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.
More from Thom
When I started in the full-time ministry, I was a *huge* proponent of visitation. I spent virtually my whole week in members’ homes, hospitals, nursing homes, shut-ins, and at the very, very end of that list, was an evangelical call or two.
The thing is, I enjoy people, so I enjoyed it in the beginning.
Then it went from “wow, our preacher actually visits us” to “why didn’t my preacher come this week like he came last week?” or “he visits you more than me or so and so?” And evangelism was simply being neglected because I had accidentally created a needy congregation instead of a hungry-for-the-lost one.
Our church grew to about 170 and the visiting schedule simply became impossible at that point. My elders visited some, but four of them were 80+ and two were really not suited to a visitation ministry (good administrators, not such good people-persons).
I finally had to announce that I would only be regularly visiting those in nursing homes, in the hospitals, or shut-in. Anyone else could have a visit but it would have to be requested; I would no longer solicit them.
This was disappointing to many at first and I probably lost 15 total in attendance. But 80% of my week was freed up and I could focus on evangelism. We have since regained that number lost, and have a MUCH healthier, less needy congregation now who is more (if not entirely) focused on whole church health and outreach.
This is also traditionally the church which feels it is doing her pastor some wild favor by giving him one week of paid vacation per year. They have no concept of the pastor’s true calling, nor of the stress of the job. Some still have an annual pastor call! But many of these churches have and are in the process of dying. Much of it is rooted in traditionalism and spiritual immaturity. This is where it comes back on those pastors who have failed to teach the members their responsibilities as ministers themselves and have taught this flawed concept of pastoral ministry by their own example, trying the be the best friend of every member of the church, rather than focusing on outreach and teaching.
I am a pastor, I do visits on a regular basis. i do not complain about visiting and usually enjoy it a lot. I hear my fair share of pastors complaining but not about visiting. they complain that no matter how much they visit it is never enough. I visit during regular business hours and after when those working people are home. you can never visit too much and you can never visit enough. there will always be those who want you to do more, and those who rattle off opinions about what they see and think they understand. The truth is a pastors job is hard when you look at it Biblically and impossible when you look at it through the combined expectations of the Church. If you are a Pastor complaining about visiting then stop complaining. People either don’t want to hear it or they don’t understand it. If you are a church member and you are complaining about your pastor not visiting you stop complaining and invite him over for a visit. I doubt he will turn you down. Support your pastor he will be drawing the line today of what he can do at the point of someones needs because there will always be more need than there is pastor. Everyone is busy including him so if you want to do everything but visit that is between you and God. Just give your pastor the same courtasy and let him visit at the level God leads him.
Thank you, Thom. I have followed these principles This has enabled me to revitalise a congregational church lost in it`s ways. Plant a church within a church transforming 2 churches into one. This has freed me up so that now with 2 other leaders, raised from within the ministry, are planting a new church. I am Bi-vocational work full-time and pastored 3 churches on a part-time salary. This post like many insights from you has been a blessing in New England in the next 5 years we are looking to plant 2 additional churches from the leadership that is with me.
Thank you for your kind words, Mark.
I have 4 Parishes (mostly elderly congregations) which take around a 20 min drive to cover one end to the other. I also have 2 Diocesan Roles and 1 role with the Mothers Union. I visit around 2/3 people a week.
Frankly I am getting very tired! I do visit people I know are in need but 2 people in particular seem to feel I SHOULD visit them constantly (maybe this is where the perceived ‘faves’ come from) This becomes a real drain when I’m trying to see others. They call either end of a LONG working day and expect me to be on tap! This is not serving the Kingdom that I know of and if I thought for a min I was going to be a Home Nurse or Carer, I’d have gone into that line of work instead. I felt called to bring people to know the love and mercy of Christ, not to visit someone and hear ‘Mrs So and So has done this, what do you think about that Vicar?’
Yes, I’ve been out in the middle of the night to those who are sick or dying and that is a real honour to be with the families and those who need prayer…that is ministry, not come and have a cuppa and moan about stuff.
