In the first chapter of the handbook, Expectations and Roles—Bearer of the Gospel, chaplains are reminded,
"We do not proselytize, nor use aggressive methods of evangelism. We realize that we are “guests” in a resident’s home."
And yet, we have a passion to share the love and story of Jesus with all we meet
Chaplains draw upon lifestyle evangelism principles that show sensitivity to differences of race, culture, sexual orientation, gender, age and religion, while showing respect for the personal choices of all residents.
The primary issue is not one of permission, but how to practice and live out personal beliefs, daily. The chaplain or pastor to seniors will always be respectful of the rights and choices of others, recognizing that the good news of the Gospel may be shared on an individual basis when a relationship of trust has been developed and with the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
During the course of getting to know residents and preparing a spiritual assessment you will soon learn of the faith, religious or spiritual beliefs and practices of each resident. It is vital that the chaplain respect the resident’s beliefs whether Christian, other religion or faith, or no faith or defined belief system. Much will be assumed about you as a “chaplain” and you will be seen through the various lenses of the residents—including their cultural, family, community, religious/spiritual experience.
In Share Jesus Without Fear, Bill Faye begins with a question (which asked in one way or another will be part of the spiritual assessment) “Do you have any kind of spiritual belief?” Many times the person asked that question will ask you what your spiritual beliefs are—there is the invitation. This is not the time to preach but to graciously share briefly how/why you have come to trust Christ. The conversation likely will continue over several encounters and new elements and topics can be introduced.
Remember that the Holy Spirit does the work, while you listen and discern when to partner with Him.
Know your Bible and be prepared to explain the good news in ninety seconds, if needed.
Ask questions and listen to the questions of the heart. One man who had fought in the Second World War shared with me, " I am not very religious, but I know God took care of me during those fierce battles." It began a conversation. Listen for the struggles and fears.
Allow the Holy Spirit to guide you in your daily tasks and conversations and pray for and during those Spirit-led moments and encounters.
One chaplain shares,
“Car keys in hand I reached for my jacket at the end of the day then quickly scanned my inbox as I prepared to shut down the computer. “Palliative resident” caught my eye; I opened the email, put my keys away and went to see the resident.
On admission I had introduced myself to Ron, he let me know immediately he was not interested in the Bible or anything Christian. I asked him if it was still OK to come and visit with him from time to time. He welcomed my visits around sports, literature, the arts and current events. Now at his bedside as his life on earth was drawing to an end he gave me a crooked smile and offered his hand. I let him know how much I had enjoyed our conversations over the past many months and was sorry for the pain and weakness that he was experiencing. The nurse arrived with medications and withdrew saying, “what you are here to do is important, let me know when you’re done.”
After a few moments I asked, “Ron, we’ve had many great conversations, but there’s one conversation we’ve never had… will you allow me to have that one with you now?” He gave me that smile again and weakly said, ”yes.” I shared with him God’s love for him expressed in Jesus Christ, paraphrasing John 3:16 and other verses. I asked him if wanted to ask God for the forgiveness of his sins and to invite Jesus into his life. Without hesitation, again he offered a weak “yes.”</em
We shared tears of joy as we prayed together and my friend became my brother. When I sensed we were “done” I asked if he would like me to invite the nurse back. He nodded and I left, thankful for the prompting of the Holy Spirit to check email one more time, to take time with Ron instead of letting it “wait ‘til morning.” A few short hours later he had passed from this life.
Another chaplain met a new resident on the day of admission and shared briefly about the chaplain's role and heart for residents. The chaplain felt led to share briefly the Gospel, while the new resident listened attentively. When the chaplain continued to ask if the man knew the Lord in a personal relationship, the resident shook his head...no. Again, prompted to continue the chaplain offered to pray with the man who accepted the Lord, even as while he was admitted to his new home.
The man slipped into eternity the next day.
Written by Rev. David Van Essen