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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  • Drew Dabbs says on

    Wow! Dr. Rainer, I bet you never anticipated quite this much discussion and debate! My two cents: it’s about balance, which is not original. Someone else mentioned it in their comment. You do have to “get to know” the people, so that you can speak to their needs. You also have to spend adequate time with God in sermon prep, so that you have a word “from elsewhere” (Brueggemann’s phrase). You also have to “pay the rent,” especially early on in your ministry at a certain place. Sometimes, this means visiting more than you’ve been accustomed to. You do what you have to do, so that you get to do what you want to do. The oft-quoted pastoral proverb holds true: “They don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” We have to love, feed, and take care of the sheep. And what is it they say? Sometimes, you spell love t-i-m-e. To wrap things up on my end, it’s about knowing your context and what is expected from you in that context, and, then, it’s about trying to balance those expectations (however unbiblical we may think they are) with the clear teachings of Scripture concerning our role as pastors.

    • Drew Dabbs says on

      By the way, with regard to my last statement, I don’t mean “balance” in the sense of “compromise.” Didn’t want to take a hit for that one!

    • “Sometimes, you spell love t-i-m-e.”

      That’s not strictly a fair statement when it comes to ministry. A pastor has only 24 hours in a day, just like anyone else. He’s not going to have time to visit everyone, and if he spends too much time with a particular group, he’ll be accused of favoritism. Many churches, quite frankly, have unreasonable expectations of their pastors are putting them in no-win situations.

      • Drew Dabbs says on

        Thank you, Ken. You’re 100% accurate in your assessment. We are in full agreement. Some churches (more often, a small handful of people in those churches) do have unreasonable expectations. The axiom I quoted is not intended to be unfair but, rather, an observation of something that is generally true. Many people simply wants to know that their pastor cares about them, and, for them, that means coming to see them (and drinking coffee and eating pie with them) once in a while. Again, some expectations are just flat out unreasonable. You and I both know that from personal experience. Thanks, again, friend.

  • Kathy Brunner says on

    Maybe pastors need to teach their congregations what they’re to do and how to do it…some congregations don’t know any better. And in what ways can a pastor get to know the congregation?

  • Tom Finnegan says on

    Thom, I greatly appreciate your blog posts and in this one you address a pressing problem that is very much an issue in the denomination in which I serve (I develop and deliver training for elders and pastoral care teams).

    I think a caveat about the value of knowing the congregation might have been useful in this blog post although I realise endless caveats don’t make for a short, succinct post! One way for pastors to know their congregation is to visit. However, visiting is not the only way for a pastor to know their congregation. Perhaps a future blog post on how pastors can know their congregation through visiting and other means would be helpful.

    Timothy Witmer in his book, ‘The Shepherd Leader’ says knowing the flock should be both on the ‘macro’ and ‘micro’ scale – overall knowledge of the congregation and personal relationships. So the question really is, how can the pastor know the flock in both a quantitative and qualitative way?

  • Dear Thom, thanks for your word, which I have been turning over in my mind since I read it, hence my very long response.

    I have to say that I’m not in agreement; in fact, to be frank, I thought this was one of those ironic articles that start off, “10 Reasons to Vote the Socialist Ticket,” that turn out to be pro-Republican. In short, I’m taking your post as not ironic.

    May I offer three reasons why I cannot accept your viewpoint, which seems to be that there is too much visitation going on and it should be slimmed down and (perhaps) limited only to extreme situations.
    First, the historical: you write that “‘Visitation of the members’ became a common job description of pastors about a century ago.” You imply that it is a recent innovation. I do not know why you say so.

    It may have become common or more conventional these days to write the thing out in a job description, but visitation of the members has been part of the pastoral task since the beginning. In fact, it was a vital aspect of rabbinic ministry in the synagogue. Here is but one example: “R. Aqiba went out and expounded, ‘Whoever doesn’t visit the sick is as though he shed blood.’” (Ned 40a, Neusner, vol 10a, p. 110)

    The Lord expected the righteous to visit the sick and the imprisoned (Matt 25:36). Pastors are to do righteousness, ergo righteous pastors are to known for how they visit people, including the sick and imprisoned.

