Is it time to reconsider the benefits that flow out of pastoral visitation and to revive this valuable tool?
According to Scripture, thrilling things happened when Jesus, the prophets, or the disciples visited in people’s homes. Peter’s mother-in-law was healed of a sickness (Luke 4:38-41); the son of the Shunammite woman and the daughter of Jairus were resurrected (2 Kings 4:18-37; Mark 5:21-43); Zacchaeus confessed his sins and made restitution (Luke 19:1-10); Jesus relaxed in Martha’s home (Luke 10:38-42); the Philippian jailer and his family were converted in their house (Acts 16:25-40); early believers worshipped with Paul in Priscilla’s home (Rom. 16:3-5); and tax collectors connected with Jesus in Matthew’s house (Matt. 9:10-12).
The Caboolture Experience
During 2021 exciting things happened in the homes of Caboolture Seventh-day Adventist Church members in Morayfield, Queensland, Australia, who together with their pastor celebrated 100 pastoral home visits.
My husband and I were privileged to enjoy one of the first visits from our new pastor, Casey Wolverton. We spent about one and a half hours relaxing in the lounge room together just chatting about our families, our histories, our connections with the church, and hopes for the future. We finished by praying for each other. We felt truly blessed by the time we spent together, and a friendship was initiated that has continued to grow.
While reflecting on this experience, my mind went back to my childhood on our family dairy farm about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the Adventist church in the town of Kingaroy, which we attended monthly. Sometimes the pastor and his wife would come out to the farm for the weekend. We would enjoy Sabbath worship together with a few other isolated families.
I remember some pastors going over to the dairy to help with milking. My mother was always impressed by their humility and willingness to share in our lives. I also remember Pastor Algie Gallagher sitting on the sunny back veranda steps sharing baptismal studies with me. I believe these simple visits more than 50 years ago positively influenced my faith and my view of my church. Some might say that times have changed, but have people’s needs changed that much?
I’ve heard stories from church members across Australia who feel that pastoral visitation is a neglected practice these days. This is not just a problem for the Adventist Church or only in Australia, however. Speaking of his pastoral colleagues, Matt Ward, a Baptist pastor in the United States, laments, “I have pastor acquaintances who never go to the hospitals or darken the door of a church member’s home.”1
Hearing the overwhelmingly positive responses of Caboolture members to their recent pastoral visit has made me wonder if it is time to reconsider the benefits that flow out of pastoral visitation and to revive this valuable tool. I asked some Caboolture church members, and a few pastors who are known for their home visitation passion, to share with us their thoughts about this subject. Pastor Russell Willcocks, senior ministry systems specialist for the South Pacific Division, has been developing a resource bank of ministry tools for members and pastors. Here are three that especially resonate with me:
1 – Pastoral visitation creates an opportunity for connection-building between the members and the pastor.
Pastor Russ sees pastoral visitation as central to the minister’s call. “As the shepherd is responsible for the sheep, being with people is the heart of the pastor’s responsibilities” (see 1 Peter 5:2). He goes on to claim that “effective ministry cannot exist without regular pastoral visitation” and that personal care of members is “a vital part of every pastor’s ministry.”
Jesus, of course, is the model shepherd. He told the people in Jerusalem who were milling around Him, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27, NIV). Church members need some personal connection with the pastor or associate pastors. How can the shepherd pastor get to know the sheep if they do not spend time with them?
2 – Pastoral visitation gives the pastor an opportunity to show caring and attention.
Pastor Russ suggests that “knowing the people informs every other part of the minister’s ministry. It gives a handle on questions people are asking and the issues they’re facing. Preaching is enriched, crises are averted, and people feel cared for. It’s often in the routine pastoral calls, during which we don’t talk about anything urgent, that people feel most cared for.”
The pastoral visit gives an opportunity for the pastor and members to enjoy quality time together. When there are more than 100 people at church on Sabbath, it is challenging for the pastor to get around to everyone, and members are lucky if they can get five minutes to chat to their minister. In the relaxed atmosphere of the family home, both parties can chat about life in general, interests, hobbies, or whatever comes up.
One of our much-loved former youth directors, church pastor and chaplain Bob Possingham, has made visitation a lifelong practice. “When we go to visit people, we can be sure that God is with us and that His spirit goes before us,” Pastor Bob reflects. “The downhearted and discouraged are given hope, the dying are given peace, the wayward are reminded of how important they are to God, the lonely are encouraged that there is a brother who cares. Those who face an uncertain future are reminded that there is a future to look forward to.”
3 – Pastoral visitation energizes the other roles that a pastor is expected to fulfill.
Commenting on this aspect, Pastor Russ says, “When people know that the minister cares for them and their families, they embrace his or her ministry, and things happen that would simply not be possible without it. Pastors who visit their people and genuinely seek to know them experience relationships that deepen with time and share journeys with people who become lifelong coworkers and friends.”
We’ve seen this happening at Caboolture church. Friendships established during home visits have flourished as our pastor has preached relevant sermons and joined in with the church work bees, Pathfinder worships, various planning committees, outreach programs, and every other aspect of church life. There’s encouragement, spiritual guidance, fun, camaraderie, affirmation, and problem-solving—and the jobs get done.
It’s always a joy when missing members come back to church. It is just so easy these days for people to slip away because they feel isolated and unnoticed. Pastoral visitation can help in this space too. “When Pastor Casey came to visit us,“ one drifting couple responded, “we felt valued knowing that someone cared enough to make contact with us. When we accepted his invitation to come to Caboolture church, we immediately felt a sense of belonging among the warm, friendly people who welcomed us. Now we are loving worship and building new friendships.”
Pastors are expected to increase the membership of their churches. Pastor N. Ashok Kumar published an article in Ministry magazine in which he concluded that “old-fashioned pastoral visitation matters and is one of the best church-growth strategies we have. It is far less complicated or expensive than a Revelation Seminar.”2
At Caboolture church, pastor and members are very enthusiastic about the revival of this gift of pastoral visitation. “Frankly speaking, this central focus on home visits has been new for me,” admits Pastor Casey. “Fortunately, my new church leadership team has simplified my responsibilities, to make room for me to focus on visitation. It’s been so rewarding and fruitful that I intend to continue it as my top priority.”
This article was first published in Adventist Record, March 31, 2022. Reprinted with permission.
1 M. Ward, “Why Pastoral Visitation Is Essential (for Every Pastor),” Dec. 12, 2019, accessed Jan. 23, 2022, pastortheologians.com/articles/2019/12/12/why-pastoral-visitation-is-essential-for-every-pastor.
2 N. Ashok Kumar, “The Pastoral Benefits of Visiting Church Members,” Ministry, December 2010, ministrymagazine.org/archive/2010/10/the-pastoral-benefits-of-visiting-church-members.