Whatever Happened to Family/Household Visits?

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Article 65 has been changed for "conducting annual Family Visits to "whenever possible ....conducting Family Visits".

Article 65 of the Church Order went through an interesting editing process in recent years.  The article addresses the age old custom of “Family Visiting” in the Christian Reformed Church.  It formerly read, “The minister of the Word and elders shall conduct annual home visitation”.  Presently it reads, “whenever possible by calling and encouraging them to live by faith, conducting annual home visitation”.   As I read that shift in emphasis from “shall” to “whenever possible” I wondered why?  I know from my own experience that as I went from my first church to the last church I served we approached Family Visiting quite differently.  The first church families were visited according to a published schedule by two consistory members.  The last church families had informal contact with elders without any schedule or formal plan as to the conversation. 

Communication is society in general and also within the church has changed over the decades.  Some decades ago it was not unusual for friends of the family to drop in unannounced for a cup of coffee and a visit.  Now if we want to meet friends we text them to meet at Starbucks.  Texting and e-mails have become common ways to communicate.  Face to face encounters are usually scheduled and less frequent.  This is the age of the computer and cell phones.  So as elders the question is if household visits of the past our out of vogue, how do we communicate with the households that we have been assigned?  I would suggest  “whenever possible” means we can be creative in how we communicate.  Unfortunately for some churches we have not engaged in other ways to have meaningful contact. 

But there are ways that we can communicate.  My elder communicates with me every two or three months to see how I am doing.  Even though he does not have a specific agenda when he calls,  the contact reminds me the church is concerned with my welfare.  I think that is important.  I would suggest some other ways to communicate with our households is through e-mails in which give information, prayer requests, and encourage our members to participate in the programs of the church.  In the future I will be more specific as to agendas that we can have as elders in communicating with our households.  But I would ask that you give some feedback as to how you as an elder fulfill the church order “whenever possible” in making meaningful contact with your households. 

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The days of expecting to have impact on a family's spiritual life by visiting "once a year" are long gone, if they ever truly existed.  Did a once a year visit ever truly communicate that the church cared?  What speaks care and concern for spiritual life of people is not the perfunctory visit, but regular genuine communication.  I would strongly argue that the best approach to basic pastoral care is through small group ministries which are developed as part of a church's overall plan for pastoral care.

I agree with you.  But my point is how are we replacing the traditional "Family/Household visit" with meaningful contact by the elders.  Your suggestion is certainly one way of doing it.  I think the elders need to be involved in making that "meaningful" contact.

Maybe part of the irony is that just following the church order, did not satisfy the reason for why article 65 was written?  Family visits were not made to have "meaningful" contact, whatever that means.  They were often done to fulfill a mere requirement;  to mark a job off a list.   But the real reason that they should be done, is to provide an opportunity for an evaluation of the faith growth of the family, a way of getting feedback on their participation in the church, and feedback on the activities, organization, leadership, and fellowship of the church (in the context of a message and guidance from scripture).  By itself it may not have much impact on the family, other than letting them know that the "official" church cares about them.  Maybe some gems of wisdom will pass on to help them in their daily life.  But it is a way of finding out if they need a small group ministry, or can participate in a ministry, or whether their young people are being nourished and strengthened, etc.   It establishes an initiation point of contact with elders, particularly when they may not know the elders well.   It is never an ending, but only a beginning of contact.  But a valuable beginning, hopefully resulting in more open communication in the future. 

A small church where everyone knows everyone, may find it beneficial to do once in three years, while larger churches, where members do not know each other well, may find a benefit to do it more often. 

Participant

I resonate with the comments below.  As the nature of our congregations in Canada shifts from homogeneous immigrant roots to a wonderful mix of peoples, a once a year visit with a stranger is really not that helpful.  One could ask what is the role of the elder concerning the spiritual health of a congregation and who is first of all repsonsible for congregational care.   Is it not the congregation, fellow beleivers caring for one another?  Hence small groups is one avenue.  Unless an elder has somewhat of a long standing relationship with someone in their "district," trust and openness is simply not given on the basis of a title anymore.  It has to be earned in most cases.  If everone knows everyone, there can be some good traction to a visitation ministry by elders.  If not, it is largley a fruitless endeavor. 

Since the calling of elders is, in my opinion, "to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up ..." (Eph. 4:12) their primary role should be equipping people to grow into accountable, loving, relationships with others in the Body.  Then pehaps rather than spending inordinate amounts of time trying to obey a church order stipulation from a past era, the elders can work on listening to where the Lord is calling that particular congregation to grow and learn and change.  Then perhaps a home visit would be about "Where do you see the Lord at work in this congregation of which you are an integral part?" and "Where do you see the Lord leading us as a congregation?"  That conversation doesn't need a lot of longstanding relationship to take place.  And it may offer a segway into encouraging the member to step more fully into the Lord's calling.  Just an idea, sort of ... reframe the calling of an elder from the Scripture up?  Let's not get locked into any one understanding of an elder's work by a Church Order's wording.  Good topic Al!  Thanks!

 

Colin.