While I am a big fan of building long-term mentoring relationships with men in my church, I also believe there is a place for personal instruction with other members. The pastoral visit is one such place where this instruction might take place.
It generally sounds strange to our ears to read of Baxter quizzing households on the catechism and such, then giving homework assignments to be completed by his next visit. Most of us are just happy to actually get behind the front door of someone’s home!
But this type of closely applied ministry is necessary – and probably the one area I personally struggle with the most. The cultural sea in which we are adrift makes teaching someone who is not paying for it seem like a blatant display of high-handed authoritarianism! But we must get past this misconception.
Members under our pastoral care need us, at times, to give specific instruction. This teaching must be:
Biblical – we do not instruct in areas the Bible does not give explicit instruction. We might offer some Proverbs-immersed advice in these areas, but we must tenaciously guard against any forms of power abuse.
Comprehensible – What good are directions in Chinese when all you can read is English? Our teaching needs to be simple, direct, forthright and we must question the member to see if they understand it.
Applicable – There is no point teaching on election if the current issue is marital unfaithfulness. (I can hear all you Calvinists scurrying about trying to demonstrate a way that election would be the perfect matter to teach on! Relax now. You know what I mean!)
So, if you meet with a couple and in the course of that night they ask for prayer for their marriage since they are both working 65+ hours per week – you may find yourself with a teaching opportunity!
This means that pastors need to know the Book, and know it well. A good doctor does not tell his patients to go home so he can think of a cure. His mind is at the ready with what he believes will be the best treatment. So, in the case above, wise instruction might mean a slow walk through Luke 12 or some wise counsel from 1 Timothy 6. If we take the time to really understand our sheep, trust the Holy Spirit to help us and force our minds to constantly be asking, “What does the Bible say about this?” – then we won’t go far wrong.