Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Pastoral Visitation (Part VI) - Questions and Answers

This series is drawing to a close just as our fall round of visitation is coming to an end. It has been wonderful. Although I spend much time with people from my congregation, see them Sunday morning and night and then again on Wednesdays, pray with them, socialize with them, etc., there is still nothing like meeting with them in their home for the purpose of spiritual conversation.

I think in every meeting this round someone made a comment like, “It was good to speak of Christ to one another!”

This reminds me of Paul’s words to the Romans: “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:11-12).

Before we moved on, I thought I might interact with some of the comments that have come in during this series:

Puddleglum wrote: “This is one of the most difficult aspects of my ministry and I shall be looking forward to your insights.”

It was a major failing in my ministry for years – one which I really wanted to fix! In fact, it is still a very weak area of my ministry, but at least now we are doing it. Not quite at a Baxterian level, but something is better than nothing! Don’t give up, Puddle.

Chris Hillcoat wondered if we would be “coming to Southampton for an elder’s visit. Um... no.

Trish asked: “...do you ever get "issue-members" exploiting the privilege of a visit ready to unharness their hobby horse or beef or complain?”

I suppose that is part of the purpose of the visit. If a brother sins in his words, it is just another window into his heart to address the issues that are going on there. In other words, “it’s all good!”

An anonymous commenter said: “I often wonder why Christians, especially pastors, do not have a burden for ministering spiritually to other Christians, or any thought (it would seem) as to how they are faring in their Christian life.”

I think most pastors are very concerned about the spiritual condition of their sheep, but many have been so influenced by the professionalization of the ministry that they think only in terms of the mass, not the individual. Plus, most men have received no training or modeling whatsoever in how to do this. It can be an intimidating thing to go to someone’s home to speak to them about their spiritual life. This is one aspect of ministry I think would be better caught than taught.

David Reimer queried: “At some point, perhaps you could reflect on Martyn Lloyd-Jones and visitation. I'm not sure it was near the top of his "to-do" list, though I could be wrong.”

Dare I say anything negative about the Doctor!? One of my all-time heroes? Well, no man is perfect, and perhaps this was a minor blemish on his ministry. But, not all men are the same. Although he might have rushed to conclusions the odd time, the Doctor did spend time with people after services at Westminster to speak to them of their spiritual condition. This is not the same as what I have been suggesting here, but for a man of such influence and popularity, this is quite commendable.

My old pastor John MacArthur does not go from home to home, as far as I know. But, at least during my days at Grace Community Church, you could always talk to John after Sunday night services – if you could wait. I really appreciated that!

Kenny mocked: “And what does the shepherd get from the sheep? ... anthrax!!” Kenny must have been having a bad day! ‘Cause I know he loves his sheep!!! (Even thought I still don’t really understand what he meant!)

Dan S. asked a two-pronged question: “That brings up the question of the connection between pastoral visitation and pastoral care. Are they the same thing in your mind? Does pastoral care/visitation give the message that all care/visitation is the sole responsibilty of the pastor?”

Neither care nor visitation are Bible words, so I am not sure I want to define them for anyone else except for how I am using them. I think it is all just “pastoring.” Ephesians 4 is clear that part of our job as pastors is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. Part of that equipping should be visiting them to see if they are serving in the church in some capacity. And if they are not, then we can direct them to that.

The fact is, if you have been set aside by a group of people to pray for them, preach to them, live before them, etc – you will always hold a special place in their heart. So, yes, we might say that everyone needs to minister to everyone else, but the words of a trusted pastor who is a man of God often carry more weight than others. They do in my life. After all, aren’t they to account us worthy of double-honour if we labour and preach well?

Thanks to all for your questions and comments!

I think that will be the end of this series for a while. Challies is egging me on to do something else!