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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Great post, Thom. Equipping people to do the ministry (Eph. 4:11-12) is vital. Somewhere along the way, we’ve gotten away from this biblical idea. As a pastor, part of my calling is to show the people how to do ministry (model it) and then turn them loose to do it (delegate it). So in the case of visiting people, I take someone with me to show them how to do it. Once I feel they are ready, I turn them loose to visit.
I had a gentleman in our church tell me at our weekly men’s breakfast this morning that he went to visit someone yesterday evening. I didn’t ask him to do it and it wasn’t scheduled. He felt compelled to visit and he went. I thanked the gentlemen for helping to care for our people and for following the Lord’s lead.
The pastor can’t do it all. Biblically, he’s not expected to.
Great word, Robbie.
I sometimes wonder why we try to apply a given set of principles to all situations. It seems to me that every congregation is different and each pastor has to adapt to the method best to accomplish the winning of souls as well as the building up of the saints.( The pastors family is an important part of the equation. A church member can learn from the relationship between a pastor and his family and how the husband treats his wife and family) To me , it all boils down to adaptability. It also involves the ability to delegate by example and not only by word of mouth If a pastor leads by example and shows others the importance of their role in the church then at some point he should be able to release the task to others and only have a role of maintaining the standard which he has set. We sometimes fail to hold church members accountable for the roles that they accept in the church. There must be balance and it must be determined by the end result of what it takes build up the saints and add to the flock.
Biblical balance is indeed key.
I’m still waiting to hear a pastor (or other church leader) state–from the pulpit–that members should visit other members! I agree with this approach, but the same pastors who will complain about their heavy “visitation expectations” will NEVER tell their parishioners publically to visit other members of the congregation. I’ve been a member of the “local church” life for 48 years, and have never heard this from the pulpit.
For once, I would like to hear the pastor say, “Brothers and Sisters, we are all members of this family of God, and we should love each other in this family. You are MORE than welcome to visit with those who are in our family…always call first, to find out a good time…but please visit. Especially those who may need someone to come encourage them and pray with them, and love on them. You have my permission to do this…I can’t do it all, and I know you will want to be the ‘face of JESUS’ to other people in our local church body.”
I have heard many good sermons where the central textual thesis was equipping the members for ministry, including visitation.
I’ve heard a few of those sermons…but I have never heard any preacher from the pulpit say, “Every member of this congregation has the ministry of visitation…and caring for other members of this congregation…we are all in this together.”
When it comes to this, there should be no “diplomatic way of saying it” or “beating around the bush about it.” Simply, kindly, clearly, and firmly state it: “We are all given the ministry of visitation, and we need to all be involved in it…we are all responsible for loving one another.”
Some people only want a visit from the pastor–and no one else. But a lot of people just want someone to realize they exist…in our very “disconnected” society (and the church is no different–even though we claim we are), we need to be each other’s best allies…
The pulpiteer should explain that “visiting” is a ministry that EVERY member of the congregation can perform…because, In most cases, they can.
Thank you for this insightful post. I pastored a couple of churches before becoming an Air Force Chaplain. I always enjoyed visiting and always tried to strike a balance in the time I spent in sermon prep and visitation. But in the end, I was accused of not visiting and whenever I would show I had been visiting I was then accused of not visiting enough. I am now in the process of separating from Active Duty and am prayerfully considering pastoral ministry once more with some fear and trepidation about the whole visitation mindset (and some other issues) but I am trusting the Lord’s providence, as well.
I pray that for you, Scott.
