Fifteen Reasons Why Your Pastor Should Not Visit Much

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.

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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433 Comments

  • John Brooks says on

    First I want to thank Dr Rainer/Thom for opening his blog for responses.

    Second I want to thank all the pastors in here, pro and con for posting their feelings, and Third I want to thank the ‘lay’ people for posting their side, from which is where I will be coming from.

    I was drawn here (google!) after praying about the church I presently attend (100-150 people) that it bothered me I have not received a phone call, text, let alone a come for coffee with the pastor or elders after three years.

    I am wondering if I’m being critical over such a simple desire. Seeing I’m the ‘new fellow’ I thought the invite should come from the established members.

    Oh yes I have gotten “invites” in the form of texting or being cornered at church to join their group from the building committee; the ushering committee; or sound booth committee – but no fellowship or anything mid-week, or out of church settings. The conversation usually starts with “Hi Tom, I’ve been meaning to ask you…” and I basically know what is coming next.

    The Pastor or elders would for sure greet you while you were sitting down before service, but never seen or heard from them any other time.

    It was bothering me, because that is the reason I left another church (and I’m not a floating kidney, was 20 years with a Baptist church) but just because I work with the computers it felt like I should automatically do it at the church.

    So if someone’s computer needed fixing, I was emailed or texted. In other words, never heard from anyone except when they needed something. So I was hurt by that experience.

    I also stayed there 3 years before pulling my family out to this present church body.

    So here I am again, wondering if this is the norm, am I being critical, self centered, etc.

    In my humble opinion, the balance after reading ALL of the postings in here is indeed a need for balance. The only negative I would say is Thom’s title. It automatically gives a negative feel and I almost, well I did skip over his article and went straight to the comments where I felt the real discussion was, and thankfully is.

    So, yes, pastoral visits are necessary, not just hospitals. The verse about visiting me while I was sick, prison and fatherless, etc stands.

    A shepherd looks after his flock. He has been entrusted by the Lord to care and nurture the flock. Jesus spoke of the true shepherd verses the hireling.

    Like the pastor from Chicago said, because his members are spread all over the place, you couldn’t afford a day visit with them, and that is true. But nothing stops you from texting, phoning, or emailing does it? Not pointing that pastor out, agreed, the old days of hay bailing with the congregation is past, but the responsibility to the flock still remains.

    John Boy had a lot of good points about trust and one poster way back said if pastors are on salary, why is Sunday not a work day? I have to work at my job all day and not just 3-4 hours. Unless of course that is his/her only day off.

    It comes down to shepherd and hireling. One is concerned with my well being and the other is putting in time.

    Now to balance, I agree with another pastor where the danger is we create a pastor dependant church. Paul even admonished the Corinthians to eat meat and not just desire milk. So too, a church won’t grow if it is content with just milk.

    Anyway I am rambling, I can see both sides, like the Bible said if you can’t look after your family you can’t look after the church. Or as one person posted, you can always try again at ministry if you screw up, but only have one try at family.

    Balance, but again, I am torn. I have emailed my pastor to meet with coffee (actually this is the third attempt but always something is coming up with them) to meet this week, but I really don’t want to move on again.

    Visiting is important, and so is your time as a pastor. Guard both closely.

    God is love, and I can’t see love not texting or emailing to checking up on a congregation member. I don’t want to just see you if in the hospital, or as John Boy posted above, you might be the last person I want to see.

    • Pastor Q says on

      Hi John
      It sounds like you have a lot of time on your hands like your retired. I’m not sure but if that’s the case why note approach your pastor about being trained to fill in the gap. Sometimes God reveals gaps for us to fill them. There’s nothing more exhilarating than working in the harvest. God opens doors so we can walk through them. There’s nothing wrong with asking right?

  • Rev Maureen Ausbrook says on

    I found this article long after it was published and found some it very good advice but troubling in other ways.

