Fifteen Reasons Why Your Pastor Should Not Visit Much

August 31, 2016

I read the sad story recently of a church that fired its pastor because “he didn’t visit the members enough.” Granted, I don’t know all the details about the situation, but I am not optimistic about the church’s future.

“Visitation of the members” became a common job description of pastors about a century ago.

It’s a bad sign.

While I am not advocating that pastors never visit people, I am concerned that such expectations are well beyond those with serious and emergency needs.

The truth is: Your pastor shouldn’t visit much. Here are 15 reasons why.

  1. It’s unbiblical. Ephesians 4:12 says that pastors are to train the saints or believers to do the work of the ministry. It does not say pastors are to do all the work of ministry.
  2. It deprives members of their roles and opportunities. The second part of Ephesians 4:12 clearly informs us that ministry is for all those in the church. When the pastor does all or most of the ministry, the members are deprived of a God-given opportunity.
  3. It fosters a country club mentality. “We pay the pastor’s salary. The pastor works for us to do the work and serve us.” Tithes and offerings become country club dues to get served.
  4. It turns a church inwardly. The members are asking what the pastor is doing for them, rather than asking how they can serve others through the church.
  5. It takes away from sermon preparation. Those same members who complain that a pastor didn’t put enough time into the sermon are the same ones who expect the pastor to visit them.
  6. It takes away from the pastor’s outward focus. If pastors spend all or most of their time visiting, how can they be expected to get into the community and share the gospel?
  7. It takes away vital leadership from the pastor. How can we expect pastors to lead if we give them no time to lead since they are visiting members?
  8. It fosters unhealthy comparisons among the members. “The pastor visited the Smiths twice this month, but he only visited me once.”
  9. It is never enough. When churches expect their pastors to do most of the visitation, they have an entitlement mentality. Such a mentality can never be satisfied.
  10. It leads to pastoral burnout. It is impossible for pastors to maintain the pace that is expected of all the members cumulatively, especially in the area of visitation.
  11. It leads to high pastoral turnover. Burnout leads to pastoral turnover. Short-term pastorates are not healthy for churches.
  12. It puts a lid on Great Commission growth of the church. One of the great growth barriers of churches is the expectation that one person do most of the ministry, especially visitation. Such dependence on one person leads to a cap on growth.
  13. It leads pastors to get their affirmation from the wrong source. They become people-pleasers instead of God-pleasers.
  14. It causes biblical church members to leave. Many of the best church members will leave because they know the church is not supposed to operate in this manner. The church thus becomes weaker.
  15. It is a sign that the church is dying. The two most common comments of a dying church: “We never done it that way before,” and “Why didn’t the pastor visit me?”

The pervasive mentality in many churches is the pastor is the chief visitor in the church.

It’s a key sign of sickness.

It’s a clear step toward death.

Let me hear from you.

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420 Comments

  • Seth Miller says on

    Thom,
    I found your post on why pastors should not visit while searching Google for: “Pastors who refuse to visit the sick”. I hope you will change your posting to make an exception for the sick or injured. I’m blessed to be alive, but still recovering from an awful car accident 12/26/2018. My rabbi would not visit me in my home despite our house being less than 2 blocks, albeit long ones from our synagogue. This was well before Covid. He said he would pray with my by phone. He said I could come to the synagogue, which at the time was a difficult walk for me. When I yelled at the rabbi he told me he felt unsafe in my home. The rabbi called my mother to extend his condolences when my grand mother died. I am sure that visiting the sick is depressing and no fun. It is an important thing for a pastor to do. I am a paralegal and am looking at making a complaint to the IRS to make him pay taxes on his parsonage. If he does not perform the duties of a clergyman he should not reap the benefits. My synagogue is wealthy and is huge. I am not an active congregant. I had never met my rabbi.

  • Vivien Davies says on

    I do think pastors should call and visit members according to their needs. How can members do it if they work full time, are raising a family and often helping elderly parents too.? They have their time taken and need relaxation too.
    When I was a teacher I was in school all day, preparing lessons at night and during the summer vacations took courses to enrich my teaching.I was available to parents on the phone all the time.
    All I can say is many people like to hear from their pastor or get a visit.How we can expect any full time working members to do this beats me.!
    Vivien J Davies

  • Thinking of pastoral visits, I take it that you’ve never read about the life and career of Clarence Maccartney, the great preacher of 1st Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh?

