Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Pastoral Visits – the Changing Landscape of Ministry (Part 1)

Dahlia of the day: Zorro. When Zorro's first appear they are as dark as the center portion of the blossom in the photo. The color fades in direct sunlight. Those wishing to keep the deep color should provide shade over the blossoms.

I remember sitting in the living room of our house in Ellensburg, Washington. I believe that I was still in high school (1975). The pastor of the Presbyterian Church had called and asked if he could stop over for a few minutes to visit with our family. My mom was furious! Had we done something wrong? What did the pastor want that he couldn’t talk about it at church? When the pastor arrived my mom was “cordial.” The visit lasted about ten minutes and then the pastor left. Mom felt as though we had just become a “notch” in the pastor’s visitation record. She felt as though he stopped by because the church expected him to stop by. I will never forget that night.

Fast forward 32 years… I am a Presbyterian pastor. The world has changed!

Baby sitters—they were a life saver. Back in the day of young children we had very little in the way of money. We rarely went out. When we did go out we would hire a baby sitter to watch the kids. I NEVER DROVE A FEMALE BABY SITTER HOME! All of our baby sitters were from our church. We knew their families very well. The girls were in our youth groups. I would never put myself in the dangerous situation of being alone in a car with a female baby sitter.

Fast forward to today… I won’t ride in the car with a female (other than a relative) unless it is an emergency and then, only if their husband knows and approves. For secretary’s/office administrator’s appreciation day we are faced with the dilemma—how many cars to take to the restaurant. One accusation and my ministry is finished. Gone! Ruined!!

My wife use to work for a world-wide accounting firm. It was common practice for people of the opposite gender to ride in the same car to a client’s office—especially when the client was out of the general area. No one even questioned whether this should be done or not. The business world functions with a different set of rules than the church. Like it or not, that’s just the way it is.

Pastoral visits. Pastoral visits? Pastoral visits!?! A pastor, and the pastor’s church, needs to think long and hard before the pastor visits anyone in their home. For the next several days I will be exploring the topic of pastoral visits.

The Primary Role of a Pastor:

Every person in a church has a different idea of what the primary role of the pastor really is. The person in the hospital thinks that the pastor should stop by the hospital to visit them. The person who loves Bible study thinks the pastor should lead Bible studies. What is the pastor to do? What should the pastor do? What does the Bible say the pastor should do?

First, the Bible doesn’t talk about the “pastor” of a church or about a “denomination.” The closest text I can find that gives light to the role of a pastor is Acts 6. In the Book of Acts, the church was growing and needs were emerging. The widows of some Grecian Jews (who had become Christians) were not getting the food they needed. The problem was brought to the attention of the apostles. Their response was, "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word." The pastor’s primary responsibility is prayer and the ministry of the word—preaching/teaching. The pastor must never forget this! Our churches fail to grow because our pastors spend too much time doing things other than prayer and preaching/teaching. A pastor can visit people all day, every day, and kill the church and fail to do what God wants the pastor to do.

Now that I have gotten that off my chest…

Pastoral Visits and the “Older” Generation:

A certain segment of the congregation remembers “the day” when the pastor went out and visited every member in the church—in the church member’s home. It was hoped that such home visits would communicate that the pastor cared for the members of the church.

A few years ago a family left our church. They said that the church didn’t care for them in their times of need. I was floored. Our Deacon board helped them in ways that cannot be mentioned here. Our church provided them with countless meals. The list of how our church reached out to this family could go on and on. Yet, they felt that the church didn’t care for them in their time of need. What they meant to say is that the pastor didn’t come out to see them often enough during their time of need. Another family had a similar situation. When it was pointed out how our Deacons (and others) had reached out to them the response was, “Yea, but that’s their job.” Once again, the church and the pastor did not live up to the visitation expectations of a family.

Many of the older folks at my church “expect” the pastor to come and visit. This expectation may be there for many reasons: the church is the last thing in their lives that remains relatively unchanged, they are facing their own mortality, they many hope to “score points” with God by having the pastor stop by, they may be feeling as though they have very little to offer the church in their latter years of life, etc. What ever the reason, many older folk want (or even expect) the pastor to come and visit.


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