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Don't Wear Us Out!

One of the biggest areas of tension between young pastors and older congregations today - at least in Baptist circles - is the area of 'visitation'.  Apparently, there has been some kind of radical change in cultural norms in the last couple of generations when it comes to this issue of the expectation of pastors to constantly visit their church members.  Younger pastors do not even understand this expectation and older congregations don't understand why their young pastor doesn't see it as a vital need. Now, I have to admit that I haven't had too much experience on the church member side of this equation to be able to know if I should expect more visits out of my pastor.  I say that because my last pastor and his family are some of our family's closest friends, so we saw them all the time in that regard.  In the church where we were before that one, the pastor was my father-in-law and I worked with him every day as the church's Minister of Students.  So, I've never really had the kind of desire for the 'visit' of the pastor like other church members may feel.

But now that I am a pastor myself, I sure feel the expectation from the congregation that this is something that the pastor of a church ought to be doing.  And don't get me wrong, I believe that a pastor ought to be intimately connected to the lives of the people in his church, and I certainly don't mind going to see people who are sick and in the hospital; it's the 'well visits' that are the difficult issue.

A pastor who wants to faithfully preach and teach the Word of God three times a week has a lot of work cut out for him, even with nothing else on his plate.  When you add to that work-load the need of a pastor to spend quality time with his own family and his need to continue developing himself spiritually and mentally, there's not a whole lot of time left for other things.  In my own experience, hospital visits are wonderful: you can really minister to the person or the family, can spend time encouraging them and praying for them, and you don't actually spend that much time there.  Visiting someone who isn't going through a crisis, though, is quite a bit different.  A single one of these can last for most of an afternoon, taking up valuable work time, and there is rarely much ministry that happens, because no one wants you to come to their house unannounced and teach a Bible study.  Multiply this time-expenditure by the number of families in the church and you start running into big problems.

As I was reading through Exodus 18 this morning, though, I saw a wonderful solution that many others have seen before.  Moses' father-in-law, Jethro, took one look at Moses trying to meet the needs of all the people and proclaimed, "What you are doing is not good" (Exodus 18:17).  Moses was wearing himself and the people out because he was stretched too thin.  So Jethro's advice was to set up an organization of helpers that could take care of smaller matters, leaving Moses to deal with the issues that were most important to his calling.

In many churches, this is the way they organize the deacons.  Our church in Georgia called it the "Deacon Family Ministry".  The idea was that each deacon in the church was to be assigned some number of families to care for and would pass on the larger needs up to the pastor.  In reality, though, this rarely works out very well.

When I was approached and asked to be a deacon of our church there, I was told all about the Deacon Family Ministry by the Chairman of Deacons, but I was also told that "no one really does anything, and you won't be expected to either."  What an encouraging and challenging recruitment!  Sadly, however, this is the case in many churches.  If the deacons are organized this way, they don't really do what they're supposed to do, and the pastor is still blamed for not visiting enough.

This is a heads-up to all you church members out there that might read this: protect your pastor's time in this area.  He is called primarily to the "ministry of the Word and prayer" (Acts 6:4).  If you want to spend more time with him, invite him and his family over to eat with you.  This won't take up any of his valuable work time, and is much more enjoyable than an unannounced mid-day visit anyway.  If you have deacons set up into a Deacon Family Ministry, then expect them to to most of the visiting.  You're pastor will always be there when you really need him, but otherwise let him focus primarily on what he's been called to do.