  • A pastor who loves to visit says on

    I think Thom may be overstating his case on the surface. If you look closely, he says Ephesians 4:12 says that pastors are to train the saints or believers to do the work of the ministry. It does not say pastors are to do all the work of ministry. Key in on the phrase “all.” As a Pastor, I love visiting my people and wish I had more time to visit. In fact, every pastor that I know wishes they “did a better job” at visiting. We often lament together how we wish there were more hours in the day to get everything accomplished. I am at a church of around 250. That is a lot of people to visit and yet many are in churches that are much larger. I do my best to make it to the hospital for major things, be there with people in the midst of tragedies, visit the shut-ins, call people with minor things, etc., but I can never make it to everything. The hardship as a pastor is the expectations of some of the people. As a Lead Pastor, someone could be visited by a deacon, an associate pastor, and a few friends from the church but still say that they didn’t receive a visit because THE PASTOR didn’t come to visit. Even if I called and knew about the other visits, it isn’t the same. That is where the hardship is as a pastor. Sometimes you feel like you can never win. If you visit someone once a week when they are going through a major illness, it isn’t enough. But while they are in the hospital, you have 4 others going through various issues. I could easily put in 40 hours a week just visiting with people and not accomplishing anything else. So I think that is what Thom’s article is trying to get at.

  • Rev Debra Claunch says on

    There are a lot of good comments on here – some that really should wake people up – for if we are going to church for what we can get we might as well stay home – our purpose is to worship God together – Paul told us Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together…. And Jesus said where 2 or more are gathered in my name….. That is why we go and lift one another up – now, that being said – this is not 1960, 1970 or even 1980 – we, the church goers, and the Christians by name have stopped many churches from having Pastors, oh – we have preachers and teachers in the pulpit but very few today have a real Pastor – a Pastor leads by example – He follows the leading of the Lord – his board, deacons, or elders see to the business; the women of the church see to mentoring the young ladies and even young girls – the men teach and spent time with the young men and grow them up to be God loving and fearing men – the next generation is taught by the church how to have a Christian home because they all live in Christian homes – and the Pastor brings the word, prays for the congregation and yes, visits the sick – the shut in – the elderly – as he has time – his first responsibility is to fulfill what God lays on his heart to do that week and his second is his wife and then his children – I’ve been in our church for 5 years – I’ve been the Women’s Pastors for 3 , taught Sunday school and was on the Worship team – for several months I have been shut up at home with sickness – no phone call, no card no visit – why? Because My Pastor has not been led to visit me – I am a strong Christian God has me in His hands, He spends everyday with me and my Pastor has others places to be –

  • I grew up in a Pastors home with a family of 12. My Dad was a Pastor of a small rural church, about 40 -50 people on a good Sunday. He would visit the community (members and non church attenders/members) during evenings after work and/or Saturdays. He vIsited nursing homes, after church on Sunday’s and held singings, worked full time, also doing farming on our on land. I don’t know how he balanced it all, but he did it with Gods direction and guidance, until he died at 86. His health declined and he would use a chair to preach out of instead of standing, but only the final few months did he not preach God’s word.

    He never made the huge salaries paid in our church’s today (much more than many in the congregations makes on a monthly basis….More than double in many cases) and he served God by preaching, loving his family, church members, always proclaiming God’s word to those he worked with, visited, and then studied at night and early mornings. Some Sunday’s he might get paid $25, as that was what was left after paying the bills, or he might have food in the freezer or vegetables from crops of the congregation, but we never went without.

    I saw this because I would go with him on his visits, singings and sit with him while he studied on many occasions. I feel He was truly called by God to serve and did so very well. I NEVER heard him complain and don’t recall us taking vacations growing up either, as it was His privilege to proclaim God’s word on Sunday’s. Us kids complained, but He would gently explain His calling.

    I also feel that many of our “pastors” today seem to be looking for the large salaries and delegate others to do the serving, which is biblical, and I agree, they can’t do everything…it takes us all, but we should lead by example.

    Many churches have several associate pastors under a senior pastor, all making 6 figures incomes too). Some may be a good speakers, but they don’t seem to have a heart for serving God and His people the way my Dad modeled. It appears more and more pastors are looking for their comfort first. Example: Church offices are closed on Fridays and close early during the day, less and less are having services on Wednesday and Sunday nights, but salaries are getting higher and higher. I agree. “Don’t mussel the ox”, but I think many should cut back on the incomes if the cut their time given to serving and not burden the congregations who make a lot less than they do. Gluttony and Greed are sins too and if this is the case, God will hold us all accountable. It reminds me of our Congress and their salaries….always increasing their salaries, but less work is being done. More arguing. Not loving and serving the people.

    This isn’t all church’s, but….we need to be on guard. We are to please God…not the world or ourselves. We are all called by God to all do our part.

