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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Love this post! Unfortunately this is one of the main reasons I just resigned from a dying church. Most difficult ministry season we’ve had so far. A lot of angry, selfish, spoiled…. older generations. We could not, for anything, get them to pull the log out of their eye.
On multiple occasions I quoted or directly referenced Scripture & heared the reply “I don’t care, it’s what I want.” Or when I kindly told a lady “that’s a double standard.” And she replied, “I don’t care that’s my standard.”
I even tried quoting you & others closer to their age to help them see their errors & their inevitable demise but apparently to no avail. Literally I’m praying that they close their doors so that they may be replanted as the true bride of Christ.
My prayers for you in this next phase of life and ministry, Adam.
You are so right sir, we have a fairly large church and there is no time for our pastor to visit members on a regular basis. Pastor visits himself when there is a immediate death in the church family…..Thanks.
Thank you, Rick.
Great article Thom. Thank you for loving the local church. I am nearly 9 years in on following a pastor that was here for 41 years and made his life’s mission to visit his people all of the time. He would spend nearly 10 hrs per day doing so. Standing by his wife’s grave at 92 years of age, he told me to not make the mistake he did. He said, “I spent far to much time trying to care for them, and not near enough time taking care of me and my family”. With the help of several godly folks from his pastoral days we have been making the long and hard transition toward the healthy church you speak of. God bless you.
That is a powerful story, Greg. Thank you.
Richard Baxter visited homes twice a week, but he did so for the purpose of personal catechism and church discipline. He would quiz them (mainly the husbands and fathers) on the catechism to determine whether or not they were theologically grounded and spiritually disciplined. He would also drop in on those who gave evidence of sin or a lack of spiritual vitality (such as failing to attend worship) in order to correct their errors. However, I’m pretty certain that those who demand pastoral visitation do not have this kind of pastoral oversight in mind. I wonder how those folks would respond to our popping in to examine their lives and doctrine. They might just decide they don’t need to see the pastor so often.
Now that’s a bit funny.
I was just communicating with a pastor friend yesterday who had to resign his church because his marriage was in trouble. Why was his marriage in trouble? Though I don’t know all of the reasons, a large part of it seems to center around the expectations of the pastor to visit every person with a skinned knee in the church, and once the kids were not at home any longer, the wife felt neglected. My counsel to him was this, “The church is Christ’s bride, not yours. He’s given you one of your own to take care of.”
There is a healthy balance somewhere, and it’s a challenge to find. You want to be there for your people without letting marriage or other ministry suffer.
Wow. That is a powerful and sad story.
Once again you’ve been a voice for all pastors and to an area most in the church take for granted. I am reaping now what I neglected 25 years ago when the church “had to be first” and was absorbed by the threat of making sure attending members were visited notwithstanding the unsaved. Now my grown children are not in church and are so by in large because of my former obsession and neglect of them.
I often wish your posts were electronically sent to church members cell phones each morning! Keep up the work Brother!
Thank you, Les. Your words are kind and encouraging!
Is it possible the description of visiting you mentioned is perpetuated by an unhealthy codependency between pastor and member? It may be as addicting to the pastor as it is the members. It feels good to be needed.
You are right. That is number 13 in my post.
The pastors primary responsibility is indeed to feed the flock (1 Pet. 5) because “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”
But in regards to point #1, “Thus saith the Lord against the pastors that…have not visited.”
Jer. 23:2; Ezek. 34:2-10
I agree that the church should be equipped in this area and not lay the entire responsibility on the pastor. To say that it is unbiblical is not true.
Thank you, Daniel.
So… I agree that balance is needed. You should be in the homes and at the coffee shop with your current members, just not all day long. I am fine with that. However, what does a new pastor do when he is confronted with this mentality of the Pastor doing everything? It isn’t so much the mindset of the church, as much as it was the mindset of the former pastor. As a new pastor coming in and trying to put time into growing the people spiritually, preaching, and reaching the community (all while parenting young children and not neglecting your first ministry at home), you do not have the time to spend in the homes of the people like the former pastor, with adult children, did. Then the members wonder why the new pastor doesn’t care like the old pastor did.
How do you turn that great ship around? Great post by the way.
Thanks, Andy. Begin to mentor some men where you share your heart about the biblical role of pastoral ministry. Though a slow process, it will spread through the church.
My question is this, “what type of sermon preparation are any of you all engaging in when sharing your opinions or responding to others opinions.” As we are “disputing” one another methods, there are people dying and going to Hell. That is a major issue in which we all need to constantly be made aware of. I am a bi-vocational pastor who feels church visitation is important. Each individual congregations have individual needs. Some churches may need for visitation to take place. The pastor of the church where I surrendered to the ministry holds to the idea that others should do the visitation while he studies for messages. Countless people have left that particular church because they are feeling that his sermons are out of touch with their individual needs. But, before I get on a soapbox, I think that we need to be reminded of our true call and that is to win souls for Christ. It may require much studying in the offices or going door to door. It is not for us to debate. “Whatever it Takes!”
Biblical balance is key. Pleasing God is the ultimate issue.
Any ideas on how a pastor helps a congregation with an entitlement mindset to transition to a biblical understanding of pastoral care as the congregation shares with the pastor? This has been my greatest challenge throughout my ministry.
Though my statement sounds self-promoting, that is exactly the content of my little book, I Am a Church Member. It has been read by over one million church members to date, and the feedback I am getting has been extremely positive. Many pastors have preached through a series of sermons based on the biblical texts, and many people have studied it in small groups.
I find that many members think of the pastoral prayer as some sort of “genie fix” that will cure their ailment. While I completely understand and support pastoral involvement in crises situations, is it really that uplifting to have someone show up after a gallbladder removal?
That’s kind of funny, Mike. It reminds me of how many times the pastor is the only one who can say a blessing at a meal.