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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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?
- It fosters unhealthy comparisons among the members. “The pastor visited the Smiths twice this month, but he only visited me once.”
- 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.
- 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.
- It leads to high pastoral turnover. Burnout leads to pastoral turnover. Short-term pastorates are not healthy for churches.
- 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.
- It leads pastors to get their affirmation from the wrong source. They become people-pleasers instead of God-pleasers.
- 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.
- 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.
Posted on August 31, 2016
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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I can’t help but think that our church would be much healthier if the pastor visited, went out for coffee or hung out with us. The church is small enough that it can be done. I know he visits the sick and that he has friends within the congregation, but he seems like he isn’t very interested in getting to know the rest of us. I don’t see how this is a good thing.
It’s fascinating to see all of the comments here. I saw a post today from David Murray in response to your article and wanted to see your post.
I’m actually surprised at all the uproar this article seems to have caused. I think many people are reading their own context into your article. I wholeheartedly agree with all of your points and and was trying to think about what the bible says about visitation. I could only think of sickness and prison (there could be man more I just can’t think of any). It seems to me that at the time of the writing of the New Testament, community looked a lot different than it does in our context today where privacy and American self-sufficiency rule the day.
It also seems that visitation and hospitality are being conflated. The NT is clear that we are to be hospitable and in fact it’s one of the qualifications/qualities of being an elder. The way I see it, the Apostles were mostly about the business of teaching, which is why they appointed deacons to serve tables. Elders/Pastors are also called to a similar teaching ministry (preach in season and out) of proclamation, contending and also caring for the needs of others. But I agree that most of the ministry work is actually done by members of the church who have been equipped by the elders to care for others. Certainly, the pastor/elder ( I don’t see a distinction in Scripture) is to model caring for others as it is also one of the qualifications of being an elder to be able to care for his own family for how could he care for the needs of the church?
But many of the expectations we have placed on pastors today are rarely coming from Scripture but rather from the business world (the CEO model) or the Pastor-works-for-us model, both being entirely opposed to what the Bible teaches about ministry. I think one of the signs of a healthy church is to see a plurality of elders carrying on the teaching and co-shepherding ministry all the while appointing qualified individuals to serve and “stir up one another to love and good works.”
Thank you Thom for your continued help in equipping us saints for the work of the ministry.
“The way I see it, the Apostles were mostly about the business of teaching, which is why they appointed deacons to serve tables.”
This quote really gets me heated. I do not think visitation is the same as serving tables or even taking care of the physical needs of widows. It is pastoral care. Surely balance is needed and training of other elders and the members of the church to do this type of ministry is needed but I do not equate the two as you do above.
I rate low when it comes to visitation, the article vindicate my reason in a way….
This article is “dead on.” I am a senior pastor of a church of 300 and have a small group of people complaining about this very thing and are threatening to leave if there isn’t change. They’ve gone so far as to say the Elders should not concern themselves with leading the church but should spend their time on pastoral care, teaching and prayer. Wow. All of these are long-time believers but have turned inward. I am a “player-coach” in that I do for some what I wish I could do for many, but know that they body must minister to itself in order to be healthy.
The good thing is that our Elders are “tight,” we know we are leading the church in a Christ-honoring direction, and that the vast majority of our members do not have this attitude. We are inviting
Thanks Thom for writing this. EVERY point you made is applicable to our situation. Our church is in a season of change…many new people, a renewed outward focus, which is stirring up those who feel entitled and complacent.
Bless you, Bob.
This is a multi-layered issue, despite the focal point of pastoral visitation. I wonder if the “unhealthy” churches symptom of lack of pastoral visitation comments is not a sign of unhealthy members only (though that could be true too). Is it possible the symptom is also there because the unhealthy churches pastors were not visiting, hence the complaints.
Just I thought…
Many churches have created this situation by employing a full time salaried pastor. Other factors to consider:
1. A full time salaried pastor creates a “clergy-laity” distinction which is unhelpful and not strictly biblical (although not anti-biblical)
2. It creates an unreasonable and unrealistic expectation on the pastors who are human beings with limited time and energy.
3. There is a danger of an “executive” mentality which sees leadership as about power, not about serving.
4. People supporting the church financially are giving their hard earned cash to support the pastor.
4. If people obeyed the Lord’s command to “love one another”, church members, elders and pastors would put caring for each others needs first. This command covers all situations where there is no written code.
