Leader to Leader, Ministry

Making Meaningful Pastoral Visits

August 29, 2016 | Posted by Art Scherer

I’ve observed that many of the most effective and beloved pastors (and elders, too!) were those who had a plan for regular visitation of the people of God in their spiritual care. Those visits might be in the home, at lunch near work, or some other place. They might be once a year or once every three years. But there was a plan to make visitation an important part of ministry, and that plan usually paid off in terms of enriched preaching, fewer crises, a better understanding of the needs of the people, greater commitment to the congregation and the pastoral leadership, increased church and Bible class attendance, enhanced stewardship.

Regular visitation by the pastor and elders seems to have fallen off in recent years. We live in a different time and culture. Life is more complex. Calendars are fuller. Some people see a pastoral visit as disruptive of their already limited family time. Even hospital visits are difficult to make because of changing medical practices. Pastors and elders, for their part, often feel they lack the time, training, and understanding of purpose to give priority to visitation. Some carry on an effective ministry through social media and email. Nevertheless, few things beat the effectiveness of face-to-face conversation, and if you are thinking of giving it a try, here are some helpful hints:

  • Have a Plan. Unless you set some kind of plan and have a goal in mind, your visits will be haphazard and low in priority. The plan could take many forms: Number of visits per month; Covering the congregation in ___ years; Focusing on certain target groups like families with children or newly retired. Without a plan, not much will happen.
  • Call in Advance. Years ago, the elders or the pastor could go out on Monday night and make “cold calls.” That is neither practical nor advisable today. A “cold call” catches people unprepared, stressed, and often resentful that you showed up at their door. It is important to state why you want to come. For example, “One of my goals for this year is to get to know our families better by visiting with them in their homes. It’s not a stewardship call or a recruitment call. It’s just a time for us to get to know one another better and to share our common faith. I don’t need a meal or food or anything like that, and I’m sure it won’t take more than (time –not more than an hour). I really hope we can schedule a time to get together.” It is best for the pastor or elder to make these calls himself. People are less likely to turn you down than a secretary calling on your behalf.
  • Listen and Guide. When I was supervising vicars, they would ask “What should we talk about?” I had a list of about 50 questions the vicar could ask. Start with getting to know the person: “Were you born around here? Do you have any hobbies? Tell me about the work you do. Etc.” Share some things about your own life as well. Be relaxed and not “preachy”, but at some point get into a spiritual discussion. That’s what they expect you to do! “Is there any subject you would like to see as a topic for a sermon? – If there were a booth in heaven that said, “All questions answered here.”, what would be some of your questions? – What would you most like to change in your life? – What can I do for you as your pastor/elder? Etc.” – ALWAYS share the Gospel of God’s love in Christ.
  • Have a Spiritual Goal in Mind. You are there to get to know the people, but you are also there to help them move forward in their spiritual life. In an atmosphere of caring and personal sharing, it is easier to challenge people to take a step forward in their spiritual lives, whether that be to start attending Bible Class, bring their children to Sunday school, or see the actions of daily life as part of their ministry with Christ.
  • Close with Prayer and Scripture. “Is there anything you would like me to pray for as we close our time together?” Close with a Scripture, some brief comments, and then pray for their needs.

Art Scherer
Art Scherer is President Emeritus of the Southeastern District, LCMS, and a consultant in stewardship and capital funding for LCEF. Dr. Scherer is developer of LCEF’s popular Consecrated Stewards series and author of the Living as Children of a Generous God Bible studies.