Make Room for Personal Visitation

MY PASTOR and I have recently made some visits in the homes of our members," the first elder of one of our large churches wrote to me recently, "and I find that our people are literally starving to death for the kindly visit from the shepherd of the flock."

MY PASTOR and I have recently made some visits in the homes of our members," the first elder of one of our large churches wrote to me recently, "and I find that our people are literally starving to death for the kindly visit from the shepherd of the flock."

"I joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1939," another friend told me today, "and during all of these years I have never had a pastoral visit. It would really be nice to feel that the pastor is interested in our spiritual welfare, even though he does see us at church every week."

All of us have heard similar regrets expressed and we know that these words are not complaints and criticisms, but true expressions of heart hunger for spiritual help. What can we as pastors do to satisfy these spiritual needs? Most of our church pastors today are loaded down with many responsibilities. Each man must be evangelist, administrator, builder, financier, social worker, as well as pastor or chief shepherd. I have served as pastor of both small and large churches, and I know some of the problems you face.

I know also from experience how much our church members need spiritual direction and counsel in their own homes. I was encouraged by a letter written to me by a layman recently. This local church leader not only called for help, he also offered some helpful suggestions.

"It is my conviction," this church elder wrote, "that the pastors should be relieved of the burdens of special campaigns and offerings. This should be the task of the laymen. In order for this to be successful, the conference committee will have to accept the work of the laymen. For example, our evangelism goal in my church is $14,000. If we should raise only $12,000 and a call-back should need to be made, it should be made by the layman in charge, rather than placing this burden on the back of the pastor.

"If we laymen could relieve the pastor from the bulk of the aforementioned duties," he continued, "then our ministers would have time to do that for which they have been ordained of God. This will result in a great number of our people remaining faithful rather than going out to walk with us no more. What greater evangelistic endeavor can we procure?"

Evangelism and Visitation

As a local conference president, one day I received an interesting letter signed by several members of one of our churches. They had a committed pastor one who looked well to their spiritual needs. He had "trained them well." This group of church members was eager for their pastor to conduct an evangelistic effort in their community, but they also knew the demands of the Ingathering campaign that was to begin soon. "Let our pastor preach the message in our evangelistic crusade," the members appealed, "and we church members will raise the Ingathering goal." Our committee agreed to take them at their word. The pastor held a fruitful evangelistic effort and the church members were as good as their word. They reached their Ingathering goal!

This experience suggests that the pastor's duties include evangelistic preaching, and when the church is busy caring for its own departments and campaigns the pastor is free to lead out in expanding the church membership. Just how to balance his time between evangelistic preaching and pastoral visitation is one of the pas tor's big challenges.

As pastors and conference leaders we should continually be inspiring and instructing our members in the art of bearing church responsibilities so that we will have more time to preach the message and to visit in the homes of our people and bring to them spiritual counseling and encouragement. A carefully planned program of visits in the homes of our members makes our preaching and instruction effective!

When our believers are so hungry for pastoral calls that they are willing to assume responsibilities ordinarily carried by the pastor, ought we not to put forth every effort to give this personal attention a very high priority in our planning?

Included in the instruction God has given the pastor is this word, "He should visit every family." This is a tremendous assignment, especially for pastors with large congregations. Careful budgeting of one's time is required. Establishing priorities, making every moment count provides the only possible hope for accomplishment. It may take many months. It will certainly require perseverance, but it will reap rich rewards.

Organizing for Visitation

As the young pastor of a church of nearly 900 members, I faced the problem of home visitation. With the cooperation of the church board we solved the problem satisfactorily by organizing the church territory into districts and assigning to deacons and deaconesses routine visitation. The elders of the church willingly accepted the privilege of visiting new interests and more difficult visitation assignments. What did I, as pastor, do? I did three things. I visited homes referred to me by the deacons, deaconesses, and the elders. I made hospital visits. And I under took a systematic visitation of all the members over a period of a year or so. It was a rewarding experience for all of us.

These house-to-house visits are not to degenerate into mere social calls. Social calls would be the easy course to follow. Read the inspired word in Evangelism again, noting well the purpose of true pastoral visitation! If we lose sight of these objectives, we fail in our spiritual impact upon church members.

The pastor meets with an endless variety of temperaments; and it is his duty to become acquainted with the members of the families that listen to his teachings, in order to determine what means will best influence them in the right direction. Gospel Workers, p. 338.

How can we preach to help the people without being in their homes? Usually there is not time or opportunity on Sabbaths for them to unburden their hearts, to share their problems with us. How can we know when to encourage, when and how to admonish, when to comfort, when to convict, unless we are close to our people?

It is highly important that a pastor mingle much with his people, and thus become acquainted with the different phases of human nature. He should study the workings of the mind, that he may adapt his teachings to the intellect of his hearers. He will thus learn that grand charity which is possessed only by those who study closely the nature and needs of men. Ibid., p. 191. The Lord's messenger sums up the challenge and the rewards of house-to-house personal visitation in these inspired words. We need to read thoughtfully:

His [the minister's] work is not merely to stand in the desk. It is but just begun there. He should enter the different families, and carry Christ there* carry his sermons there, carry them out in his actions and his words. As he visits a family he should inquire into their condition. Is he the shepherd of the flock? The work of a shepherd is not all done in the desk. He should talk with all the members of the flock, with the parents to learn their standing, and with the children to learn theirs. A minister should feed the flock over which God has made him overseer. It would be agreeable to go into the house and study; but if you do this to the neglect of the work which God has commissioned you to perform, you do wrong. Never enter a family without inviting them together, and bowing down and praying with them before you leave. Inquire into the health of their souls. What does a skillful physician do? He inquires into the particulars of the case, then seeks to administer remedies. Just so the physician of the soul should inquire into the spiritual maladies with which the members of his flock are afflicted, then go to work to administer the proper remedies, and ask the Great Physician to come to his aid. Give them the help that they need. Testimonies, vol. 2, pp. 618, 619.

Why not talk over the problems and the challenges with your church leaders? You will certainly find some ready volunteers who will shoulder many routine pastoral activities so you can find more time to preach the message evangelistically, and just as important, so you can bring blessing into the homes of our Adventist members through personal, spiritual visitation.

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October 1971

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