  • I appreciate many of the comments regarding Thom’s blog, from both perspectives which can be characterized by Eph 4:12 on the one hand and by Ezek 34:1-14 on the other hand (yep, there is a specific historical and messianic context to Ezekiel, but it is still instructive to us “clergy” types). When I start slipping toward thoughts that some may expect more than they should from me, (a) that attitude in my soul is sinful (Phil 2:3-5), (b) I was hired to cope and problem-solve, not complain, and (c) I had better remember that the person wanting to be visited is feeling pain or need.
    Anyway, part of the Elders’ expectations upon me now is that I develop gifts and skills of care among the congregation, while still participating in visitation myself. The Elders’ belief here is that the Spirit does not limit His enabling a person to give pastoral care, just to clergy. And the reason the Elders called me was to develop those persons, while also participating in congregation care directly. This approach allows our lead pastor to lead, the saints to be discipled, and visits to be made among a greater number of congregants. This model works in small church contexts as well, with some adjustments. May we both visit well and train others well, as congregations! The two tasks are mutually necessary for us as clergy.

  • Connor says on

    I am a youth pastor at a church and am seeing this tension rise in our organization and in my heart. I originally come from a church that’s sole purpose was to build disciples and leaders so the growing number of people attending would feel pastored. I have since transferred to another church where it is very much the opposite. I’m not sure if we will ever be able to break out of this mindset of “the pastor is the only one who can do hospital/home visits”. How would you say someone in my position should lead from within to help promote the development of laypeople to take more ownership even if it doesn’t seem to be wanted by the executive staff?

    It’s difficult to lead and be expected to do followup on connect cards, do hospital visits every week, and build a team along with all of the other whirlwind that ministry brings. It seems like we value doing everything and always having “the answers” rather than empowering people around us. Thanks for your time!

  • APersonFromOregon says on

    One big issue is what people think are “ministers”. Who are the “ministers” of the Church. Is it just the ordained pastor or deacons, etc. with the “formal” training or is it “all the called baptized Christians”… that is all the baptized. From my denomination, it is all those who have been BAPTIZED.

    The GREAT COMMISSION belongs to all of us. I’ll try not to make this message a full-fledge sermon.

    Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 28: 18-20 to the disciples. Yes, the Great Commission. Take time to read the verses of “Lord, You Give the Great Commission”. It’s a great hymn to reflect on the verses of Matthew 28: 18-20.

    From my point of view, that belongs to ALL OF US who are CALLED and that is when you are Baptized or at least when you are Affirming your baptism and seeing yourself called and compelled to the work of ministry in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Some ministries need to be overseen and supervised by your church’s Pastor and it should be. It doesn’t mean the Pastor can possibly manage to do all the work of ministry of any church congregation all by himself or herself. It is a burden none of us can bear on our own shoulders by ourselves. I don’t mean called by process of some rite of ordination or consecration or commission by the Bishop or whoever else. There is a calling that comes from the Lord.

    A Pastor will certainly try to do the work himself or herself if no one steps up and steps forward to share in the work. Almost every pastor will appreciate the weight load being relieved. Step up and step forward and ask your pastor(s) of your church if there is ANYTHING in the work of ministry you can do. Bring forth your gifts (not just monetary offerings but yourselves) and ask your pastor(s) to help to equip you for the ministry. That may require some training but also leadership and support. Showing by example.

    The Great Commission is not just to the original 11 or 12 disciples or the 11 or 12 disciples (followers…. Christians) that were present at the time but all of us disciples (yes….. that’s us Christians…. You and I and all of us). That Commission ordains us as ministers of Christ to the world. When we are called to care and love one another and to share the saving Word.

    Another hymn to look at: I Love to Tell the Story.
    You can certain find many hymns and let them highlight God’s Word for you.

    “Go My Children, with my Blessing, never alone. Waking, sleeping, I am with you, you are my own.”

  • EZEKIEL Stepp says on

    As a pastor, my visits are based on where I feel the Holy Spirit leads me. Sometimes people get upset if I don’t make it to their home when they feel I should have been there. I have noticed that these same people who get upset over this are the same ones who are always starting trouble no matter what. They may get mad over what color the fellowship hall is painted. From experience I have learned that you can help these people or you can ignore or pacify them. I feel it is my job as Pastor to nicely point out their cry baby tendencies so they can be aware of their problem and can over come it. I am in agreeance with this study. Should a pastor visit? Absolutely, but only when directed by the Holy Spirit. Anything other than that is out of the will of God and a church needs their pastor to follow correct leadership. The pastor must follow the Holy Spirit, not the faction that has been established by the self righteous. In following the faction, the pastor will not be what is needed.

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