When the Apostle Paul bid farewell to the Ephesian elders with whom he had labored for three years, he commended his ministry to them saying, “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house (Acts 20:20).” In this precious phrase, Paul articulated what I like to call "20/20 pastoral vision," highlighting both the public and private aspects of his gospel labors: “in public and from house to house.” He knew that pastoral ministry mustn’t be quarantined behind the safety glass of Sunday’s pulpit. Rather, like a medical doctor of old serving his patients in both hospital and home, he brought the life-changing truth of the gospel to his people where they lived. So too, a church serious about the spiritual health of its members ought to aspire to Paul’s example of pastoral visitation.
“Well and good,” you might think, “but it’s easier said than done!” Indeed, the obstacles between the pulpit and the front porch are daunting. What are those obstacles?
· Individualism. We live in a thoroughly individualistic culture, allergic to the awkwardness of human interactions. It is far too comfortable to limit our social lives to 140 characters on Twitter, a picture on Instagram, or a status update on Facebook. We can live in a bubble of ignorant bliss unaware and generally uninterested in the needs, thoughts, struggles, and strengths of others all the while pining for true fellowship.
· Antiauthoritarianism. Ours is a ferociously antiauthoritarian society. Inviting church elders into your home and allowing them to care for your soul is unnatural, uncomfortable, unpopular, and increasingly, un-American.
· Fear. Like our first parents after the fall, we live in fear of being exposed and vulnerable before God and man because we are convinced that if we were truly known we would be judged and rejected. For some, that fear is valid as they have been tragically burned by abusive and domineering church leaders in the past. Those traumatic experiences have left thick scars of skepticism and reclusivism.
· Sloth. It takes a lot of work! Many elders and church leaders are simply unwilling to undertake such a heavy ministerial burden.
Those are some daunting obstacles indeed! But do the benefits outweigh the costs? Paul certainly thought so. What are the benefits of pastoral visitation?
· True Community. It is the sacred duty of the elders to cultivate Christian community; showing each individual and household that Westminster Presbyterian Church is a hospital for sinners where it is safe to be known, imperfect, and loved. How else can a session inspire an atmosphere of genuine, familial community founded upon honest relationships instead of shallow pleasantries?
· Poignant Preaching. A minister’s pulpit ministry must be informed and reinforced by his private ministry within the homes of his people. How else will he accurately gauge the effectiveness and helpfulness of his preaching in the lives of those entrusted to his care? How will he know what spiritual medicine to prescribe from the Word of God if he is ignorant to the spiritual maladies plaguing his people?
· Pastoral Care. Paul instructed the elders of Ephesus, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock (Acts 20:28).” In other words, shepherds need to know their sheep! “I am the good shepherd,” Jesus explained, “I know my own and my own know me (John 10:14).” Regular visitation creates a foil for this Christ-like pastoring. It grants elders the opportunity to “pay attention” to you and to learn about your life, family, work, strengths, weaknesses, frustrations, fears, hopes, and dreams. As they learn of your unique and besetting burdens they can strengthen your grip on Christ and bear those burdens with you!
Benefits this rich are simply too grand to pass up! Thus, the session is currently working on a loose visitation schedule with the goal of serving each household of Westminster annually. Here’s what you need to know:
· The schedule will be VERY flexible. Each shepherding elder will arrange the date and time of the visit with each household well in advance so that it is convenient for all parties. The schedule will start in January 2017. Hopefully, each elder will visit one household in his flock each month accompanied by the teaching elder.
· The purpose of these visits is pastoral. That means we’re not coming to eat your food and drink your coffee! We’re coming to serve you and speak with you about weighty things. We’re coming to pray with and for you. Expect questions like: Is your family thriving under the ministry? Are you being blessed by the preaching? Do you have any questions about our liturgy and worship? How could the church be more of a blessing to you? How do you think the church might grow or improve her ministerial effectiveness? How can we be praying for you and your family?
· Visits will be short and sweet… about an hour or so.
· We're coming to bless not inspect. We won't bring white gloves and a magnifying glass in search of flaws! We are coming to be a blessing to you! To love you! And to serve you!
It is my prayer, along with the rest of the session, that you will be as excited about this new ministerial endeavor as we are and that you will partner with us in prayer echoing the cry of the Psalmist, "[Lord], do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem (Psalm 51:18).”