    I have a unique situation: Our pastor, who I think is one of the most visionary Christians I’ve ever met and an outstanding leader, came to me one day with a suggestion that we talk about a Ministry of Visitation. Now here’s the deal: I am ordained Interfaith. I hold degrees from a large respected Jesuit university and as a historian I taught the history of science and medicine and completed graduate training in medical ethics, including a 600 hour clinical rotation at a huge medical center (it was later in life I went to seminary). He and I had many conversations about ethics, faith and our spiritual paths. I was raised Catholic and have been a Protestant for decades and although I am ordained Interfaith I practice my faith in a Christian church.

    Our church has an aging population (whose doesn’t?) and our pastor, now on reduced salary (but it seems to me still working far and above) has many duties. He was honest and said although he enjoys visiting the sick etc., it may not be his best thing. He discerned through our multiple conversations that I feel a call to Chaplaincy but had to delay getting certified by family matters (recently lost my husband to cancer). We discussed, put a plan in place, took it to the Deacons, it was approved, and I was commissioned for this special ministry.

    Nine months have gone by and I have been bedside to 2 of our members who died in hospice (one I held in my arms as he took his last breaths). I visit people at home, in hospital, in residential care. I love it more than hospital chaplaincy because I really get to know the families and walk with people through their journeys in ways a hospital chaplain does not. I have worked with the dying in reconciliation with families and God, and helped plan funerals/memorials and co-officiate at them with our pastor.

    I am now hearing around town through the public (and private clergy) grapevine that our church is rocking it. Our pastor still visits but I have take over the heavy lifting. We work as a remarkable team as he has mentored me through the vagaries of congregational work and I have walked him through some very tough medico-ethical issues. We’re co-creating something here that is pretty special.

    I think if you want to ask lay people to go out there and visit the sick, well that is fine and they should do that. Our church continues to do that. We have fabulous Christians in our church. They will drive people to doc appnts, shop, clean, cook, visit, pray, sit quietly and be present. But what I do is I am minister. And, my friends, there should be a difference.

    People don’t confess their worst fears and sins to their friends who bring them soup. They don’t work through issues of faith and reconciliation with their friends.

    I’m called Rev Mo and very fondly. Folks laugh when I walk it that it’s serious… but it is serious, really. Oh I joke and we chat but when I put on the stole and we pray, the very air in the room changes.

    My pastor, whom I report to, has given me great latitude and respect. He has referred to me sometimes as pastor as well and said I have a very special church.

    We have an active and supporting congregation of 120 souls. More than 80% are older than 60. Right now we have 12 people who are in assisted living (2 couples and 3 individuals) and 2 in dementia care and 2 in hospice and one at home. In the last 6 months we have buried 3 people.

    I have such a reputation now with our own area hospice that I am brought into care planning meetings and I take over for their chaplain when “our” people are in their hospice.

    So, I repeat, our pastor calls and visits as he can. However, I have taken over that duty and have enhanced it with more visits. I encourage our congregants to continue with all of their loving support and they do. But I am the church’s “Minister of Visitation.” Together, our pastor, me as adjunct minister, and our healthy people in the church ALL work together to serve the spiritual and emotional needs of our elderly, infirm, disabled and dying.

    Caring for the people in your church who cannot come to church is a deliberate act that takes effort. It also takes the whole Christian village.

  • Completely opposite to the Banner of Truth’s piece, dated a couple of weeks after this one posted. Not a coincidence. https://banneroftruth.org/us/resources/articles/2016/15-reasons-visitation-vital-pastor/

  • Thanks for the article and the thread of comments.
    I have a somewhat balanced program of visitation to offer. I think that pastoral visitation is part of our calling and not because I’m the pastor but because I’m a sister in Christ, a fellow family member. For the record I am a pastor (PCUSA) and I have a lot of energy. That helps. Visits are exhausting and demanding and I have seen and heard it all- until the next visit, I’m sure. At the same time, I have been encouraged in my faith by what some of God’s faithful have endured. There is no replacement for these lessons.
    Here is what I practice:
    If there is an emergency- an accident or medical emergency, I go to see the person that day in the hospital, if possible. Sometimes I go the next day. I will visit that person once a week in the hospital until he returns home.
    With an elder or a deacon, I bring communion to a homebound/ shut-in 4 times a year, October (World Communion), January, April (Easter) and July (summer visit). I plan a short worship service and make all the visits in one day.
    If there is a member on hospice, I will visit once a week until he dies. Once I visited a man for over a year on hospice.
    Presently I am beginning a new call and I am researching about the practices of an all-church visitation program. I’m still studying it.
    I visit because it is an opportunity to share the gospel, to make peace, and to fulfill my calling to serve the church Christ loved.