I wholeheartedly agree with this blog (I know I’ve come late into it) And believe me when I say I LOVE visiting people who are genuinely in need, they mean the world to me…but there has to be a cut off or else I’ll be the one in the hospital bed through exhaustion.
After only 8 years in the pastorate and experiencing so many of these things, this was freeing to read. Modern expectations of the pastorate seek to satisfy man’s wants, but outside of God’s design and purpose. An elder is required to be “hospitable” opening his home to his people, inviting them in, and sharing life together in community (that’s how he stays close to his people), not expend valuable time in one-on-one visits just to make people feel good about themselves. Both the model of Jesus and the early church appears to be spending more time with key leaders then with the rest of the people in order to train, equip, raise up, and send out people committed to the Gospel mission. Comfortable churches seek to have their needs met primarily by their pastor/elders. Courageous churches seek to meet the needs of the Gospel and free their pastor/elders to do so. Thank you for this.
There is a great danger in a pastor minimising his face-to-face contact with people. In the pulpit there is no dialogue. He says what he wants to say and that is the matter over and done with. He doesn’t hear people objections or misunderstandings and confusion. If he doesn’t know what questions people have, he doesn’t know what answers they need to be hearing from the pulpit. One-to-one teaching, or reasoning with individual members of the congregation, will help him to hone his skills and stay in touch with what the real man thinks and feels – not just what he imagines they are thinking and feeling. And he will get to see how effective his reasoning and teaching is against opposing lines of thought.
Secondly, systematic pastoral visitation (whether conducted by the pastor himself, or by a team of spiritually qualified people in the church who report back to the pastor), is essential to enable the pastor to tailor his ministry to suit the specific needs of a church. The power and validity of the pastoral ministry is undermined if the pastoral ministry is not aimed at a specific flock. If his sermons are prepared in a purely methodical and impersonal way, he might as well dispense with preparing sermons entirely and confine himself to preaching good sermons written by others. If sound preaching is all that is required, any member of the congregation with a gift for expressive reading could stand up and read a sermon. Surely pastors are meant to provide so much more than just an impersonal and systematic course of teaching. Someone once wrote that we shouldn’t expect God to perform miracles where ordinary means will do. A man shouldn’t expect the Spirit to guide him on what topic to preach about if just talking to people will more effectively reveal what they need to learn. The sheep are meant to know their shepherd and the shepherd is meant to know his sheep. We live in an age where both shepherds and sheep seem to be able to drift from one flock to another with no one giving it a second thought.
I think it depends a lot on what the intention and purpose of visitation is. If it is for negative reasons as many have mentioned, then it is certainly a problem. But for example, you speak about how the pastor should not be doing all the work, and if he’s doing lots of visitation he’s doing all the work. To me that implies that the work of the church is visiting other church members. You write that the pastor should be building up and equipping the saints for ministry, and he can’t do that if he’s visiting people all the time. But surely those personal visits can (of course they are not automatically!) be a vital part of that. The calling of a pastor as I understand it is to preach and teach the word, so he needs time during the week for personal study and preparation, as well as the actual preach in the church meeting. But his calling is to pastor and shepherd the flock, and how can he do that if he doesn’t have any personal contact with them? In my view, the things pastors should be doing less of are the admin jobs – fewer business meetings and finance meetings and building upkeep meetings. Find the people gifted as administrators to do those, and let the pastor fulfill his role as the one who teaches and equips the people!
I completely agree with the main emphasis of your article, that the church members should all be involved in ministry, rather than leaving it all to one man. We are not meant to be consumers of ministry, but rather selfless givers, reaching out to the lost world around us. I’m just not sure that reducing visiting is the answer. Done in the right way, I think it is a vital tool for discipling people and releasing them in the way you describe in this article.
It’s a key sign of sickness.
It’s a clear step toward death.