I cannot read this post without tears streaming down my face. Visiting was not the only issue why I left my last church (5 years ago this September) but it played a big part. I will admit I made a lot of mistakes at that pastorate. I was 32 when I went there and it was my first senior or lead pastor role. Also it was a church that at once averaged over 200 but had since fallen to below 100. I went with an outward focus to get the church growing and moving. The church was excited at the beginning but that changed quickly when they realized I was not a chaplain, as their previous pastor had been. I wanted the church to have a van/bus ministry pick up kids for church on Sunday mornings (I had a person yearning to do it) but the deacons and leaders said how will we control children without parents there. (I then proceeded to blog about the issue; as I said I made a ton of mistakes, some very unwise and some plain stupid ones). I also pushed for working from the local cafe once or twice a week to be out and meet people, but no, I was either to be in my office (however never with the door closed doing sermon study) or out in members houses. I even had to start turning in a detailed weekly time log to the personnel committee. I was not fired nor asked to resign but there was a vote in a deacon’s meeting about terminating me, and it was said it could only pass unanimously. The meeting was in my office with me present. The second vote I gained votes of support and the issue was dropped. After a year my wife and I were too bruised to continue. Thankfully my oldest son was just a few months old and has no memories of the place.
I am in a better place. I served with a church plant in a nearby city for several years and now am teaching high school and leading the missions effort at the church my family attends. I thought I was beyond much of the pain and the wounds were bound up. Last night though, I read a news story about a pastor of a different church from that town being arrested for child abuse and my heart broke (long before I ever went there my former church had had a youth pastor arrested for sexual abuse of a minor in the youth, and shortly after I left the community was rocked by a scandal involving a third grade teacher, her students and a sexual predator from halfway across the U.S.). I fell asleep praying longingly for healing in that church and town. Then this morning while stopping at a convenience store for a soft drink I saw a church member from there and although hoping my now bald head and full lumberjack like beard was enough to not let him recognize me, I still walked the opposite way and did not make contact. He had been part of the faction trying desperately to fire me. Then this post came to me in an email while my students were writing their own version of the Gettysburg Address and a flood of emotions hit me like a brick wall.
Thank you, Dr. Rainer, for posting this. Even though it has brought up these emotions, I know I need to process them in a healthy way.
Powerful. I just prayed for you, your family, and your ministry, my friend.
Peace and blessings and grace and power to you, Todd. Your humility is breathtaking
Prayers for healing for you, Todd. We served in one of these self centered dying churches for a year and were almost destroyed by it. The deacons were mad that my hubby didn’t visit them enough -they didn’t care that he visited the sick and unsaved, only that he didn’t take care of them. They secretly fired us when I was 7 months pregnant with twins. It is a miracle that I didn’t lose them in the stress of losing our only income and home. Our older son was 6 at the time. I will never be able to understand such behavior. Thankfully God stepped in and rescued us, but we too have left full time ministry. We will always serve and follow God but not sure we will ever trust the church again. I have seen so many commenters griping about the CEO pastors, but in my experience (through 17 years of ministry and 5 different churches) the majority of the power is held -unbiblically – by the deacons who rarely, if ever actually fill their biblical role.
Thank you for this article, Thom.
This is definitely an area where there must be some balance. For serious surgeries, hospitalizations I will be there, I try to get by our church’s shut-ins periodically, but also have a committee of people who see these folks also. It is helpful for whatever committee your church has, to engage in some prioritization of the pastoral roles. When they understand that too much visitation comes at the expense of preaching, worship leadership, teaching, administrative duties, community involvement, your job will get a lot easier. Contrary to what an earlier comment said, visitation is not sermon preparation. Sermon preparation, for me at least, means a significant chunk of undisturbed time where the secretary holds the calls and I can immerse myself deeply into the text for the week. Sermon prep, especially those that are text driven rather than topical, demand some serious study of your given next and this can’t be done in visitation.
Biblical balance. For sure.
The tension that I feel is not so much, “Why doesn’t he visit me?” but rather, “Pastor, you should visit [person’s name]” (I was once told that I should visit every shut-in / elderly person in the church once a week). In my experience, this request comes from one of two kinds of person:
1. The person who has never visited this person but think the pastor should. I try to respond to this person by inviting them to go visit the person on their own or to go with me when I do.
2. The person who has spent time visiting the person and thinks the pastor should as well. On one hand, I understand that and appreciate the concern and reminder. On the other hand, I never want people to feel like their visitation is of lesser importance than that of the pastor’s visitation. I try to reaffirm this inquiring person that their ministry of visitation is “pastoral” and that God is pleased with their efforts. But I also think it is good to go visit the friend that they have a burden for, not so much for the friend’s sake but for the sake of the one doing the visitation. I feel like I am bearing their burden with them as they seek to minister to their friend.