5. Serving should be between all members and leaders, and should not be placed on one person. A better solution would be a plurality of elders who all have full time jobs, as is the case in some Brethren churches and others.
I used to go to a church where they had one full time pastor but I was reluctant to burden his time, and I was grateful for times when he occasionally did visit. In large churches my expectations on pastors are very low because they have a big burden, and I sometimes wonder how they manage to make time for their families. I think we need to have a humble, loving mindset towards each other. I would challenge the pastor who complains about having to visit, and I would also challenge congregations who expect their pastors to do everything.
Back when I was in the evangelical religion it was made clear that it was a sin to have any expectations of anyone in leadership and that you would be disciplined if not disfellowshipped. It was expected that the congregation should and would if they knew what was good for them be totally available. The one time I did bring up issues about leadership I was shown the door that same day. So no I will never have any expectations of evangelical leadership.
Don’t judge all evangelicals by your experiences. I’ve been a pastor for 21 years, and I don’t trust pastors that demand unquestioning loyalty.
As a pastor in the Reformed tradition we have engaged in the practice of family visiting or home visiting as a council (elders and deacons) for centuries. Paul not only taught the gospel to large gatherings, but also from house to house (Acts 20:20). We believe it is not only biblically warranted, but pastorally wise as the under-shepherds of the church to visit families as shepherding teams (1 elder and 1 deacon) in their homes. People often act differently and are often more relax in their homes (yes, not always), and it is a unique way to get a fuller understanding as the council of the spiritual well being, although superficially in some cases of the congregation. Family visiting is about discipleship and each family is encouraged to study a portion of God’ Word with questions given prior to our visit for reflection by each family. We come then study the Word of God, discern their own patterns of daily discipleship and seek to encourage them personally in a life of godliness. I have been blessed by this practice of better understanding the flock under my care, which is great help in the application of God’s Word to His people. Shut-ins, the hospitalized and families and individual are also visited when the need arises. I have no idea if that helps to continue the conversation, but at least that is how we as a community of believers have cared for each other in a more formal and systematic way. We always continue to encourage all the saints to care for each others need from the pulpit to the pew to the class room and beyond.
This article presents a cure that is worse than the disease. Biblically, a pastor is just another member of the church and the body of Christ. He should be doing what every member is expected to do, and if other members, as part of the body of Christ, are not pulling their weight then maybe some of the “pastors” visits should be with them. A healthy, biblical, church shares the work of ministry among all the members (including the pastor).
How is the cure worse than the disease? The disease is, too many church members are expecting the pastor and staff to do all the work, and then they get blamed when the church doesn’t grow. Shared leadership involves shared responsibility. Unfortunately, too few church members these days are willing to accept the latter.
“Visiting” is a phenomenon much more common in rural and small town churches. It reflects the culture, to an extent. Or, at least, it reflects what the culture was a few years ago. The defining line between churches that expect general pastoral visitation and those that don’t is often the presence or absence of a distinguishable “community” around the church. I’ve observed this phenomenon firsthand. I can’t imagine urban or suburban churches expecting their pastors to just get out and visit (with the members). In most of these settings, people don’t really want the pastor in their homes anyway. Since I’ve never pastored a church north of Interstate 20, I can’t say whether this is a Southern cultural thing.
I’m a United Methodist pastor. We are appointed to our church by our Bishop. At a meeting of the pastors in our conference someone asked what the biggest complaint about pastors that he heard most often. He said there were two most common: “The pastor can preach but won’t visit or the pastor will visit but can’t preach.”
I’ve never heard of a pastor visiting the members of the church. Like, probably any Pastor does socialize with some of them, but it’s not like he goes round to all the homes.
I’ve been in some good churches and in some bad ones, but I’ve never heard of this.
While I can understand your basic premise, when it comes to “Visiting” in general as one who has been a pastor for over 30 years, I am concerned for where this line of thinking leads. One of the issues I have witnessed and heard from several pastors is that their call seems to be that of being in the office and being available at the church. While I agree that “visiting Church Members” should not be a high priority, my concern is that we have many pastors who do not see the need for them to personally visit those within their community who need the gospel and to reached for Christ. As a pastor I need to lead my church not only in word but in deed. Yes, I need to do a better job of equipping. But I need to led by example and from a heart that is willing to consistently go after the lost were they are. And I feel the last thing I need to do is encourage other ministers to “visit” less.