Editor’s note: From the reports we are receiving, it seems to us that there is a worldwide decrease in pastoral visits to church members. Various reasons are given by pastors. Nevertheless, members seem concerned about what they see as a decrease in visitation. This article explores the benefits of visiting not from the perspective of members, but from a pastoral perspective.
Visit your members! How often do pastors hear these words? They are spoken by congregational leaders, church members, and pastoral supervisors. Certainly visitation is an important part of ministry and members are blessed by such visits. In this article, I will not explore the principles of visitation or the reasons why pastors should visit members. I wish to look at visitation from another perspective. What do pastors gain from visiting members? Are pastors simply fulfilling their responsibilities or do pastors receive a professional and personal benefit from the visits?
While pastoring three churches, I visited my members. In this article, I will share from a personal perspective and other sources, the benefits that pastors receive when they visit their members. These benefits, I believe, bring blessings to the pastor both professionally and personally.
By their faith, our faith is strengthened
Visiting people who have become discouraged because of crises in their lives, or because they have received good news, or have not been at church for a few weeks—whatever their situations— after the visit, the pastor will often leave the home encouraged. The blessing of a pastoral visit reaches past those whom the pastor chooses to visit. It also becomes a blessing to the pastor. When Jesus lived on this earth, He visited people for “Our Saviour went from house to house, healing the sick, comforting the mourners, soothing the afflicted, and speaking peace to the disconsolate.”1 The Bible records such experiences to show that, by the faith of a believer, pastors are strengthened by the trust that members have in the pastors.
In Acts 10:1–7, Luke describes Cornelius and his faith-building experiences. Acts 10:9–19 describes Peter’s vision about a certain vessel from heaven, but Peter doubted those instructions.
When Peter went to visit Cornelius, according to the command of the Lord, Cornelius had faith and an understanding of Scripture. He wanted Peter to visit him and present the gospel. This visit brought not only a great blessing to Cornelius but to Peter as well. Peter understood the meaning of the dream while he was in the house of Cornelius.2 This visit changed Peter’s perspective about mission.
As pastors, when we visit, we receive a spiritual blessing—or what we might call a divine intervention— to assist us in understanding certain things in a better way. Let me illustrate with an experience I had during one visit I made.
I visited a member who was hospitalized for several weeks. He was a regular church member, but he had missed attending church for two or three weeks, so I went to visit him. As I spoke to physicians in the hospital, they told me that the man was suffering from sickle cell anemia (a disease of the blood). When I spoke to the member during my visit, he said, “Pastor, Jesus shed His own blood for me, His blood is enough for me.” I was shocked and at the same time amazed to learn about his faith in spite of his sickness.
What a faith! At that time I was not really happy about my pastoral work, and I was becoming discouraged in my ministry. I was losing enthusiasm; but during this visit, that particular member’s faith encouraged me to look beyond my problems.
By visiting, we understand our members better
A member was asleep during a recent sermon—or so it seemed. I paid him a visit the next week, and while we conversed, he told me exactly what topic I preached, all the texts I used, and the illustrations I shared. Evidently, he was not as sound asleep as I had thought. If I had not visited him, I would have had the image of him sleeping during the sermon, and no pastor likes to see the members asleep during a sermon. The wrong conclusion on my part was corrected because of the visit.
In Acts 16:25–34, Paul’s encounter with the jailer brings to mind one important element of visitation. Before this incident, Paul had not known the jailer. After the miracle of Paul and Silas not having escaped, the jailer gave his heart to Jesus. As Paul and Silas were visiting the house of the jailer, and as he washed their wounds (v. 33), he himself was washed from his own sins. This particular visit brought a new understanding to Paul about the jailer, especially when they visited his house, because of the hospitality shown to Paul and Silas that was such an encouragement and made them rejoice. Before this visit, Paul and Silas may have misread the jailer, may have treated him as a stranger or even as an enemy. But Paul baptized the jailer’s family on the same night, and Paul also received a blessing as he baptized new believers (Acts 16:33, 34).
Visitation helps us know the needs of our members
Often pastors are reminded to know the needs of their church members—their spiritual lives, family practices, and social needs—and how to meet them. Although most of the time we should not preach on topics that members discuss with us during a visit (though sometimes members ask us to address certain topics), that visit will assist us as we plan our preaching schedule.
In 2 Kings 4:8–17, the story records a time when the prophet Elisha traveled to Shunem, and an affluent woman gave him a place to stay. He used to visit this house often. As Elisha visited, he came to know their family needs through his servant Gehazi. That family did not have a child. Prophet Elisha prophesized that by the following year she would have a son (2 Kings 4:16). This visit by Elisha was a great blessing for the family, and through Elisha’s visit, their need was met. Elisha uplifted and restored that family by his visit.
Our visit may help us know our members’ needs. Their needs may be different from the others we visit. We may not be able to fulfill all their needs, but we can direct them to God who has the capability to meet their needs.
When we show an interest in the needs of our members, we will have a good relationship with our members. Our visits may not solve a problem, but these visits can help us better understand the causes of the problems our members face. Through our visits, we have the opportunity to help our members spiritually, physically, mentally, and socially.
In some cultures, pastors may receive gifts from their members, but these small tokens of appreciation should never be a motive for visitation. However, we must express our appreciation. The far greater gifts we receive during visitation are the gifts of faith strengthening by listening to our members’ spiritual journeys, their faith-building experiences, their approach to life, and the gift of having the opportunity to listen to their needs.
The next time you plan your member visitation schedule, remember that while the members will receive benefits, you, as the pastor, will also receive lasting benefits, both personally and professionally.
Benefits of visitation
Information provided by Chor-Kiat Sim, DMin, chaplain at Washington Adventist Hospital, Takoma Park, Maryland, United States.
Spiritual growth. Without a deep personal experience with God, pastors cannot make meaningful visits. Spiritual preparation before visiting is important. Without communion with God, visitations can become social events only. Mutual interactions between pastors and members evoke a desire to know each other better. Thus it enhances both pastors and members with a better knowledge of God and themselves.
Relationships. Pastoral visits cement relationships between pastors and their members. Since relationships are vital in Christian ministry, these visits help parishioners know their pastors. Pastors also can encourage members to visit one another. The pastor’s sincerity in making effective visits is certain to produce results.
Preaching. Pastoral visits give pastors insights into the lives of members, which enables the minister to preach with a particularly focused relevance.
Nurture. Pastoral visitation is an integral part of church ministry. Jesus’ parting words to Peter urged him to feed His lambs (John 21:15–19). Coming close to people is essential in nurturing them. Each day their minds are bombarded with unwelcome ideas. Attaining nurture through shepherding is crucial, and it includes healing, sustaining, and guiding. (Seward Hiltner, Preface to Pastoral Theology [New York: Abingdon Press, 1958], 28.)
Stewardship. Pastoral visitation is key to communicating the relevance of stewardship. There is no better motivation to giving than for the pastor to provide a member with effective pastoral care through preaching and visitation.
Personal growth. Visiting others reveals inadequacies in the pastor’s own life. One professor at the Adventist Theological Seminary confided that “most seminarians are poor in comprehending the weaknesses and needs of their own inner being.” Ministers need to rediscover themselves by asking, “Who am I and what is a pastor?” This can be clarified for the pastor in their visitation of people.
1. Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers (Washington, DC: Review
and Herald Publishing Association, 1948), 188.
2. Francis D. Nichol, Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary,
vol. 6 (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1956), 252.