I will never forget the first hospital visit I made as someone’s pastor. Though I had known the lady that I was visiting from church, I was so nervous making my way through the hospital to her room. I don’t particularly like hospitals, going to the doctor, or being sick, yet it is a part of my life and a part of those in any congregation. I leaned heavily on the wisdom of those that had gone before me in pastoral ministry as I continued to visit this dear saint throughout her illness. Had it not been for the theological, biblical, and very practical instruction I received, I fear I would have failed miserably in my visitation calls. The book, Visit the Sick: Ministering God’s Grace in Times of Illness by Brian Croft seeks to be that source of theological, biblical, and practical instruction regarding the topic of visiting the sick.
The book rings in at 92 pages plus a few pages of notes, yet it delivers a very helpful handling of the topic. Croft begins with the Bible, making a case from scripture for the need for the visitation of the sick, not just for pastors, but for the saints overall. He also roots much of his thought in Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor, which heavily emphasizes the importance of pastoral visitation. If a reader needed convincing about the need for visiting the sick, the first chapter tackles that.
Croft then moves to ways to spiritually care for those we may visit. This chapter is full of basic, practical advice from suggestions for scriptures to read, how to pray for the sick, and how to steer the conversation in a Christlike manner. Croft points out the need to pray the gospel as a way to not only remind the sick of that truth, but also as a way to share the gospel with them. He also encourages to remind those we visit of the promises and attributes of God, helping them to stay focused on truth. All this is done trusting that God is working through what we do and even our presence there.
Croft then provides some wisdom on the overall tone of the visit. He calls us to prepare our hearts, mind the time that we spend, be sure to listen instead of talking the whole time, and to enjoy our time with those we visit. He points out that often God is molding and shaping us through these visits. This is something I can attest to with the dear saint I began talking about. I had the privilege of walking with her through her illness and on through when she stepped into glory as I shared in performing her funeral. Her name was Margie and God used her to make a tremendous impact in my wife and I’s lives.
Croft provides other practical advice for the visits dealing with issues like eye contact, our facial expressions, the content of our small talk, physical touch, the need for fresh breath. For those that find the whole idea of visitation uncomfortable at first, these pointers are very helpful as Croft doesn’t assume that we should just know these things.
Croft finishes the book with a call to pastors to call congregations to the visitation of the sick. He calls us to exhort the congregation through preaching and to lead by example when it comes to visitation. One of the things that I can brag on our church about is the blessing that so many in our church have a heart to visit and check in with those that are sick. It is the hopeful result of a pastor who is dutiful at visitation that the congregation catches that spirit.
In the appendices, Croft provides a checklist to bring with us when visiting to bring to mind important aspects mentioned in the book. He also outlines a conversation with the aim to help the reader steer the visitation time to a conversation about Christ. He also provides a FAQ section with other issues not covered in the book like visiting new parents in the hospital. Lastly, an abridged version of J.C. Ryle’s booklet called Sickness is included at the end, to which Croft refers occasionally throughout the book.
I would highly recommend this book to any pastor looking to gain wisdom and encouragement for the practice of visitation. The book is accessible for pastors and lay-people and is a quick, but rich read.
Brian Croft is senior pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. He is the founder of Practical Shepherding, a nonprofit organization committed to equipping pastors all over the world in the practical matter of pastoral ministry. In addition to Visit the Sick: Ministering God’s Grace in Times of Illness, he is also the coauthor of The Pastor’s Family: Shepherding Your Family Through the Challenges of Pastoral Ministry and of the upcoming book Caring For Widows.
I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.