Why does my church and denomination abandon the sick?

Question
I was a Sunday School teacher. When I became physically ill I had to stop teaching. I have cancer. I'm dying. I'm bed-ridden. I told my pastor and the head of our deacons. No one has visited me - not even the pastors? It's been months. No one calls, visits, or e-mails. I feel abandoned.
Answer
I'm very sorry you are so ill. Such times are not easy and our prayers are with you and your family.

Others have shared similar stories. Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens today in all denominations of churches. However, it may not be so much a denominational issue as it is an individual one.

My 86-year-old mother is Baptist and she visits the sick weekly. My best friend is Catholic and he and his wife visit the sick often, and because I have significant health problems, I am among those (in spite of our theological differences). These two examples are very close to my heart, but they are examples of what should be in every church and in every denomination.

The examples are clear in Scripture. People brought the sick to Jesus to heal (Matt. 4:24). Christians should be raising up the sick to the Lord in prayer. Jesus went to the sick personally and prayed for them (Matt. 8:14). Likewise, those in the church should be going personally to the sick (Matt. 25:36). As Matthew wrote, "When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick" (Matt. 14:14).

Jesus said, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35; cf. 1 John 3:14). Part and parcel of loving one another means visiting with the sick, praying with them, bringing them food, wrapping their bandages, making sure they take their meds, and staying up with them even days at a time, etc. (cf. Luke 10:25-37). At times, even a simple text message, e-mail, or get well card helps. We are made for community. A face-to-face visit warms the heart in a special personal way. According to John, "If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen" (1 John 4:20).

Paul wrote, "So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Gal. 6:10). This means you and me! But James specifically exhorts church leaders to visit and pray with the sick as well (James 5:14-16 cf. Rom. 12:15).

Also consider what Jesus said about the day of his return when goats and sheep will be separated (i.e., the lost from among the saved).

Text
Sheep/Saved
Text
Goats/Lost
Matt. 25:36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. Matt. 25:43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.

These aren't just words on a page but the way Jesus expects us to live. He takes this very seriously. Also remember that Jesus said, "Thus you will recognize them by their fruits" (Matt. 7:20; Jas. 2:14-26). One of the characteristics of those saved in Christ is that they lovingly visit the sick.

This said, I can't explain why no one has visited you. An explanation may be that there’s a lack of emphasis or even proper teaching in your local church or denomination, or perhaps just inadequate equipping the saints for such ministry. Yet, the church is made up of individuals, so all are responsible.

I do recommend, however, that you pursue your pastor (i.e. Matt. 18:15-20; Gal. 6:1-5) to lovingly lay out your story before him and gently point out no one has knocked on your door or called you. Ask your pastor to pray with you over your sense of isolation. Kindly challenge your pastor that there may be others on the membership rolls like you in need of such love and care. They are, after all, not unlike the homeless or disenfranchised within the general community who are considered “mission work.”

At the same time, don’t allow bitterness to take root. Be grateful that Jesus has not abandoned you or his church in spite of its shortcomings. Look for what you can do to love or help others as well.

Related Topics

ONE Heart and ONE Soul: Looking for an Acts 2/4 Church, 24/7
Missing in Action: Mercy Ministry in Church?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).