This summer, I have had the privilege of performing a ministry program known as Clinical Pastoral Education ("CPE") at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, a suburb of Chicago. The program consists of 400 clinical hours and includes two group sessions per week with an educator and four other students. When I tell people what I do during the program, I say that I am essentially a chaplain intern at the hospital. In other words, I provide spiritual and other types of support care for patients and their families who are suffering or grieving the loss of somebody or something. As chaplain interns, we are also required to work eight, 8-hour on-call shifts on either Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
Even though visiting with and caring for the needs of patients is the ministry provided by the chaplaincy interns, the purpose of the program is for the interns to find out more about ourselves through a clinical process. This clinical process involves using various approaches to connect with the needs of patients, analyze what is effective or ineffective, and then make any necessary adjustments to an approach and try the new approach with the corrections.
As I share this wonderful ministry with patients, their families and sometimes the hospital staff, I often think about how this clinical approach to ministry applies to our everyday lives as Christians. In the CPE program, the patients and their families are strangers before I meet them. They didn't know me and I didn't know them before I entered into their hospital room. I imagine that similar circumstances apply to your lives as well. How many new people do you meet each day? How do you connect with them? Is your encounter with somebody new a benefit to you and the person you meet? These are some of the questions that Jesus Christ had to address within himself as he was sharing his ministry on earth over 2,000 years ago. These are questions that remain today as we as a church community seek to connect with and help others in need.
From my personal perspective, I have learned through my chaplaincy program to actively listen to other people and ask specific questions that require the other person to elaborate and not just give a yes or no answer. Instead of talking, I have learned to allow the other person to carry the bulk of the conversation. When the time is appropriate, I ask them about their spiritual support system or other coping methods they utilize to deal with their suffering. In many ways, this clinical approach follows the ways already shared by our Savior. Jesus Christ listened to the blind man who wished to receive sight. Jesus listened to the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus listened to and answered his disciples when they asked him about the beatitudes on the Sermon on the Mount. Most of all, Jesus listened to and obeyed his Father - our Lord - when it was his time to be glorified on the cross and rise again for the salvation of humanity's sins. Jesus listened, responded, analyzed whether he was connecting with the people, and used parables like the Seed Sower to communicate his divine message.
In your everyday life, you have the opportunity to listen, respond, analyze the effectiveness and make any changes to the ways you connect with people. I have been blessed to perform CPE this summer through the middle of August, but the lessons I am learning will last a lifetime!
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. (NIV) - James 1:19