A couple of weeks ago an article called “Fifteen Reasons Why Your Pastor Should Not Visit Much” by Thom Rainer was circulating widely on Social Media. It has been rattling around in my mind for a few days and I’ve debated whether or not to post my own thoughts on visiting. Ultimately, I decided to write my own list of fifteen reasons I take a different approach to visiting. My goal is not to say that my way is the best way or that the original article isn’t worth some food for thought. Different churches require different leadership styles, and no two church (or minister) is the same. My own philosophy is to visit as much as I can, knowing that balancing all the demands of ministry is always a challenge. There are seasons when I feel like I’m woefully behind on visiting and other seasons when it’s great to catch up on folks. Here are fifteen reasons I think pastors should try to visit as much as possible. I’ve tried to address the opposing view of many of the arguments in the original piece.
- It is biblical – The Ephesians text about pastors training others to do ministry reminds us that church members must be mindful that visiting isn’t exclusively the job of the pastor. This doesn’t mean that the pastor is “off the hook” for visiting because he or she has trained others to do the work. Pastors have many examples in scripture about the importance of bearing one another’s burdens, visiting the sick and needy, and praying for one another. These verses don’t speak exclusively to pastors, but pastors do well to remember them as we visit out in the world.
- Visiting sets a positive example for members to follow – It is absolutely true that ministers should not be the only visitors in a congregation, but pastor can lead by example as we visit our members, even bringing other elders and members along with us as we do this.
- It brings in people who are out on the margins – The most important people to visit are those who don’t have strong connections to other church members or strong family relationships. Visiting these members helps them to maintain connected to the church, particularly when they’re not as connected as other people. There are simply some people who fall through the cracks. The pastor is often in a unique position to know who these people are and visit them.
- It fosters an “out in the world” mentality – I have written before about how important it is for pastors to be out of their offices and visiting is a great example of that. When folks stop by or call and hear the office administrator say that the minister won’t be able to take the call because s/he is out visiting, it sends a strong message that the church is out in the world.
- It enhances sermon preparation – Sermon preparation requires study and office time, to be sure, but it also requires a connection to the living word in the world. The pastor’s sermons are enhanced by getting out of the office and visiting his or her members. It connects pastors to the people to whom they are preaching, and it helps ground the weekly message.
- It helps ministers understand the community in which they are ministering and serving – When pastors are visiting, we are in homes, hospitals, retirement communities, detention centers, jails, schools and countless other places in our community. It is on these visits that we can learn about what life is like for our parishioners on the six days a week they’re not in worship.
- It strengthens relationships – We can only get to know one another so well in five and ten minute snippets. Its during longer visits that we have the chance to hear the whole story about how Mr. and Mrs. Jones met and fell in love, or what happened so many years ago during that Christmas Eve service.
- It allows congregants to get to know their pastors on a deeper level, and even give back by caring for them – I am usually visiting to help show love and care and concern for my church members, but they always show that same concern for me. It’s a joy for me to be able to share stories about my call to ministry, my family and my views on where the church is headed with congregants and visitors, and they appreciate hearing these things too.
- It means so much to the people being visited – I have heard people tell about visits they had from a pastor that happened years ago, when someone came by to offer a special word of encouragement and prayer when it was most needed. Visits provide community, comfort, conversation and connection.
- It can be energizing for pastors and remind us why we went into ministry in the first place – To be engaged in a person’s life at the happy and sad moments is a true honor and a privilege. There is truly no more important task in ministry.
- It provides an opportunity for “out of the church” thinking – Sometimes folks think differently about the church when they’re not sitting within the walls of the church. This goes for pastors and parishioners alike.
- It is an investment of time that is multiplied many times over – When the pastor visits one person, that person often tells other people. Instead of being a negative as pointed out in the original article, this can be wonderfully positive. Congregations gain a sense of assurance that their leader cares for them. Just because there is potential that someone might feel slighted (why wasn’t I visited?) doesn’t mean the solution is to not visit anyone.
- It can be wonderfully affirming for pastor in a very healthy way – So much of ministry is never finished. There are always more goals to reach, new projects to take on. Sometimes the satisfaction of saying “There is still suffering in the world. I did not get all of the things crossed off the to-do list, but for one hour today I know that my presence made a difference in someone’s life” is enough to help a pastor to feel encouraged.
- It can share the good news about your congregation to many more people than just your members – When we visit we get to meet our congregation’s family, their friends, their co-workers and their neighbors. Sometimes we run in to people we’d never meet within the walls of the church.
- It is a sign that the church is alive and well – Visiting should not happen to the exclusion of other, equally important and vital tasks, but I would never say that a pastor who visits his or her members is a symbol that a church is dying. If so, we ought to redefine our definition of life and death.
Good leaders lead by example, and visiting is a very important part of a healthy ministry. I’m curious about your thoughts! Do you think visiting is an important work of pastoral ministry? Why or why not?