We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Friday, June 27, 2014

Pastoral Visitation

By all accounts, most American Protestant pastors do little home visitation any more even in smaller congregations.  What was once widely seen as one of the basic tasks of pastoral ministry has largely fallen by the wayside.  It is a shame that this is the case, and it is likely one cause of why so many pastorates end sooner rather than later and badly rather than well.  Home visitation of parishioners by their pastor, if done in a friendly and caring manner, contributes to the over all health of a pastor's relationship with her congregation in several ways.

Regular visitation is in and of itself a statement by the pastor that he cares.  The word gets out quickly that she devotes time each week reaching out to members of the church.  It is not just those who receive visits that appreciate the gesture of care embodied in regular calling.  Pastors will use different standards to determine who requires regular visitation (e.g. everyone over the age of 80 as  one criterion) and different churches will have their own unique set of considerations.  The important thing is that pastoral calling visibly, regularly takes place.

Visitation provides a foundation for pastoral care in times of crisis and need.  The time spent socializing with parishioners in their homes, which often enough involves real sharing of each other's lives and concerns, helps a pastor to know how to minister to her parishioners more effectively when they have a real need for pastoral help.

Visitation also sets a tone for the whole congregation.  It communicates the importance of fellowship and mutual care in a church.  It is better to practice the mutual love we expect of the people of God than preach it.

In general, regular visitation provides a pastor with insights into the relationships of people within the church—who are friendly with each other, who are not.  When a pastor visits the people on a regular basis, he plain and simply knows them better.  Visitation has a positive influence on preaching, worship, and administration.  It helps a pastor better navigate the politics of a congregation.

For pastors themselves calling on parishioners sets a tone that becomes a habit.  The pastor has to work at relationships and always remember that the health of the church-pastor relationship (and thus of the church itself) depends on that work.  Visitation also encourages a pastor to find other ways to care for those relationships including having lunch at the local diner with some and inviting others to dinner in the pastor's home.

In the course of a pastorate, there will be times (for months sometimes) when a pastor genuinely has little time for calling; but the fact that it has been done and will again get done is not lost on her parishioners.  Their appreciation of a pastor who goes out of his way to minster to them in this way remains—as long as the visits are friendly, kindly, and obviously caring.  And I should add that most of the time visitation is one of the more enjoyable aspects of pastoral ministry.  In how many jobs, are people paid "just" to sit and chat with friends?