“One Another” Ministry for the Homebound
In 2020-2022, many churches faced Covid-19 lockdowns, and Christians connected online from their separate homes. Yet circumstances did not excuse the church from obeying Scripture’s “one another” commands. We needed fresh ways of considering “how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb 10:24-25). That experience opened our eyes to the ongoing challenge of practicing “one another’s” from a distance. How do we minister to the homebound in our local churches? How do we care for members who face prolonged isolation from the church due to chronic illness, physical disability, caretaking, or other factors? How does the persecuted church continue to flourish when meeting altogether is neither safe nor wise? In the following study, we will think through various ways to keep our relational commitments when members of our churches are homebound. Please use this resource for personal reflection, family worship, small group study, or discipleship counseling.
Be Devoted to One Another with Brotherly Love (Romans 12:10a)
Do you truly love your family? According to Romans 12:10, Christians are to “love one another with brotherly affection” and to view fellow believers like close relatives in our spiritual family. Paul commands us to love each other dearly and to feel relational warmth toward one another. For many, however, this is not always a reality. It has become acceptable to slip in and out of a worship service with only a few formalities and a “How are you?” It scares us to share our hopes for holiness, deepest joys, prayer requests, and fears. Sometimes we even struggle to remember names, and people bemoan that they cannot get connected. This practice of social distance exposes our woeful lack of connection with fellow members of the church.
Yet what if we treated our earthly families with such neglect? Imagine a holiday dinner where all our family does is make small talk or comment on the weather. Suppose all we know about our brother is the make and model of his vehicle as he speeds away from the family gathering. Many Christians have just now realized that we weren’t truly devoted to one another with brotherly affection.
Ministry for the homebound flows out of ministry in the Sunday gathering. Small groups which meet regularly use online tools to connect members unable to attend in person. Care teams reach out to those in need when their absence from Sundays is noticed. Fellow believers share more deeply as they establish relational trust. Counseling and discipleship opportunities abound.
Homebound members need care as well, so consider these natural rhythms to help you love one another when you cannot always meet together:
- Pray systematically through your church’s membership directory—one person at a time or one page at a time. Whenever you don’t know how to pray for someone, reach out to see how they’re doing.
- Write down several good qualities you love about your earthly family and seek to practice similar relational commitments with fellow believers in your church.
- Allow your love to turn into longing. As Paul wrote, “For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:8; see Rom 1:11; 1 Thess 3:6). Resolve not to accept social distance as the norm but to continue longing for glimpses of the glorious Bride of Christ (Rev 19:7-8).
- If you yourself are homebound, you can still participate in any of the practices above. Remember that one way to love your church is by honestly expressing how they can love you.
Outdo One Another in Showing Honor (Romans 12:10b)
Christians are then called to show “honor to whom honor is due” (Rom 13:7e). Yet how do we treat those we think should deserve lesser honor or members of the body who appear weaker and less valuable? Paul exhorts us to view them as “indispensable” (1 Cor 12:22) and to bestow on them “the greater honor . . . that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another” (vv. 23-25). In truth, we must rejoice in one another (v. 26) and “outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom 12:10b).
However, in times of fear and isolation, we often drift toward self-preservation. Only the humility of Christ compels us to consider the interests of others (Phil 2:3-4) and to count them as more significant than ourselves (Vv. 5-8). Therefore, let us seek to out-praise, out-value, and out-recognize other believers during uncertain times.
Honoring one another requires more than human goodness but instead directly reflects our worship of God. As Paul began in Romans 12:1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Christians must outdo one another in showing honor because our God has loved us “far more abundantly than all that we could ever ask or think” (Eph 3:20).
Here are some ways to outdo one another in showing honor:
- Begin with your own household. Close quarters often increase a spirit of self-centeredness, so make it your goal to honor each family member or roommate daily in a way that requires your personal sacrifice.
- When you connect with friends or meet with your small group, seek out how others are doing first before you share about yourself. Honor them by neither dominating nor withdrawing from the conversation.
- Choose a fellow church member whom many consider “weaker,” then identify specific ways you can bless them over the next month. For example, a sister battling cancer may need rides to hospital appointments, chemo treatments, home-cooked meals, or his furniture rearranged to prepare for extended bed rest.
Live in Harmony with One Another (Romans 12:16)
Paul appeals for peace in Romans 12:16, “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.” Harmony requires that we remain humble, not haughty—that we seek wisdom collectively, not dogmatically—and that we do not divide over our perceived worldly status. Human pride is the greatest hindrance to harmony: thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to (v. 3).
Pride rears its ugly head in times of difficulty. When life is good, and resources are readily available to all, it is easy to live in harmony. Yet what happens when the Spanish-speaking ministry needs a larger room in the church? How do we navigate sound space when all of our children are attending Zoom school from home? James reminds us that the church’s number of “good seats” are in low supply and, therefore, in high demand (Jas 2:1-10).
Having a common mind does not require all believers to share equal opinions. Such a spectacle of uniformity, more common in religious cults, would be impossible to achieve and absurd to witness. Instead, the church’s strength lies in the diversity of its members. Fellow believers regard one another with equal honor regardless of ethnicity, politics, economic status, or views about society.
True harmony occurs when hundreds of unique instruments are all attuned to our conductor’s baton. Therefore, beautiful music requires that we trust in the Lord and not our own human wisdom: “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil” (Prov 3:6-7).