Yes. This article is a key sign of sickness and a clear step toward the death of the church. The shepherds are abandoning their flocks. The calling is to much of a burden for them. Since when do shepherds sit at the gate and leave the sheep to themselves? This is folly. Time to hang up the rod and staff and join the flock. We need real leaders today. Forgive what may appear as a harsh tone but this is not acceptable.
I find myself in the uncomfortable position of strongly disagreeing with what you’ve said. The visitation model is far more biblical than the vision casting or the CEO models which are so popular in our day. ‘Pastor’ means ‘shepherd’. Our task is to teach the faith– yes, correct doctrine is important, even though it isn’t even on the radar of most pastors!– admonish the erring, and comfort the hurting. It is to preach Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. The pastor is referred to in scripture as an ‘overseer’, implying some authority over the ‘flock’ that has been entrusted to him. How is authority to be exercised in the church? By serving. There is good reason that, as the old saying goes, “A home going pastor makes a church going people.” How else are you going to know what they need to hear when you step into the pulpit to preach? Yes, the pastoral office was given to the church by Jesus Christ to equip the saints for the work of ministry– for living out their faith in their home, workplace, and neighborhoods. It seems like a pastor who is trying to do that without going to the homes of his members is working with at least one hand tied behind his back, so to speak. The model of the pastoral role that you’re presenting simply isn’t the role outlined in God’s Word.
On a different note, many people seem to be saying that a pastor should confine himself only to visiting the seriously sick and dying, or the distressed. But if he had never shown any interest in them when they were well, why should they care to see him when things go wrong? If I was dying my pastor is actually one of the last people on earth I would care to see, when he virtually knows nothing about me beyond my name, and I would much rather have my best friends at my side for my precious last few hours fellowship in this earthly life. I can’t see why anyone else would care to see such a pastor either, unless they idolized his office and regarded him in some high-priestly light and thought they needed his prayers and blessing to get them safely into heaven. When people are very sick and vulnerable they don’t always want visits from anyone but their closest friends and family anyway. They are often in a vulnerable and self-conscious situation, inadequately clothed, with embarrassing bodily troubles, and they don’t necessarily really want people they barely know coming and gawping at them. If they are struggling to speak, a man who doesn’t know them is unlikely to be able to decipher what they are saying, and the patient won’t want to waste their efforts on meaningless conversational pleasantries. If they are regular attenders of a church who the pastor wants to try and ensure are converted before they die, he ought to have done that sooner rather than waiting to the last minute when they have no time to show any evidence of death-bed conversion, nor the opportunity to live a life of service to Christ. If the pastor has never visited them when well, why visit them when seriously ill, except to appease his own guilty conscience of his neglect for them during the rest of their lives? When a person is very ill or dying is usually a time when their friends all rally around them anyway. Surely’s it’s when people are well that they are in the best state of mind to talk seriously to their pastor about spiritual things, to be spiritually examined and taught and corrected and rebuked, not when they are dying, after their life has been wasted. A good physician would like to nip illness in the bud as soon as the symptoms first appear, instead of waiting till it has progressed so far that it kills him. But unless he examines the patients at an early stage there is no possibility of him making a diagnosis and treating it. How is a pastor going to diagnose problems in a person’s life whom he never examines?
A major problem with many preachers is that they never take the time to find out how useful their sermons are to people, or how well understood they are, or how much they are applied. Just because a nominal Christian gives the customary “thanks for the message” as they depart after the service doesn’t signify anything. I find it disturbing how little interest pastors have in the lives of the individuals of their flock. I am no pastor but I can go on Facebook and Goodreads and see what people in the church are writing and reading, see what their interests are, and it is frightening to see the language being used, the heretical and liberal ‘Christian’ books being enjoyed, and the general worldliness of their behaviour and attitudes. I was able to suspect someone’s homosexuality just by seeing the evidence of it on social media, and talking to the person about it directly confirmed it. I had only known him months, yet his pastor of many years (in a church of less than 25 people) knows nothing about it, even though the evidence is there to see.
