Should We Think of Church as a "Hospital"?
By Terry L. Craig
Around 40 years ago, when I was still relatively new to the things of God, the pastor of my church said he believed "the Church should be a hospital," and then elaborated by saying it should be a place of hope and healing for the sick and wounded. Back then it sounded like a really good/godly idea to me, and over the years I've heard the same concept preached in many churches, by many ministries. But should we accept the image of the Church as a hospital?
Yes I agree, Jesus said it was the sick who need a Physician. And, yes, as Christians we are called to bring people to Jesus and to care about their lives. But I've come to the conviction that it's not the call of the Church to be "a hospital."
First of all, a hospital is a location—the Church is people. The Church is the gathered Body of Christ—wherever that happens to be, and we would do well to consider how our fellowships are shaped by our focus.
A hospital is a place where those who are seriously ill or injured vastly outnumber those who are well and we often hear how overwhelmed the staff at hospitals can become because of this. We can see the high rate of burnout for staff who must keep working from crisis to crisis no matter what.
While not all patients in a hospital are "sick" (think of the maternity or surgical wards) all of the "patients" need dedicated, continuous, specific care, and treating them is the hospital's sole purpose. Yes, there are "happy" events such as the birth of healthy children—but regardless of why they are in the hospital, when patients recover (or after the baby is born), they're all expected to depart from the hospital to make room for incoming patients who will need just as much care. How many former patients form lasting, healthy friendships with the hospital staff or the other patients? How many of them come back just to hang out at the hospital once they're recovered? The truth is—a hospital is a place no one wants to go unless there is an urgent need for skilled care.
Church is not only "other than" a hospital, it's MORE than a hospital.
Church is wherever we gather in Jesus' name. When we do, God isn't just in us as individual believers, He's in our midst (filling the space between us!) as He meets with us, inhabiting our praises and listening to our prayers. The fellowship of Church should be comprised of people of all kinds, freely worshiping, hearing His word, singing, sharing, or sitting in deep silence as they are filled with awe at who He is. Church should be a tangible expression of the Lord with us. In Church, His soldiers can connect with Him and with each other before heading out into the trenches. The gathering of Church is the faithful sharing of gifts or a portion of the abundance God has given, to be distributed where it is needed. The fellowship of Church becomes a deep well where all can drink, where anyone can be transformed—and become a new creation in Christ.
The Church isn't a hospital any more than Jesus was just a prophet or just a good man or just a teacher.
Christians should partner with God in doing the work of ministry—but Church is who we are, not what we do, and not merely a place we meet. In the midst of the fellowship of Church is Jesus Christ. As we experience HIS presence in our midst, all manner of wonderful things can happen—inviting us to draw even closer to Him and to each other. And then, hopefully, the babies, the soldiers, the liberated, the healed, the comforted, the families, the old, and young will continue to regularly gather and make the fellowship all the more beautiful.
© 2022 Terry L. Craig
Another article that may interest you is Where is God's House?