    James expected that the presbyters (plural, to be sure) of the church would to a private home to pray for sick people (James 5:14).

    Polycarp viewed visitation (not just of the sick) as a vital part of the presbyter’s ministry – “The presbyters, for their part, must be compassionate, merciful to all, turning back those who have gone astray, visiting all the sick, not neglecting a widow, orphan, or poor person, but “always aiming at what is honorable in the sight of God and of men,” etc. (Pol. Phil. 6.1)

    Justin Martyr said that in the early church, after communion, the deacons would immediately take the elements to private homes to serve shut-ins. (First Apology 67)

    Puritans were great visitors (to teach, examine, catechize). Spurgeon spent much of his early ministry going from house to house to help people – and to risk infection – during a cholera epidemic. He didn’t just prepare sermons on Jehovah Rapha, he lived it. I’m not being sarcastic here.

    I might mention that, visitation of the sick was a much more onerous work than it used to be, pre-antibiotics, thus occupying a greater part of the pastor’s week than it does today.

    All this to say that, visitation of the sick, shut-in, and really all members, has a 2000-year tradition behind it, backed by biblical teaching.

    Second, I seem to detect logical errors, especially non sequiturs and Excluded Middles.

    Namely: “It is never enough; it can lead to pastor burnout; (thus) it leads to high pastor turnover; it starts a country club mentality; it kills evangelism.”

    This is the Excluded Middle. Any element of ministry can become engorged and take energy away from other ministries. But my goodness, if a pastor is visiting people so much that he or she cannot evangelize, or pray, or prepare sermons, then this is major structural problem: the solution is not to chuck visitation overboard, but to figure out why it takes up so much time.

    Any element of ministry can become engorged and take energy away from other ministries. The solution is not to allow that.

    Perhaps you have had an experience far different from mine, or a congregation much larger (or much sicker!), and so I cannot condemn your perspective. However, I can spot faulty logic, and that is what we see here: viz., a lot of visitation will destroy your pastor, and is a sign that your church is dying! I can only hope you are not a witness of a church that died spiritually because their pastor saw them when ill, or because he or she shared the Bible with them in their own home! Preaching the Word, after all, does not mean simply giving a sermon, it means one-on-one as well, in whatever venue. This means that pastoral visitation is not mere socializing – which is fine, too – it’s ministry.

    Using the sort of logic that X is the work of all members, therefore the pastor should not do X much, you could just as easily insert as the value of X – evangelism; counseling; encouraging; teaching (Oh, yes! Because it’s not just the pastor who is the teacher of the flock!); reading the Bible to others; praying with others. All of these are corporate ministries. And if the body is to do them, then the pastor too is to do them.

    I cannot imagine how pastoral visitation leads to making unhealthy comparisons. At the least, I would imagine that if someone is going to be jealous, then they will find a way to be jealous, even if they merely decide that the preacher is denouncing their sins more than the sins of others.

    How does visiting members “take away from leadership”? It is a facet of leadership!

    If a pastor is “getting his affirmation from pastoral visitation” (as opposed to what? People applauding his/her sermons? People complimenting his/her kids?), then said pastor has a spiritual problem. Suspending visitation will not help that leader.

    Third, in my opinion, a skewed application of Ephesians 4:11-12.

    I live and breath Ephesians 4:11-12; our goal is indeed to “equip his people for works of service.”

    But this never meant that one person in each church should go into the pulpit and tell people what they should be doing, and period. It was Paul who wrote Ephesians 4, and he taught by inviting people to imitate what he did. I cannot imagine Paul allowing only a sliver of, “Well, I am not advocating that pastors NEVER visit people.” I can imagine him saying, “Junius is sick, Theo, so how about you and I dropping in to pray for him? Have you never done that before? Well, let’s try it!”

    I could be wrong.