People do not open up to their pastor about important matters in the queue to leave the church on a Sunday morning when everyone is in a hurry and there is no privacy. Nor will they necessarily have any big questions that they think are worth visiting the pastor to talk about. But given the opportunity many people will gladly talk and ask questions. Given privacy and the freedom to converse freely, a pastor will learn much about a person’s character and their beliefs, and discover how ignorant they are about things he thinks they should already know (or he may discover how mature they are beyond his expectations). He will discover their doubts and their unbeliefs. Pastoral visits can guide the pastor as to what messages his people need to hear. In a large church it may be possible for a pastor to fire arrows randomly and be sure to hit someone somewhere, but in a small church there is no need to always act so randomly if the congregation have more immediate and pressing needs which need to be dealt with. Many people need milk rather than meat, and the sermons they hear on a Sunday may be indigestible to them in their current spiritual state. Nor is it worthwhile a pastor spending hours preparing a sermon on a doctrine which the congregation already understands perfectly well, if he can devote his time to other doctrines which they are more in need of. Some people grow hardened to the sermons because they only hear the same things week after week. Some people are depressed and lethargic and the stimulation of a visit and conversation and encouragement can stir them up again. If the pastor personally puts a book into their hands and tells them to read it and then get back to them with their thoughts on it, they can get far more knowledge than he could give in a year of preaching. Pastoral visits supplement the preaching and reinforce it.
We don’t really hear much of Jesus’s public preaching to the masses being effective in its results from what I can recall. It was often in the one-to-one conversations where dramatic things took place. The rich young ruler could have followed Jesus in the crowd for years and believed himself to be a disciple. It was only when he was dealt with individually that his specific problem could be identified. Much of Jesus’s teaching was aimed at individuals and smaller groups of people, never always to the larger crowd. In fact he withheld many of His teachings from the crowd and only gave them to a select group of disciples, where they were permitted to ask questions as they tried to come to grips with what He was saying. People don’t generally have the opportunity to ask questions during a sermon, so when else can they?
I’ve generally only attended small churches (with fewer than 30 people) but I’ve never known a pastor who systematically visited all the church members (not even in my present church where there are only six church members – and that includes the pastor and his wife!). I think the lack of visitation is actually often responsible for short pastorates. Pastors minister as a job and retire at 65 after having drifted around numerous churches. They talk of love but in reality the love between a pastor and his congregation is pretty superficial. When he leaves few people both to keep in contact with him, and he never bothers to keep in contact with them. They never become a family. A man who confines himself to his study remains detached. He never takes the time to build up relationships with the individuals to the point where he couldn’t bear to part with them, and where they couldn’t bear to part with him. How is that so many pastors retire and desert a church, leaving it without a pastor entirely? No good shepherd would leave a flock to fend for itself while a replacement was found (especially if it was down to the sheep to try to find the new shepherd!)
Many pastors don’t tailor their ministry to a particular church. They could be preaching their sermons in any church in any country on any day and it wouldn’t really make any difference to them. They are the same whether dealing with their own flock or a strange flock. Pastors can’t build relationships with people they never speak to. They may pretend they love their flock and feel that praying for them and preaching to them is an adequate manifestation of it, but who would regard someone as a good parent who kept their children in a locked room and just pushed food in through a hole in the door and prayed from them silently in the privacy of their own room.
We wouldn’t regard someone as a good teacher in secular education who just delivered a lecture and set no homework, permitted no questions, and just expected the children to remember every single lecture they ever heard. And if they don’t expect them to remember, why bother delivering the lecture in the first place? Sunday sermons (which in most cases would amount to no more than an hour and a half maximum) is having to counteract 30+ hours of teaching in the schoolroom or 40+ hours of work in the secular environment, plus all the extra hours of recreational time spent with non-Christians. Is an hour and a half really sufficient? It’s certainly not ideal, and the more methods a pastor uses to increase the effectiveness of that teaching the better. Pastoral visitation can be a great means to that end.
Shepherds lead and tend to the sheep intimately.
I have not found any references to Ranchers in the Scripture.