Over the years, I’ve written many articles in this column that deal with visiting God’s people in their homes. I’ve argued for the practice, even suggesting that it ought to occupy a priority in the work of the pastoral elder and the deacon. I’ve written about frequency, suggesting that the practice of several churches of annual home visits to each member or family of the flock should be considered to be the minimum requirement, urging instead more regular and frequent visits, noting that in some homes even weekly or monthly visits are needed. I wrote, several issues ago, about the purpose and approach of the introductory visit, distinguishing it from the more regular and routine visits that follow.
In these paragraphs, however, I want to talk about purpose. Sadly, because the practice of carrying the Word of God “from house to house,” following the practice of the Apostle Paul in Acts 20:20, is done so seldom, most of the pastoral elders I speak with consider the goal to be simply getting the visiting assignments accomplished. Seldom do they think in a more goal-oriented manner, asking themselves what the specific purpose for the visit to this particular home tonight ought to be.
To help you think along the lines of purpose, I offer the following checklist of Biblical patterns and purposes for pastoral visiting. Understand full well, the items listed below do not exhaust every command God gives you, nor are people’s lives ever as neatly categorized as lists are. Yet, there is a real sense in which a simple checklist can be of great help, especially for less experienced elders. Like the quarterback on the football field who wears a list of plays and formations on his wrist to assist him in setting the offense, so this brief list of 6 goals can provide the elder a checklist to remind him of the Biblical work he has to do. You can write these down, noting Scripture passages alongside, and tuck the list into your Bible. Just before the visit, review them (with your partner, if you have one), and go into the home with an overall “game plan.” Obviously, should you find that circumstances in the home are different than you anticipated, you “scramble” like any quarterback must do at times, and deal with the situation you now face. The list will help you analyze, and may assist you to develop a follow-up game plan for future pastoral care.
PASTORAL PURPOSE #1: DEFENSE OF THE FLOCK
Read Acts 20:28–31, and notice the “enemies” God’s elders must deal with: from outside of the church, the wolfish teeth of worldliness and the ideas and practices that it inspires; from within the church, false teachers and doctrines that weaken the faith of the flock. Does this home and its inhabitants need special defense? Discuss the enemies with your people during the visit; try to ascertain the penetration of the Evil One into each home. Be able to refer to Scriptural passages and principles that will be useful for defense. (Look carefully at Eph. 6:10f for a list of the “armor” God gives.) Later, when debriefing the elders and/or deacons during the group review of the visits, you will be able to assemble a list of those attitudes, practices, ideas and/or areas of doctrinal teaching that will require further attention, perhaps even a series of sermons.
PASTORAL PURPOSE #2: RECONCILIATION
Read Matthew 18:12–20 and/or II Corinthians 5:11–21. Observe that in the former passage, reconciliation between brothers and sisters within the church is in view and requires specific procedures seeking repentance and confession. Is there a sinful relationship involving members of this home that must be reconciled? If so, a review of the foundational Biblical dynamics of confrontation, repentance and forgiveness is in order. Observe that in the latter passage, the servants of the Lord are called agents of reconciliation, specifically aiming at reconciliation with God through the cleansing blood of Christ. Is there a member of this household who is not right with God? If so, a necessary review of the basic gospel message of sin and its misery, salvation through the mediator Jesus Christ, and the life of Christian service by the power of the Spirit may be in order.
PASTORAL PURPOSE #3: RESTORATION
Often, sinners who are reconciled to Christ through repentance and forgiveness find that their most difficult challenge lies in acceptance by the church family. Churches are made up of sinners after all; and often, either gossiping or holding grudges, on the one hand, or believing it is in the best interests of the church not to give visibility or responsibility to people who had committed publicly known sins in their past, prevents such previously public sinners from serving the Lord and their church to the fullest extent of their ability. Read John 21:15–17. Review Peter’s sin of three-time denial, against the background of his bold declaration of loyalty (Mat. 26:33), and then consider the radical restoration to responsibility and service Jesus grants. Ascertain whether this home has a restoration problem; determine what you can do about it.
PASTORAL PURPOSE #4: EQUIPPING FOR MINISTRY
So often in the life of the church, we are content with “membership in good standing.” If someone is, we do little more for them unless they get out of line; then the weight of the eldership is applied in a disciplinary process to bring them back into line. Otherwise, folks are pretty much left alone, except, of course, for a regular, but often superficial, visit. Read Ephesians 4:11–12, and review the role of the pastors in Christ’s chain of command. Pastors (including pastoral elders) are to “equip the saints for their ministry.” That involves, at least, identifying how this household is active in the service of Christ, determining how they could be more or better involved, and what it will take to equip them for that service. Determine whether this home is content with spiritual inactivity and must be challenged, or willing but untrained.
PASTORAL PURPOSE #5: EDIFICATION
Read the last part of Ephesians 4:12. Identify what it means that God’s people are to be “built up,” and note the ways that edification will show itself in their lives. Specifically, determine whether unity, knowledge and maturity are lacking in this home. Determine, conversely, whether this home evidences spiritual division or divisiveness; whether there is genuine and intimate knowledge of Christ evident in each life; what is the level of spiritual maturity as measured by practical fruit-bearing standards, not merely by tradition or length of tenure in the church. Determine whether the members you visit need instruction, encouragement, rebuke, or other kinds of pastoral attention.
PASTORAL PURPOSE #6: HOLINESS
Read Hebrews 12:14ff, and observe the straight forward declaration that “without holiness, no one will see the Lord.” Note the sorts of things mentioned in the context that jeopardize holiness including the “bitter root” that corrupts relationships; sexual immorality; godless priorities like Esau’s; or even the lack of discipline mentioned earlier in the chapter. Determine whether this home bears a passion for the holiness of God and seeks the holiness of its inhabitants. Subsequent visits and prayer can pursue this divine agenda.
Dr. Sittema, pastor of Bethel Christian Reformed Church in Dallas, Texas, is the editor of this department.