“God Talk” May Hinder Caring Ministry

“God Talk” May Hinder Caring Ministry

Jim Stinson, Former Consultant on Older Adult Ministries


After knocking on his door and asking permission to come in, I introduced myself to a new resident at Wicke Health Center, where I am the director of spiritual life. His response was similar to those I’ve heard many times over since taking this position. “You may not want to talk to me. I do not go to church, am not religious, and am not sure I believe in God.”

“Well, I did not come to push church going or religious beliefs, I came to say hello, hopefully to get to know you, and to let you know I am always available to you.”

“Oh,” he said, “If that is all you want, have a seat.”

The rest of the visit was most interesting. He, voluntarily, shared more of himself during that first visit than expected. It did not take long before he raised the issue of religion, of his spiritual journey (what he referred to as “what makes sense out of my life.”) Out of that, lively discussions have grown as well as a meaningful relationship.

The impressive thing about this story is a growing awareness for me, as a United Methodist pastor, is that church talk, God talk, and other such language often speaks to our own needs and comfort levels rather than the needs of the one to whom we are ministering. It can shut down conversation even before it begins.

Meeting a person on his or her turf is far more productive. It more easily opens the door to a person’s spiritual journey and needs. It more easily opens the door for effective ministry. Notice how few of Jesus’ healing encounters with persons in need centered on temple language. Notice how often Jesus opened the doors to deeply meaningful conversations using the language of love.

For those of us seeking to minister to and with older adults, it is good to remember that most people are only too happy to talk about their spiritual journey. Especially if our language and approach is non-threatening; especially if they sense we are not ‘pushing’ our religious agenda, and really want to hear their story! There is always the possibility that even church people are uncomfortable with church language and creedal witness.

Does this mean that there is no place for such language and witness? Of course not! It is a matter of when it is appropriate.

From personal experience allow me to witness to what I experience almost daily. When, and only when, people feel that we are truly listening and using language that is comfortable to them, will they share their inner selves and bare their souls. Then and only then are they able to grasp the relevance of our faith and connect it to their own life stories, which is surely the goal of a caring ministry.

Feel free to print or share with your congregation. © 2015 Rev. James Stinson