Reviving a neglected strategy

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According to Scripture, thrilling things happened when Jesus, the prophets or the disciples visited in people’s homes: Peter’s mother-in-law was healed of a sickness (Luke 4:38-41); the son of the Shunamite woman and the daughter of Jarius were resurrected (2 Kings 4:18-37, Mark 5:21-43); Zacchaeus confessed his sins and made restitution (Luke 19:1-10); Jesus relaxed in Martha’s home (Luke 10:38-42); the Philippian jailer and his family were converted in his house (Acts 16:25-40); early believers worshipped with Paul in Priscilla’s home (Romans 16:5); and tax collectors connected with Jesus in Matthew’s house (Matthew 9:10-12).

Caboolture Experience

During 2021, exciting things have also happened in the homes of Caboolture church members who together with their pastor have recently celebrated 100 pastoral home visits. 

My husband and I were privileged to enjoy one of the first visits from our new pastor, Casey Wolverton. We spent about one-and-a-half hours relaxing in the lounge room together just chatting about our families, our histories, our connections with the church, hopes for the future and finished by praying for each other. We felt truly blessed by the time we spent together and a friendship was initiated which has continued to grow during the year.

Lyn’s Experience

While reflecting on this experience, my mind went back to my childhood on our family dairy farm about 100kms from the Kingaroy (Qld) church which we attended monthly. Sometimes the pastor and his wife would come out to the farm for the weekend. We would enjoy Sabbath worship together with a few other isolated families. I remember some pastors going over to the dairy to help with milking. My mother was always impressed by their humility and willingness to share in our lives. I also remember Pastor Algie Gallagher sitting on the sunny back-verandah steps doing baptismal studies with me. I believe these simple visits more than 50 years ago positively impacted my faith and my view of my church. Some might say that times have changed, but have people’s needs changed that much?

I’ve heard stories from church members across Australia who feel that pastoral visitation is a neglected practice these days. However, this is not just a problem for the Adventist Church or just in Australia. Speaking of his pastoral colleagues, Matt Ward, a Baptist pastor in USA, laments “I have pastor acquaintances who never go to the hospital or darken the door of a church member’s home.”1

Hearing the overwhelmingly positive responses of Caboolture members to their recent pastoral visit has made me wonder if it is time to reconsider the benefits that flow out of pastoral visitation and to revive this valuable tool. I asked some Caboolture church members, and a few pastors who are known for their home visitation passion, to share with us their thoughts about this subject. Pastor Russ Willcocks, senior ministry systems specialist for the South Pacific Division, has been developing a resource bank of ministry tools for members and pastors. People who have been members in his former churches recall with fondness the visits he made to their homes while he was their pastor. 

Pastor Russ articulates numerous benefits from pastoral visitation. Here are three that resonated with me: 

1. Pastoral visitation creates an opportunity for connection building between the members and the pastor.

He sees pastoral visitation as central to the minister’s call. “As the shepherd is responsible for the sheep, being with people is the heart of the pastor’s responsibilities” (see 1 Peter 5:2). Pastor Russ goes on to claim that, “effective ministry cannot exist without regular pastoral visitation”, and that personal care of members is “a vital part of every pastor’s ministry”. 

Jesus, of course, is the model Shepherd. He told the people in Jerusalem who were milling around Him, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27). It is so advantageous for church members to have some personal connection with the pastor or their associates. How can the shepherd pastor get to know their sheep if they do not spend time with them?

Some Caboolture members, like Bernard Jakovac, former director of engineering at Sydney Adventist Hospital, can’t recall having had a pastoral visit other than from his dad (a pastor) or when he and his wife invited the pastor to lunch. “I thought it was really nice,” reflected Bernard. “We had an informal chat as I showed Casey around my property. Having the pastor take time out of his busy program to visit our home, made me feel as if I mattered.” 

2. Pastoral visitation gives the pastor an opportunity to show that he cares. 

 Pastor Russ suggests that, “Knowing the people informs every other part of the minister’s ministry. It gives a handle on questions people are asking and the issues they are facing. Preaching is enriched, crises are averted and people feel cared for. It’s often in the routine pastoral calls, during which we don’t talk about anything urgent, that people feel most cared for.”

The pastoral visit gives an opportunity for the pastor and his members to enjoy quality time together. When there are over 100 people at church on Sabbath it is challenging for the pastor to get around everyone and members are lucky if they can get five minutes to chat to their minister. In the relaxed atmosphere of the family lounge room both parties are able to chat about life in general, interests, hobbies or whatever comes up. 

One of our much-loved former youth directors, church pastor and chaplain, Pastor Bob Possingham, has made visitation a life-long practice. “When we go to visit people we can be sure that God is with us and that His spirit goes before us,” Pastor Bob reflects. “The downhearted and discouraged are given hope, the dying are given peace, the wayward are reminded of how important they are to God, the lonely are encouraged that there is a brother who cares. Those who face an uncertain future are reminded that there is a future to look forward to.”

3. Pastoral visitation energises the other roles that a pastor is expected to fulfil.

 Commenting on this aspect, Pastor Russ says that, “When people know that the minister cares for them and their families, they embrace his or her ministry and things happen that would simply not be possible without it. Pastors who visit their people and genuinely seek to know them, experience relationships that deepen with time, and share journeys with people who become lifelong co-workers and friends.” 

We have seen this happening at Caboolture church. Friendships established during home visits have flourished as our pastor has preached relevant sermons, joined in with the church working bees, Pathfinder worships, various planning committees, outreach programs and every other aspect of church life. There is encouragement, spiritual guidance, fun, camaraderie, affirmation, problem solving and the jobs get done. Pastoral visitation has inspired greater enthusiasm for these routine tasks. 

It’s always a joy when missing members come back to church. It is just so easy these days for people to slip away because they feel isolated and unnoticed. Pastoral visitation can help in this space too. “When Pastor Casey came to visit us,“ one drifting couple responded, “we felt valued knowing that someone cared enough to make contact with us. When we accepted his invitation to come to Caboolture church we immediately felt a sense of belonging amongst the warm, friendly people who welcomed us. Now we are loving worship and building new friendships.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this experience could be repeated a hundred times over in all of our churches? 

Pastors are expected to increase the membership of their churches. Pastor N Ashock Kumar published an article in Ministry magazine where he concluded that, “Old-fashioned pastoral visitation matters and is one of the best church growth strategies we have. It is far less complicated or expensive than a revelation seminar.”2 

Conclusion

So, at Caboolture church, pastor and members are currently very enthusiastic about the revival of this gift of pastoral visitation. “Frankly speaking, this central focus on home visits has been new for me,” admits Pastor Casey. “Fortunately, my new church leadership team has simplified my responsibilities, to make room for me to focus on visitation. It’s been so rewarding and fruitful that I intend to continue it as my top priority in 2022.”

1. Ward, M (2019)." Why Pastoral Visitation is Essential (For Every Pastor)", accessed 23 January 2022. <pastortheologians.com/articles/2019/12/12/why-pastoral-visitation-is-essential-for-every-pastor>.
2. Kumar, N Ashock. “The pastoral benefits of visiting church members.” Ministry, December 2010. <ministrymagazine.org/archive/2010/10/the-pastoral-benefits-of-visiting-church-members>.

Lyn Ashby is a retired teacher, wife, mother, busy grandmother, worship leader and Pathfinder counsellor at Caboolture Church, Queensland. She loves to share Jesus through speaking on radio Faith FM and preaching.

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