On Pastoral Visits, updated

Thanks to this post by Thom Rainer, I thought I’d revisit the topic of “Pastoral Visits”. I originally blogged about this a few years ago, but have some further thinking on the matter. From that post:

 I ENJOY pastoral visits that allow me to know the stories about the people that I get to minister alongside. This post, then, is not about crisis calls, hospital visits or the “new to the church” person or even the, “I’ve been here for 50 years” person (and everyone in between). This post IS about the expectation that many in the church have that it is the Pastor’s job, and only the Pastor’s job, to visit someone.

And, the perception that, should someone else in the congregation visit in lieu of the Pastor, then those visits don’t count. What I am completely uninterested in is the posturing, gladhanding, baby-kissing and handshaking that is not really about relationships; but about the appearance of relationship.

To get this out of the way early, I fully believe that the part of the role of the pastor is indeed visitation. But, it is not ONLY the pastor who must visit.

As Rainer does, I will appeal to Ephesians 4:12, and then (as in my original post) 1 Timothy 5:1-16. As one who believes in the sufficiency of scripture, these texts ought to be “enough” for us. I’ll also present a pragmatic argument, in the spirit of having a conversation about re-thinking pastoral care.

Scenario: Perfect Christian Church has 100 family units, with an average family size of 2.54 people (2015 statistics), this means that PCC has an average of 250-ish people. Pastor Smith is expected to work 50 hours/week, which is 200-ish hours/month. The expectation is that Pastor Smith connects with 75 family units (only because 100 would be completely unreasonable) per month (Now, this is not written down anywhere, but neither are a great many other expectations that people place on pastoral staff members). Here are two options:

Option A: Pastor Smith plans out his 75 visits with a time-frame of an hour a piece. Figuring in travel time- let’s say that each visit will take 1.25 hours (how realistic is this for your context?). That’s 93.75 hours of pastoral care for the month. Divide that by 4 weeks/month and you get…about 24 hours/week of visitation. Divide that by 5 days a week and you get about 5 hours each day solely devoted to visitation. Since every church has the expectation that pastors will have office hours (because no one ever wonders why the pastor is never in his/her office, right?), these visitations would likely take place at night. And since none of the families at PCC are involved in traveling cornhole leagues, play instruments in the school band, sing in the school choir, participate in drama (other than at PCC), or play other sports, everyone is home and loves it when Pastor Smith comes over. So, Pastor Smith prepares and gives sermons, prepares and leads a small group or Bible study, prepares and leads staff meetings and equipping sessions, attends elder/board and ministry team meetings, deals with crisis care issues, and is then gone 5 nights/week, for 5 hours each night, out doing visitations. But hey, everyone gets their one visit per month, with some getting two visits. And, that’s the price of doing ministry. Besides, didn’t Pastor Smith just give a message series on sacrificing our time, treasure and talent? And while Pastor Smith’s wife and family resents both he and the church, they just need to have a servant’s attitude about it.

Option B: Pastor Smith has an equipped team of elders, deacons, lay leaders and the other staff members. There are 15 small groups consisting of 7 (-ish) family units/group. Each small group meets weekly for 2 hours. That’s 8 hours of pastoral care for the month per family group (8x more than Option A). And since EVERY family is involved in traveling cornhole leagues, plays instruments in the school band, sings in the school choir, participates in drama (other than at PCC), or plays other sports, they can pick the small group that works best for them and their situation (after all, there are FIFTEEN! to choose from). And even if they only get to small group twice per month, that is still FOUR TIMES the amount of pastoral care in Option A. Pastor Smith now has even MORE time to  prepare for sermons, prepare for and lead a small group or Bible study, prepare for and lead staff meetings and equipping sessions, attend elder/board and ministry team meetings, deal with crisis care issues and…bonus! He gets to eat meals with his wife and kids who will now be less inclined to hate both his guts and their church.

Option B is not only pragmatically better in terms of time and attention to people, discipleship-making and relationship building…it’s also biblical.

Some possible issues would be:

  • helping people see the small group as a primary means of pastoral care
  • communicating how the small group is a primary means of pastoral care
  • raising up and equipping the leaders to be the facilitators of these groups as pastoral care leaders
  • ??

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