After pastoring for 40 years and serving as interim pastor in several churches, I recognize how busy people are and the exhaustion many feel. I also know a pastor’s exhaustion and have no desire to add more guilt to our lives. However, I am concerned with the lack of connection between pastors and congregation members beyond Sunday morning. It was my pattern to call in every home of my congregation twice a year. I would make the rounds in the late winter or early spring and then again during Advent. I was with them in times of illness and death as well.
Since retiring, I have supplied interim work in churches, sometimes for extended periods. By the time I am there a month, if the church has no directory, I have accumulated one with phone numbers and home addresses, as well as email contact information. I set aside a day to visit as many families as I can in an afternoon.
Repeatedly I have heard, “Pastor, thank you for coming. You are the first pastor to ever visit in my home.” Others have told me that it has been years since they had a pastoral visit.
We can give many reasons why we cannot visit in the homes of our attendees. However, I contend that home visits are important for the missional pastor today. A consistent presence in our congregants’ lives outside of Sunday gives credibility to our ministry as pastors.
Our compassion grows as we meet face-to-face with and help bear the burdens of our people. The preacher who visits the home will develop a greater sensitivity to his or her people and to the community that will be reflected in our messages. The relationships we build will also be reflected in consistency in worship attendance. Bob Broadbooks recently wrote: “I am amazed that, because of God’s calling, I had the privilege of being called ‘Pastor,’ and I had a 24-hour-a-day standing invitation to be included in the most intimate moments of people’s lives” (Grace & Peace, Issue 17, 52).
In a day of instant and constant communication by social media, we can stay in touch but be surprisingly out of touch! Email solutions to problems can come across as cold, and messages conveyed through social media can be easily misunderstood due to the lack of tone and body language. Social media is effective for passing along the menu for a potluck or communicating the board meeting time. Prayer chains can conveniently and quickly share prayer needs. However, some things are best conveyed face to face. Shepherding, a biblical image for the pastor, is a very “hands on” and present term. Social media does not excuse the pastor from, or meet the need for being a shepherd.
Shepherding, a biblical image for the pastor, is a very “hands on” and present term. Social media does not excuse the pastor from, or meet the need for being a shepherd. A large percentage of pastors are now bivocational.
I was bivocational during the last few years of my ministry, but I still recognized the value of face-to-face visitation and found it fulfilled me in ways that studying for the sermon or reaching out on the telephone could not.
Now, as an interim pastor, I still make face-to-face calls. Sometimes the church I am serving is an hour away from my home. However, I find that setting aside a couple of afternoons per month for face-to-face visitation is still vital to my ministry. With my directory and a GPS, in three hours I can make ten visitations. The district superintendent does not normally ask me to do this as an interim pastor. Even the parishioners don’t expect a face-to-face visit. Nevertheless, when I show up to visit them, however brief the visit, they respond with both surprise and thankfulness.
Most of the time, pastoral visits are pleasant with no surprises. People hide their needs until we earn their trust. With the building of trust, people will share their stories: a child addicted to drugs, or a marriage that is not as healthy as it seems on Sunday morning. It may take a long time for some to open their hearts and share their needs, but when they do, you know that you have become a pastor—their pastor. Calling in the home enhances the shepherding relationship.
How to Make Pastoral Visits
What are the mechanics of a pastoral call? First, I assume that a pastor’s visit is the norm, and I want my congregation to expect to see their pastor at their door. It does not automatically mean there is a tragedy. I usually put an announcement in the bulletin in the late winter or early spring letting folks know I will be calling on the church family in the next six to eight weeks.
Near Advent, I make the same announcement and give an opportunity for people to select a time and a day by signing their name on a posted sheet with 30-minute time slots. Even if people fail to sign up, I try to take some time to see them outside of Sunday. I remind people that I will call on each family unit in the next few weeks: “I am not coming to be fed. I just read a brief Scripture, visit briefly, and pray with you.” Because the schedule is public, people will know I can only stay a few minutes.
One of my favorite Scriptures to use when calling is Luke 12:22-31, in which Jesus invites people not to be anxious about anything. I don’t comment on it, since it is meant to be a comforting reminder, but at times someone will tell me what their worry is. I ask in each home, “Is there anything I can help you pray about?” It is open ended. Often I will learn that the husband’s job is not very satisfying, or a son is struggling in school, or someone is going to have a medical test. How we react when they share will define our ministry and will help determine if they will share deeper needs in the future. We are not looking for sermon illustrations on these visits, and no prayer request is shared publicly without permission. It is not a time to preach. We only do what we have said we will do: Pray with them.
Don’t stay for more than 20 minutes.
Remember, you made a commitment that your visit would be short. Feel free to say, “I have to move on now, but I will pray with you about this. When you want to talk more, call me, and we will schedule a time.” Sometimes simply sharing the need can be a source of comfort and healing.
Busy pastor, visit the people.