  • People look to their church for expressions of God’s love, and visitation is a long established practice of pastors bringing God’s love and blessings to the congregants. I believe those called “haters,” are really people who have been disappointed by their pastor/church, for whatever reason.

    We should remember that the pastor and the church are on the same team. Pastor should not become overburdened, exhausted or burnt out from visitations. Would be great if the church board helped setting reasonable expectations, balance and boundaries. However, if a pastor cannot or doesn’t make visitation a reasonable practice, he/she must find other creative ways to provide adequate pastoral care.

    I remember on the day of my surgery decades ago, I received a phone call from the pastor’s wife – she prayed with me, bringing God’s peace and presence in a time of need. It was an enormous blessing to me, the pastoral care I received was as good as any visitation. Actually, there are more than 15 reasons not to do visitations, hopefully love will find a way.

  • MJ Rogers says on

    Pastors visiting the sick is not Biblical? That is RIDICULOUS.. “I was sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ And they too will reply, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then the King will answer, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.’ Then the King will answer, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, Matthew 5: 44-46. That Scripture applies to EVERYONE. You are supposed to lead by EXAMPLE, so what you don’t do, the Congregation wont do either. I know about this firsthand. What DO you pastors these days do all day anyway to earn your pay if not the most important things like this?

  • As the story goes, the pastor visited a church member in ICU. The nurse stopped him at the door, “There were too many visitors already today.”
    “But I am his pastor”, the pastor replied.”
    Nurse: “Yeah, that is what the others also said.”

  • Unsafe toSay says on

    My board is insisting that I visit all the congregation and that repeated visits of the sick, shut in or hospitalized don’t count. The ones that do count are the ones who are healthy, have never invited me over but feel that “if the pastor doesn’t visit, we are leaving” (I still have not been told who they are, or invited). A bit tired of the consumer mentality that shows childishness but also feel locked into a situation where I can do nothing but fail. It’s not about care, it’s about Sunday attendance.

  • Charles Duane Riley says on

    I am a “retired” pastor and I want to thank Dr. Rainer for his timely article about pastoral visitation. I also enjoyed each response message.

    I am 85 years young. I served as pastor of ten Southern Baptist Churches over the course of my ministry. It was an honor and privilege to serve my Lord in this capacity.

    Thank you for letting me share my honest observations on this hot subject. I learned early on that for me to personally spend time visiting church members was an impossible task. I tried to keep up but doing so only resulted in confusion, crisis, and controversy. In fact, this impossible grind, and other factors resulted in me experiencing total burnout.

    When I was able to resume my pastoral ministry I prayerfully led the church where I was the pastor to help all of us to make some adjustments in how we ministered to each other. Here is what I proposed, and the policy the church accepted.

    1. That the pastor and church strive to become a New Testament church as outlined in the equipping passages in Ephesians. I then began to train our deacons how to make pastoral visits to certain church members who formed their “flock.” They did so and reported to the pastor and deacons in their monthly deacon’s meeting. Each deacon would inform me as pastor of any crisis situations where a visit from me was recommended. I would then follow up with those specific visits.

    2. With my burn out experience and absence from the pulpit for three months in the background I then educated the church to understand and accept this positive approach to the situation. In time it began to work itself out. (To be honest, it was a struggle for some of our elderly members.)

    3. When the Lord moved me to another church I would carefully outline this plan of action to the Pulpit Committee and the church family. Sometimes it worked and other times not so well.

