Posted On July 26, 2017

A Common Challenge

The tragedy of dementia is common and will become more so in the future. It is estimated that over 30% of the average church congregation will die with some form of dementia. That represents an enormous challenge in pastoral ministry. I would suggest that one of the metrics by which a pastor’s ministry can be assessed is how well the saints are prepared to face this test in a way that glorifies God.

To meet this challenge it is necessary for a pastor to first learn as much as possible about dementia. It is also essential to recognize that dementia is not a tragedy outside of God’s control. God does not waste his time and has purposes in dementia that we need to recognize. His purpose may be in the life of the victim. I recall a friend named Bob, who was too fiercely independent to recognize his need for a savior, turn to Christ as he saw his own abilities begin to decline. God’s purpose may be in the life of the caregiver whose ability to trust is increased when faced with the near impossible task of being responsible for someone with dementia. Finally, God’s purpose may be in the life of the church community, struggling with what personhood means in the context of dementia and how to love someone unable to reciprocate. It is estimated that over 30% of the average church congregation will die with some form of dementia.

Proactive Equipping

A pastor must proactively equip his flock with a biblical understanding of God’s sovereignty over the difficulties of life. Christians must have a large enough view of God that they can trust him even when life does not reward them as they might choose.

When faced with dementia, will they respond in trust and, through dependence, draw closer to God? Or will they respond to God by saying, “If this is how you treat me, I will no longer believe you are good and powerful?”

In addition, the saints must understand what it means to be made in the image of God. It is not a description of our intelligence or capacities. It is true of all human beings and is both the design by which we were made and the eventual destiny of all God’s people. The image of God was not lost in the fall and imparts to all humans, including those with dementia, a dignity that deserves our full respect.

Reactive Care

A faithful shepherd will also need to be reactive when dementia strikes in the congregation. Early in the course of the disease, accommodation may be necessary for those with dementia to attend services and opportunities to serve will need to be creatively provided. The congregation must be mobilized to provide practical support for the patient and caregivers.

Later in the course of the disease—when the victim, and possibly caregiver, cannot attend services—the pastor must make sure that help is provided in the home. It will become increasingly important for the caregiver to get out for worship and fellowship. Trained volunteers will need to provide necessary care for the patient to allow for that. Pastoral care will also be required in the home, allowing for spiritual encouragement for both the caregiver and the one with dementia. It will also allow the church leader to observe how things are going practically and provide appropriate assistance and counsel.

 The nature of a pastoral visit to one with dementia will not be a typical “sick and shut in” visit. Rather than reading a chapter of Scripture, it may be wiser to leave them with a single verse or just a phrase. Singing or reading a familiar hymn may be even more beneficial. It is helpful to remember that when it comes to those with dementia, emotional memories often last longer than intellectual memories. The victim may not remember what you said but they may remember the hug and that the visit made them feel good.

Leading the saints to experience how God can be glorified in the face of dementia may challenge you as a pastor, but it can be a wonderful opportunity to serve “one of the least of these.”

This is a guest article by Dr. John Dunlap, author of Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia. This post originally appeared on crossway.org; used with permission.

Related Posts

Approved Workers

Approved Workers

On today’s Warriors of Grace show, Dave continues the 2 Timothy series looking at 2 Timothy 2:14-21 and teaching Christians the truth and how to handle error correctly, and dealing with false teachers. What you’ll hear in this episode Dealing with false teachers....

Till All Our Strivings Cease: Enduring Exhaustion with Hope

Till All Our Strivings Cease: Enduring Exhaustion with Hope

“I’m so tired.” These words seem to come out of my mouth more and more these days and start off more journal entries than I can count. I feel physically tired, as though no amount of sleep could possibly replenish my energy, as well as emotionally tired. I hear these...

Wild Olive Branches

Wild Olive Branches

Romans 11:16-18, “If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the...

Deborah Howard- HELP! Someone I Love Has Alzheimer’s

Deborah Howard- HELP! Someone I Love Has Alzheimer’s

On today’s Equipping You in Grace show, Dave and Deborah Howard discuss Christian friendship and support in and out of the local church, advice for family members and friends with family or friends who have memory loss, the local church, and supporting family members...

When Sinful Comparison Rears Its Ugly Head, Draw Near to Jesus

When Sinful Comparison Rears Its Ugly Head, Draw Near to Jesus

I’d done it again. It was subtle, and neither my husband nor any of our five children sitting in the car with me knew what I had done. That’s how sneaky sinful comparison can be. While reading during a long road trip, right in the middle of a well-crafted sentence in...

The Jews and the Resurrection

The Jews and the Resurrection

Romans 11:13-15, “13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14 in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. 15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the...

0 Comments

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Weekly Roundup 7/24/2017-7/29/2017 - Servants of Grace - […] Pastor, Are You Prepared to Shepherd Your Flock through Dementia? by John Dunlap https://servantsofgrace.org/pastor-prepared-shepherd-flock-dementia/ […]

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Tweet6
Share4
Reddit
Email
Buffer