Consider some ways to live in harmony with one another:
- Begin at home. When you are homebound for a season, you may find yourself on edge with others in your family. Siblings revert to established rivalries, husband and wife face stress-induced marital conflict, and housemates feel trapped without room to breathe. Christian, “if possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom 12:18).
- Many homebound long for deep relationships during seasons of prolonged isolation. If they are limited in mobility, their lives are usually less busy, and they have fewer opportunities to meet with people face-to-face. So visit regularly to sit and talk with them. Intentionally seeking out the homebound will help you minister to people from different ages and life stages.
- Show grace to fellow believers. Churches and Christians will vary in their views about social and political issues. Many hold opposing doctrinal stances about eschatology or biblical prophecy, while others maintain unique practices regarding baptism or communion. Some decisions are also based on wisdom issues and sensitivity of conscience. Continually show grace to those with whom you disagree.
- If you are guilty of looking down on fellow believers, creating disunity because of pride, or elevating your own preferences, write out a prayer of confession and ask the Lord to graciously keep you from being “wise in your own sight” (Rom 12:16).
Day 4: Welcome One Another (Romans 15:7)
Paul also speaks to our heart’s motives in Romans 15:7, “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” To welcome means more than simply tolerating or formally recognizing one another. It is more than the two-minute speed round of meet-and-greet during a worship service or a passing, “Hello. How are you?” Jesus commands us to welcome one another genuinely from the heart and without partiality, just “as Christ has welcomed [us]” (see 14:3; Jas 2:1-13).
Homebound church members will feel a loss when they cannot gather with the church on Sundays. They will miss the little things like receiving a bulletin from a faithful usher, seeing kids running off to Sunday school, or shaking the hands of familiar greeters. They will take longer to see people face-to-face and worship corporately with voices raised to heaven. Help them remember that this season of isolation will only be for a short time and that even our most elaborate earthly gatherings are mere shadows of heavenly worship (Rev 5:8-14). Urge them to let this season of longing remind them of the church’s love for one another and Christ’s love for us all. Welcome them warmly even if they cannot join you in person and teach them to glorify God in any and every situation. “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 15:5-6).
Here are some ways to welcome the homebound in your Sunday worship:
- Practice welcoming everyone in the church. Write down the names of three fellow believers you might not associate with unless they were your church members. Thank God for them in prayer today and intentionally seek to welcome them at the next opportunity.
- Livestream your church’s worship service every Sunday and allow mutual longing to remind you of your love for one another. Some forms of technology even allow for two-way interaction so that you can engage online participants through video or chat functions. And remember to serve those who are technologically challenged by setting up their viewing station and teaching them how it works.
- Encourage the homebound to participate as if they were present with the church body. Ask them to wear their Sunday best and to make themselves presentable. Exhort them to sing loudly even if it’s only them at home and follow along in their Bibles with the Scripture reading and the sermon. Occasionally, address them from the pulpit and help them fully engaged by contacting them before the service.
- Reflect on the following hymn (especially stanza #4) as you minister to the homebound in your congregation.
Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship our spirit finds
Is like to that above.
Before our Father’s throne,
We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one—
Our comforts and our cares.
We share our mutual woes;
Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows
The sympathizing tear.
When we asunder part,
It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart,
And hope to meet again.
From sorrow, toil, and pain,
And sin we shall be free;
And perfect love and oneness reign
Through all eternity.
Day 5: Instruct One Another (Romans 15:14)
Paul rejoices in Romans 15:14, “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.” The apostle expresses Spirit-filled confidence that his fellow believers in Rome are godly in character and knowledgeable in the Scriptures to instruct one another effectively.
The word Paul used for “instruct” means to “counsel” or “admonish,” but how do we counsel or teach one another from a distance? Many preachers have learned to deliver sermons via Livestream or pre-recorded videos. Small groups have used virtual technology such as Zoom or Skype to study the Scriptures together. Counselors and therapists are doing the same to address the myriad of personal problems exacerbated by the global pandemic. Still more are ministering to homebound believers through audio devotionals, artistic mediums, uplifting music, or reading aloud the written word.
Here are some ways to instruct the homebound:
- First, focus on your own household (Deut 6:4-9). Spend intentional time instructing each member in your family to grow in the Lord. Do this all together and also individually.
- Keep meeting with homebound believers for discipleship, accountability, or small group Bible studies. We can’t ever press pause on Jesus’ Great Commission to make disciples (Matt 28:18-20).
- Creatively use the current technology to encourage fellow believers through the ministry of the Word. Circumstantial limitations are the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.
The past two years have taught the church different ways to minister to the homebound. What have you learned, and how have you grown? What can we carry with us as Christ’s church continues to advance?
 Some churches made the philosophical decision that “online church” was not really church or the technical decision not to stream live even during the Covid lockdown. This stance, however, ignores the reality that some believers are physically unable to attend even in normal situations. If possible, we should invest time and money into live streaming so that the homebound can join us in worship at the same time and day as the rest of the church (instead of watching a recording).
Tom Sugimura pastors New Life Church in Woodland Hills, CA. He trains church planters, international pastors, and biblical counselors. He has also authored two books, Hope for New Dads and God’s Answers to Life’s Most Difficult Questions. He and his wife, Amanda, are busy raising four rambunctious children.