    There exists a type of logic that I see in some writings on family life. It runs thus: if the husband is not leading the family in spiritual things, then the wife should stop teaching the kids, cease praying with them, stop giving them her wisdom, etc., in order to shame the husband into doing right by the Lord and by the family. I confess I never quite caught this argument.

    By the same token, the pastor does not get his flock to do visitation by withdrawing from visitation. He or she encourages them to do so by correctly teaching them, but also, absolutely, by showing them how to do it by personal example. As they used to say in the Army, “Don’t tell a man what to do, show him how to do it.” Active, not passive.

    Otherwise, we have frustrated (and burned out) pastors who keep mounting the pulpit to tell people they aren’t doing it right.

    There are pastors who are people persons and prefer visitation to study and skimp the hard work of sermon preparation; there are others who are all about the exegesis, and truth be told, hole themselves in their office. Both personality types need to fight, with the Spirit, to excel in the areas they don’t naturally thrive in.

    As a pastor I typically would set aside a whole evening a week, to try to visit one or, better, two families; so did the other (plural) elders. Two teams of two. It left me blessed, I was allowed to minister to many, and I did not find that it crippled me emotionally or left me burnt out. I had all the time I needed – which is always a lot! – for my sermon prep.

    Many blessings to you in your work. I have enjoyed a number of your posts.

    • “By the same token, the pastor does not get his flock to do visitation by withdrawing from visitation.”

      Where did Dr. Rainer say a pastor should completely withdraw from visitation? Straw man tactics are dishonest and cowardly.

      P.S. Brevity is the soul of wit, and it wouldn’t do your comments any harm, either.

  • Mark Underkofler says on

    I agree that a church demanding lots of time spent visiting is unhealthy, it is also unhealthy if the pastor doesn’t visit at all. Visiting is not to be the primary role of a pastor but it is part of what a pastor should do. Sitting in the office studying all day does not help a pastor understand his people. Effective sermons have application connected closely with the people and have “buy-in” from the congregation. Congregations have “buy in” from knowing the pastor loves them. The people in my church that tend to get the most out of the sermons are the ones I’ve most invested into their lives.

    Most pastors do not have 200 families in the church and probably not 100 families. Churches with 100+ families have multiple staff positions usually. A balanced approach of occasional visits/inviting people over(1-2 times a week) and training others to share in the ministry is probably most appropriate and Biblical. You would then visit everyone in the church 1-3 times a year, show love as a shepherd and understand how best to minister to your people.

    • From Dr. Rainer’s blog: “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.” (emphasis added)

  • Kevin Allard says on

    You have used Ephesians 4:12 as your proof text to establish that much visiting is unbiblical.

    1. Are you aware that not all translations are agreed on how Ephesians 4:12 should be translated and that this has a direct bearing on the point you are trying to establish?

    The three prepositions used are “pros” “eis” and “eis” – “pros” the equipping of the saints; “eis” the work of ministry; “eis” the building up of the church.

    Some translations indicate that all of the prepositions refer to what is done by the apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastors and teachers. E.g. the King James Version says that the apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastors and teachers are given:

    “[a]For the perfecting of the saints, [b] for the work of the ministry, [c] for the edifying of the body of Christ…”

    i.e. they do all three of these things.

    However, other translations indicate, as you have suggested, that it is the saints who do the work of the ministry. E.g. the ESV says:

    “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”

    2. If you are aware of this debate, what persuaded you that the ESV translation is correct on this point and that KJV translation is incorrect? (I have read different view points on this and find myself unequipped to decide for myself which is correct. Because of that I could never use this verse a proof text, although I do support the use of proof texts if the texts are clear).

    3. If you are aware of this debate, why didn’t you mention it? You use strong, assertive language – “it does not say”…”clearly informs that”. You give the impression that this verse is uncontroversial and entirely clear, indicating that there is no debate to be had. Is that because you are not aware of the debate or is it because you think the arguments on one side of the debate are so convincing that it’s not even worth mentioning that there is a debate?

    • Because I use Scripture to clarify Scripture. Acts 6:1-7, for example, points to the principle of leaders equipping the rest of the church.

