I pastored a church in Virginia long (long, long, long…) ago and ran into a culture I wasn’t used to. Many of the people there thought that ministry was preaching a decent sermon on Sunday (one that let out on time, of course) and then going from house to house the rest of the week doing visitation. This wasn’t evangelistic, but simply calling on people to see how they were doing. This church was in a very small rural town.
Then I moved to Iowa, where I served two churches over the past 32 years, both in cities of more than 100,000 people. In these cities, drop-in visitation was not only not expected, but it was culturally discouraged. People didn’t like you showing up at their house unannounced and uninvited. In 17 years as pastor in Sioux City, we were invited to dine in someone’s home less than a dozen times (other than parties, graduation celebrations, etc). We ate out for fellowship. People’s homes were their castles and a figurative moat existed around those castles.
I went from one church where, and I am not exaggerating, the quality of the pastor was judged by how well he visited his flock, to other churches where visiting in homes was not done unless there was a death, a serious illness, or some other exigent need.
I have served churches in Florida, Virginia, and Iowa (and now, rural Nebraska just across the Iowa border). Three of these churches have been in smaller cities and the Virginia church was a small village of about 600 people. Their visitation expectations were completely different.
I have talked to younger pastors who eschew the idea of visitation entirely, even for hospitals, shut-ins, and such. They claim, perhaps with some biblical support, that this is a deacon ministry and should be carried out by them. Others have embraced the “visitation is pastoral love” model and spend their week eating pie and chatting in the homes of the members of their church.
It was a constant pull. I knew that to please the people in the church I had to visit but if I visited as much as they wanted, I probably couldn’t do things I needed to do in my service to God. I’ve never been great at time management or balancing things, so much of the fault is my own, but a lot of it has to do with the expectations of the church.
I have some questions:
- What does your church expect you, as pastor, to do for visitation? Hospital and emergency only or drop-in, social visitation?
- What is your attitude toward visitation?
- How does visitation fit into the biblical role of the shepherd?
- Is this about church size, city size, or region of the country?
Talk amongst yourselves!