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Ask Deborah: Why Health Committees Matter
August 27, 2012

Deborah Patterson knows health ministry. As the executive director of Northwest Parish Nurse Ministries and author of Health Ministries: A Primer for Clergy and Congregations, she works daily with parish nurses, pastors, and health professionals. In this feature, she answers your most pressing or perplexing questions on health ministry. Are you hitting a roadblock with a program in your church? Are you wondering where to start with health ministry? Do you feel like you need a new idea on a specific topic? Ask Deborah!

QUESTION: It seems like having a health committee is more work than it is worth, as I end up doing most of the work as the faith community nurse anyway! Can you please give me one good reason why I should have a health committee?

ANSWER: Actually, I will give you 10 reasons, because if there is anything that a faith community nurse needs, it is a health committee. But even more, your congregation needs a health committee. Here are my Top 10 reasons:

Reason 1: The church is called to preach, teach, and heal. Probably the church has a pastoral relations committee, or a worship planning committee, that supports the preaching moment. Your church also probably has a Christian Education committee that undergirds the teachers, curricula, and educational programs. Your church also needs a health committee or health cabinet to support the gospel call to heal (and much healing ministry is probably already happening).

Reason 2: Health ministry is a ministry of the congregation, not just of one person. You might have a wonderful choir director in your church, but without the choir, you won’t really have much of a music ministry. The same is true for health ministry. The health committee is the “choir” for the work of healing in the church.

Reason 3: Having a committee working on a task creates buy-in for the implementation of a program. There is nothing worse than throwing a party and having nobody come. Remember that gospel lesson, too? So throw open the doors and invite them to come in from the highways and the byways to the banquet of health ministry. It’s a feast!

Reason 4: Many hands make light work. If you help people identify work that is meaningful to them, they will want to do it. Work together to help them select tasks that would give them purpose. For example, someone may love art and be willing to do a monthly bulletin boards or posters. Someone else may love cooking and be willing to stock a few frozen meals in the church freezer for you to share with folks who need help during recovery from illness or surgery. Someone else may love to chat and be willing to drive someone to a doctor’s appointment. You do faith community nursing because it is meaningful to you. Be sure that your committee has the same opportunity.

Reason 5: You don’t have to meet every month. A health committee that meets quarterly can be just as effective (or more effective) than a health committee that meets monthly and gets burned out.

Reason 6: You don’t have to serve on the committee forever. Be sure to set up a plan for people to serve only for a year or two at a time, so that they can go off the committee without having to resign if their interests have changed. People are usually more willing to serve for shorter stints than for years on end.

Reason 7: When the pastoral leadership changes, you will want stakeholders in the congregation to understand the importance of this ministry and why it needs to continue. This is a very important reason.

Reason 8: Having a committee gives more visibility to a program that can often be invisible due to the private nature of many health concerns. You may be working very hard as a faith community nurse, but no one else may know it. Make sure your health committee knows it, along with the pastoral leaders, and the congregation’s governing board. Document and share the aggregate data (not any private health information).

Reason 9: Because committee members (not you) can suggest to the congregation that they need to pay you, or to set up a memorial fund where gifts can be given to support health ministry initiatives. And when there is a budget line item, there is additional visibility for the program.

Reason 10: Because it’s a lot more fun to play on a team than it is to play alone. Jesus chose 12 disciples, not just one, so that they would work together, and he sent them out two by two. Faith community nursing is hard work, and you need others to travel the road with you.

So go ahead, and choose five to seven folks of different ages, genders, and vocational backgrounds, and start meeting quarterly. Equip the saints to do this work with you, and this ministry will be blessed!

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Deborah Patterson is here for you and your church. To send in a question to Deborah, send an email and write "Ask Deborah" in the subject line. Please include your first name and location.