      You asked if I have an awareness of these textual issues. Yes. I have received a bit of training in Greek, New Testament, hermeneutics, and textual issues.

      • Kevin Allard says on

        Dear Thom,

        Thanks for taking the time to reply.

        I only became aware of the different ways Ephesians 4:12 can be translated fairly recently when I was reading a book by Michael Horton. Speaking with friends at church about, I haven’t met many other people who are aware of the two different ways it is translated.

        After reading Michael Horton’s view on it I spent some time trying to weigh up the different interpretations but I was uncertain at the end of that as to which is correct, and I’m still trying to work it out. I haven’t had any training in Greek and so I’m really grateful for people who have and for any insights on this you can offer.

        You mention that in Acts 6:1-7 we see the leaders equipping the rest of the church. The thing I was uncertain about though is not whose job the equipping of the church is according to Ephesians 4:12, but rather whom Paul is saying are the people who are to do the work of ministry and what Paul means in that verse by the “the work of ministry”. Acts 6:1-7, refers to two works of ministry: the ministry of distributing food (v.2) and to the ministry of the word (v.4). The apostles direct the church to appoint seven men to the ministry of distributing food so that the apostles can devote themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word and then Luke mentions in v.7 that the number of disciples multiplied greatly, i.e. the church was built. Luke does not say explicitly that the church grew because of what the apostles did, but the fact that the mentions is it immediately afterwards suggests that there is a connection here.

        Ephesians 4:12 refers to (i) equipping, (ii) the work of ministry and (iii) the church being built. Acts 6:1-7 shows (i) the apostles equipping the church by appointing people to meet practical needs, (ii) the apostles devoting themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word, and (iii) the church being built. Although I am still undecided, your reference to Acts 6:1-7 leads me toward the conclusion that Ephesians 4:12 says refers to the apostles and other leaders mentioned equipping the church and to them doing the work of ministry (which I take as a reference to preaching and teaching), rather than saying that the members of the church do the work of ministry (of the word) after having been equipped by the apostle etc.

        The interpretation I’m leaning towards does not mean that church members are passive or that they don’t do any form of spiritual ministry. After having set out that God has given the apostles etc. to equip the church and to minister the word, Paul goes on to say that the members of the church are to speak the truth in love to one another and that every member has work to do. Practically this will mean church members reminding each other of the Gospel and visiting each other, but the main responsibility of ministering the word, whether addressing a public gathering or going from house to house will remain with the leaders.

        Do let me know if you think that Ephesians 4:12 cannot legitimately be translated/interpreted as it has been in the KJV to say that it is the leaders who do the work of ministry.

        Best wishes,


    • John Estes says on

      Oh wow. Are you really questioning Dr. Rainer’s credentials? Kevin, do you realize how foolish you sound? How many doctorates do you have?

  • Wesley Smith says on

    I spent six months as an interim pastor of a small church. The church was dying or more accurately a dead church. I was asked to help re-establish the church. After two months of sermons, many sermons were geared toward everyone was a minister and all were expected to work within the church, and classes taught on evangelism I felt they were ready to go out and witness. The first week I had six volunteers. My wife and I visited the hospital and shut-ins while the other six went to homes of inactive members. Week two I had three volunteers and the third week was one volunteer. After the third week I was approached by several members of the church and was told that I was the pastor and visitation was the work of the pastor and not the church members. Needless to say that I completed my agreement with the church and left.

    In my six months as interim pastor I found many more problems. The biggest was the church did not want to grow, they were satisfied with status quo and only wanted someone to step in on Sunday mornings and give them a ‘feel-good’ message and then leave them alone.

