I have spent a lot of time over the years working as a hospice chaplain. It amazes me how many homes I go into where the family has little or no contact with organized religion. It is in those homes, though, where I am able to minister as a chaplain more than I can as a pastor. As a pastor, I am seen as a guardian of a particular denomination. As a chaplain, I come across as less threatening. As a pastor, I am seen as trying to persuade someone to my church. As a chaplain, I am seen as a person truly interested in someone’s spiritual well being. I have also recently read some good pieces of literature relating to hospice, dying and dignity. Let me share two of those with you today.
The first is by Gwendolyn London and is remarkably profound:
“We must realize that dying is a spiritual process with medical implications, not a medical process with spiritual implications.”
The second is a poem by Malcomb Goldsmith, from his book: In A Strange Land: People with Dementia and the Local Church
Blessed are they who understand, my faltering steps and shaking hand
Blessed are they who know my ears today, must strain to catch the words they say
Blessed are they with cheery smile, who stop to chat for a little while
Blessed are those who never say, “You’ve told us that story twice today.”
Blessed are they who make it known, that I’m loved, respected and not alone.
And I would add, blessed are those who reach out to the dying, to bring the love and witness of Jesus Christ one last time to souls who need Him
In past years, I used to use spiritual gift assessment inventories with various congregations to help them discover the talents and gifts God had blessed them with. We would follow this up with studies on how to use those gifts in service to God through the church, community outreach, etc. These last few years, I have hesitated in using such tools. My hesitancy was based on observations that they were being misused by the very people I was hoping to help. It seemed that once a gift was identified, it was hard for people to volunteer to do anything outside their “gift” area. Far from helping them, I felt I had enabled them to become lazy, giving them an excuse to not do anything out of their comfort zone. I do not believe that God only gives people one gift. I believe that many times God calls us to do things we are not gifted or talented in, so that He can show His power through us. A friend of mine argues that instead of creating specialists in the church, we need to focus on making generalists, people who can function in multiple ways. I agree. I believe that a church full of people cross-trained in many different areas will acquire the skills necessary because God will give them what they need to accomplish His purpose. How wonderful to have a church filled with trained pre-school workers, musicians, worship leaders, and grief counselors. How fantastic to have people trained in public speaking, how to develop a sermon or how to teach teen-agers. What a joy it would be to have a church full of people ready and willing to visit the sick, trained in apologetics or capable of leading a prayer meeting.
Maybe it is just me, but the more I see how spiritual gift inventories and tools are being used, the more I think it is just an outgrowth of our narcissistic society, wanting to know how special we are. Usually, we all know what we are strongest at and weakest in, and using the tools only confirms what we have suspected or known. It would be better to promote cross-training in all areas, so that like the Apostle Paul we can become all things to all men so that by all means we may win some of them to Jesus Christ. Lets go for a broad approach to finding out just how much we can learn to do for Christ, rather than using the spiritual cop-out of, “that’s not my gift.”