    Now visiting members in the hospitals, shut-ins, retirement centers, etc is another important aspect of this issue. I tried to make these visits, but it can become a problem. This is especially true pastoring a large church. (For example when you have two people in two different hospitals in two distant cities having surgery at the same
    time.)

    I know what I have shared is not the complete solution to this problem, but thank you for letting me share my ideas on the subject.

    Charles

  • I did not read all of this but I do not think Pastors get a free pass. I was in a church where the pastor basically destroyed his own ministry with all his antics. Irresponsible with money, talk of all the women over the years and now when he could give a small word of encouragement I am told hes given for 30 years. I gave my savings countless times not realising till it was to late his house was almost lost because of his own lack of saving hard earned money. He is now retirement age and has none. His family need to sell their home to get something cheaper. I am thinking it is again the lack of dealing with his own path that brought him here. It has been my temptation to be mad at God as I now am caregiver to an elderly parent and have a lot less funds to work with than if I had not been involved in church. I know I gave at the time to what I thought was a holy spirit call. Pastors do take favorites when the money is coming in and then throw you out with the bath water when it stops. It is a quandery to me how people can ignore others but I am resolved this is no longer my problem. time to move on from even trying to touch a heart with kindness when that heart is turned cold.

  • I agree with Mad In KY about it being irritating when you do a lot for your church and the pastor won’t make a hospital visit or doesn’t offer assistance.

    I have never tithed to my church as in giving 10 percent but do give close to 15 percent of my salary to various charities and before my injury always pledged 5% of what my base salary would be for the next year and when I received my bonus usually 10 percent of that went to the church in addition to giving to a couple other programs through out the year.

    I broke my femur last year in a serious injury and wasn’t able to weight bear at all for almost three months which meant I was in a wheel chair or using a walker or crutches with just the weight of my good leg. I was in a hospital a mile and a half away from my church for the surgery for five days and then was transferred to another hospital for physical rehab as an inpatient for another three weeks. During that entire time I had one visit from my rector and that was the afternoon of after the surgery occurred. I never saw her again. One of my best friends churches did a lot more for me. A couple members of his church brought me over meals the first two weeks I was home and another member actually offered to bring me groceries or pick up scripts (I had family members and friends that did that but loved the gesture).

    Here is where I got really irritated. I attended my friends church a couple times when I was able to start driving and it wasn’t my style of worship so I went back to my current church which was the week before they collected pledge cards. The minister didn’t make any visits or the members didn’t offer to help me out yet when I didn’t turn in my pledge card that Sunday she didn’t hesitate to contact me to ask if everything was ok:) I filled out a pledge card a couple weeks later and decided to pledge only half of what I normally do to my church and pledged the other half to my friends church and again that got me a call, this time from the treasurer.

    If ministers have enough time to contact a member out of concern for not turning in a pledge card use that time instead to call on a sick church member.

    • A Member of the Congregation says on

      I read this and completely agree. When my Dad was dying, our wonderful minister was there for my Mom, my Dad and my family. I cannot put into words how much that meant to us. On another note, my Mom was very involved and supportive of our church throughout her life. When she went into a nursing home, the minister did not make one visit!!! But, like clockwork, my Mom got a request for a pledge every year at tithing time. She just laughed and tore it up. The next minister visited her, which meant the world to her, but by that point she did not have too long to live. Our current minister gets a pay package worth $88,000 and from what I hear she does not visit. Bullcrap in my opinion. Our bishop said the minister was supposed to appoint members of the congregation to do the visitation and the minister would oversee it. So on top of our full time jobs, we are to do the minister’s job? No wonder people do not feel any loyalty to churches anymore. Nobody is expecting the pastor to visit every day, but why is a monthly visit to congregation members who are shut ins, hospitals, nursing homes, etc considered so exorbitant? i

  • I would add a 16th reason. It places emphasis on the personality of the pastor instead of the person of Jesus Christ.

    These “reverend visit all’s” seem to be viewed by church members as closer to being like Jesus and make it very tough for less codependent pastors to gain acceptance as the new pastor.

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