again. Another thing I found interesting was that all of us had been very involved in our churches before we became disabled. For us it was as though our church was saying that since we couldn’t serve them anymore they weren’t interested in serving us. Many of them experienced the same thing I did when they asked for someone to come for communion or fellowship. We get shuffled aside and put on the back burner and forgotten about. But we still had the Lord and for that we were grateful because we knew that He would never leave us. I guess what I want you to know is first, that we don’t give up, and second that there are many,. many churches who say they help people like us but they really don’t. The same is true for caretakers as well. Because we’ve been hurt so badly by our brothers and sisters in the Lord, we tend to be a bit sensitive about this issue. (I’m in tears right now) For many of us, while we may agree with what you wrote, it also seems like you’re blaming us for not finding someway to get to church on time or at all. I’ve even heard from many women who belonged to churches that they thought did a great job taking care of the needs of people like us, at least that’s what they thought until they became disabled themselves. Then they discovered that what they’re church did, really didn’t help much at all. (like the church I called that advertised they had taken the workshops from Joni) Sounds great, but they did nothing. So we do what the Lord has taught us to do because of our disability, we rely solely on Him. We seek each other out and fellowship together online if nothing else. When we can find others like us locally, then we try to get together in each others homes whenever we can. It’s not the same as “going to church” used to be, but I have a feeling we get a lot more out of it then all the other folks who go to church never realizing what a treasure and honor it is to be able to attend regularly.

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    1. Hello, dear sister. Thank you so much for sharing your story. My heart absolutely breaks for what you’ve been going through, and I deeply wish there were something I could do to right the many wrongs you’ve experienced.

      I apologize for anything in the article that sounds like I’m blaming people with disabilities for not trying hard enough to get to church. That thought or intent was never in my heart. This article is actually aimed at churches, to make them aware of the fact that they are overlooking the needs of caretakers (and, by extension, the people with disabilities they care for) and offering suggestions of ways churches can welcome caretakers (and their loved ones who might be able to attend with them) and facilitate their attendance.

      I’m so glad you’ve found some friends to fellowship and worship with, and I pray that the churches in your area will straighten up and fly right when it comes to serving both caretakers and people with disabilities.

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      1. Thank you so much for your loving answer. I truly know that you didn’t mean for it to come across that way, but also knew that there would be some who would take it that way anyway. Especially those whose wounds are still fresh. Part of the problem is that we tend to over examine ourselves, constantly holding ourselves up and wondering if maybe the pain really isn’t as bad as it feels and maybe we could do better; constantly questioning ourselves to see if we’ve somehow given up or given in. We are often much harder on ourselves than on others. I’m sincerely grateful that you wrote this and shined a light on an area that the Church has definitely needs to take some concrete actions in. Bless you for all your hard work and your obedience to the Lord to shine His Light for all to see.

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