Thank you, Jeremy.
My elders have visited some folks recently–or tried to set up visits with folks–and gotten the response, “We’d rather see the pastor.” I’ve seen these folks fairly regularly myself. It seems there’s a mindset among some people that “the church” hasn’t visited if the pastor hasn’t visited.
Elders told me they expected me to see everyone in the nursing home every single week. (To be fair, we have five members in one facility and two in another, so it’s not exactly a heavy burden.) I usually manage every other week. One of the ladies in the nursing home (who has a bit of dementia and doesn’t track time as well as she may once have) told her kids I was there every week, and the kids said, “We don’t expect you to visit her *every week*.” (That was right after nursing home staff called and urged me to visit her “regularly”–which I was already doing–because she’d been complaining that “nobody from the church” was visiting her. When I talked to her, she repeated the same complaint, and then started qualifying it: “Well, you come, and” [here she named several of her friends from the church who’d been down in the last couple weeks] “have been here…but other than that, nobody from the church…”)
I had one parishioner with dementia who complained to her family that I never visited, though I visited almost every week. I took to leaving a business card taped to her door after I left, so her family knew I really was visiting. It was sad.
I heard this a week ago and it may put some perspective on this discussion. “Christ died for the church, you do not have to.” I tried in my 1st Pastorate to please everyone and God. This was a church who wanted me to visit every member each month. When God called me to my present church, I told them it was not solely my job to visit but all of our responsibilities as the church. It has worked well. I am there when needed and the people know I care. At the same time, I have not sacrificed my relationship with God and kept things more in line with my priorities…which are my relationship with God first, my relationship with my wife next, then my family and everything else. The church does not belong ahead of any of those.
Well said, Dan.
I’m Josh White, not wholite…stupid fat fingers!
Thanks Thom, I always wondered about this, it is something I do for no compensation, but cannot devote all my time. The pastor of the church I left has the reputation of being there “first”. I once beat him and I think he resented it. I also suggested I visit shut-ins to help him during busy months, he did not like it. I think you are right…with number 13. Unfortunately, the man is living on fumes of the past glory… and visitation is what turns him on, at a total compensation package in excess of 100K, pretty expensive visitation.
Bill, are you looking for a new church home?
Also having other disciples of your church, whether it’s a Stephens Minister, a Deacon or just a lay person visiting, builds relationships within the church. People are much more likely to be involved if they feel like the church is their family! They will then invite more of their friends to be involved in their “church family”.
Our church, which is in Florida, has a high number of elderly. Hence we have a high number of hospitalizations, rehab & memorials. The Pastor can’t do it all! If she is in the area or no one else is available, she will make a visit. Otherwise it is “tasked” to the lay leaders. With so many elderly though, sometimes they have a hard time with NOT being visited by the Pastor, which we in the office sometimes hear about 3rd or 4th hand and not from the person who was upset. It is a delicate balance for sure!
Thank you, Debra.
As I started at this church I’m in now, I managed the expectation of visitation by doing he following:
1. If you invite me to your home, I will come. It’s only happened three or four times in a year.
2. I will set aside time to visit with the deacons if they set it up and get it on my calendar. It has forced the deacons to do more of their ministry. Now I have the deacons coming to me and telling me they have set up a time to visit a potential church member and would I come along!
3. I’ll visit people in the hospital.
4. Just a few weeks ago, we started doing something for our home bound. Each Sunday, we put a card in the bulletin for people in the congregation to write an encouraging note. I turn those over to their deacon and when they have set it up, we visit and give them all the cards, dvd’s of the services, and we do communion. This allows us to touch them all them about once every 10 weeks.
This way, I probably make one or maybe two visits a week. They are almost always with one of the deacons, and they’re always scheduled. Also, I have noticed that it has gotten the deacons contacting people more frequently!
I like it!
That’s great… I have to try that