  • I’d also add on hospital calling the big new challenge is that rarely do your calls tend to go to one (nearby) location; insurance and health care plans mean in our county-seat town about an hour from a city center I will have members & attenders in 12 different hospitals & surgery centers across an area that’s roughly 110 miles by 50 miles across. Just to do minimal pre-surgery prayers and follow-ups (which not infrequently get me there just as/after they’re being dismissed) eats up all the pastoral care time I can manage most months. And rehab centers, ditto: they get sent where there’s a bed and where their insurance coverage dictates, and that’s often not close to home, which means not close to the church. Just drove 45 minutes yesterday to a new rehab center to spend maybe 20 minutes before OT, PT, and dinner began (and 45 minutes back); it was a call that needed to be me in this case, and many of our elders are very nervous about driving on the highways in and out of the city. So I have done minimal calling in homes the last four years, but everyone understands (I think!) because they know the miles and hours I put in to find all our emergency admittance patients around the region.

  • Although a little off topic, I think it is important that expectations regarding visiting are spelled out clearly during the search process. As a clergy person, I always ask about this (as well as other things that are often unspoken expectations). I wise, retired pastor once told me it takes about a year after a new call is made to find out who lied the most, the search (calling) committee or the clergy person!
    This way if the new pastor is aware of the expectations and the prior history regarding visiting, he or she will know what is expected of them and either live into that expectation or do some teaching about a different approach – the Biblical one as Thom has pointed out.

  • Well, I knew even before I scrolled down this morning that this post would blow up in the comments. It’s a tough, tough area — as a minor league church historian and pastor, I’ve tried to figure out where this expectation came into the congregational life picture, and think it started in the big shift from the country to the city, and the fact that often only the minister had the latitude and ability to move about and keep connections in a church alive between Sundays . . . and simultaneously, it was part of an upper-class culture of “calling” that sucked in clergy into urban women’s lives, and had such a good upside in the early 1900s that we all decided to turn a blind eye to the downsides.

    Now, that “calling” culture is as dead as the Welcome Wagon (a last ditch attempt to save it in the 50s & 60s, faded through the 70s and now is an online ad platform). But older members expect it, and expect it hard — and now it’s reinforced by the fact that adult children and grandchildren and nieces and nephews DON’T call, so they shift those expectations . . . and resentments! . . . over to the minister whom they have more leverage over than their family members who live three states away.

    I hear you making a distinction between hospital/surgery/ER calling and “home visits” — and I confess to not always holding a healthier line, because home visits are where I’ve gained the credibility to make changes when I’ve come into struggling churches, and gotten grudging acceptance of the new by putting my case before the old guard the old fashioned way, one family and face-to-face at a time. But I will always look back and wonder if there was a better way that took less time from my family and my own health and preparation in other areas . . . if I’d seen it clearly, I gladly would have tried it.

    It is still a tough complaint nexus in many congregations, and younger/new clergy don’t even have the lexicon or the understanding to see what is being asked of them, since their generation didn’t even see it going on when they were younger (I’m 55).

  • I wonder…how many of the people in Jerusalem thought, “I guess the elders don’t really care about me” when they rolled out the wacky “deacon scheme” in Acts 6.

    • Probably not many. But we should also consider that the Apostles were itinerant preachers (if you will). They traveled (often far and wide) to “spread the gospel to all nations” and therefore needed folk in place to help with the pragmatic needs of the people they left behind in their travels. I think perhaps churchgoers are resistant to the “too busy” apostolic defense of leadership because the church no longer operates that way. Pastors have dedicated, localized assignments: one pastor – one congregation. They are not required to travel, per se and they are not required to attend to “all nations”. I’m sure you can see how that contradiction might confuse the people, cant you?

      And now I am promising myself (and Dr. Rainer) that I am done adding my two cents for today! I think I’ve read just about everything recorded on this thread thus far and responded to four posts. Thanks for the engagement and the tolerance of perspectives.

  • I’ve been fortunate. Rarely am I out making “visits”. I have not been in the homes of probably 75% (or more) of our church. They don’t expect it because I broke that mold of a pastor when I came. We’ve had small groups now for over 15 years and they take care of those kinds of needs among themselves. Ephesians 4:111-12 is a freeing principle for sure. Maybe when I retire in a few years I can volunteer to be the “visitation pastor”. And I’ve been here for 25 years in a growing, healthy church.

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