OK, you're going to do those visits, because that's what you are called to do. But you are uneasy, scared. This brief guide is intended to be an introductory checklist for pastors, pastoral care workers, elders or deacons when you visit families or individuals. Maybe you want to consider this an "owner's manual." Not that we own the church or its members; only God does. But we are working for the Owner and are in charge of maintenance. We are here to do Christ's maintenance on the sheep of His pasture or, in modern terms, the cars in His fleet. Cars come with owner's manuals that prescribe oil changes, tire rotation, fluid capacities and so on. Cars don't know if they're not maintained, but they'll let US know if they're not. If we don't minimally maintain them, we turn a good car into a wreck.
Church members come with souls and bodies, not engines and radial tires. They deserve better maintenance than our cars. Although they usually know when the need it, often for reasons of shame or fear, they often won't tell us. Somehow we have to find out. The next time you make a planned visit, consider it "scheduled maintenance." The next time something comes up all of a sudden, consider it "emergency repairs." Do both to the glory of God.
Here are some hints and helps that might help you do your visits as eager and willing servants of our Lord.
1. Check over your district list or directory. (Some churches organize their congregants into smaller groupings by district--usually a geographic area in which congregants live)
a. Do you at least know by sight and name all the families and individuals?
b. Do you at least know by sight and name all the young people?
c. Do they know you?
2. If you answered "No" to 1a or 1b:
a. List those you don't know.
b. Call or talk to them. (Maybe you need a phone number first.)
c. Arrange a date to meet them.
3. For those you DO know, work through the list, trying to coordinate with your partner, setting up dates. Here flexibility is important to match schedules. It's good to start early in the year.
Maybe this is your first time visiting as a rookie pastor, elder, deacon or pastoral care worker? Maybe you are shy? You might feel inadequate about the work ahead. You're not alone. Remember Moses; he claimed he was "slow of speech." The Lord did not give him an easy time of it, but he must have ended up doing a passable job of it with people who were much tougher to do maintenance on than God's children in our congregation.
Although you'll be asking questions, don't turn a visit into an interrogation. Be informal, though not casual to the point of laxity and lack of direction. Your family and individual visits are crucial to the health of this part of the Body of Christ.
Don't tolerate gossiping or griping. Listen patiently, take comments seriously. Ask people how they can contribute to the health of the church or how they can participate in worship, for example. That is, be sure that people take responsibility for their own spiritual maintenance and don't blame you or the church for their own problems or absence. Be patient and loving, but clear and firm.
Unless you know this will be a formal discipline call or a problematic visit, go with the happy intention of enjoying God's presence in normal circumstances with brothers and sisters in Christ. Routine visits (or "Scheduled Maintenance") are the positive, long-term and crucial exercise of normal church discipline. If scheduled maintenance is done, there is less occasion for sudden breakdown and emergency repairs.
If you're visiting a family, try to schedule the visit when family members living at home can be present for at least part of the time. Keep small talk to a minimum. The family knows why you are there and they will be uncomfortable until you get on with the purpose of the visit. Early on, begin with prayer, thanking God for the family, for the children (if any), for their willingness to open their home, for their inclusion in your church. Read a fitting Bible passage. I have used Romans 12:1-8 about "living sacrifices." Maybe your church has a theme for a given ministry year. This year we're using the theme "Everything We Need," based on 2 Peter 1:3-11.
Make sure you know the names of the children and young people and include them. Here are some suggested questions, in no particular order, that one hopes stimulate responses. (But you probably have your own questions as well. You don't HAVE to use any of these, of course! They are to be suggestions and helps):
- Where do they attend school?
- What do they like or dislike about school?
- Who are their friends?
- What do they do with their friends?
- What are interests or hobbies?
- What book or magazines do they read?
- What shows do they watch?
- What do they fight about with friends or brothers or sisters?
- What makes them happy as a family member?
- What makes them angry as a family member?
- What makes them happy or interested as a church member?
- What does not interest them as a church member?
- Why do they attend church?
- What is attractive to them at church--in worship, in programs?
- What is not helpful for them in church?
- Do they know Jesus?
- Do they talk to Jesus?
- Are they ashamed of doing anything to a friend, sibling or parent?
- Have they been hurt badly by others?
- Can they tell that hurt to Jesus? Can they tell about that hurt to any other people?
Dedicate at least fifteen minutes to the children. If they wish to leave after this, that's their choice, but encourage them to stay. If you know the parents only slightly (and this can get to be the case in a growing church), feel free to get to know them by asking about their backgrounds, work, friends, etc. More specific topics are suggested in the following questions. Again, feel free to let the conversation develop naturally, but with a focus on relationship with Christ and his church.
- Why are they members of this congregation? (Or, if they're not members, why are they attending?)
- Who are their best friends within the congregation? (If they have no "best friends," be ready to suggest a family or person or two and in turn encourage those people to contact the family you're visiting.)
- How often do you have devotions (as family or individually)?
- What is the practice of devotions? (Bible reading, prayer, meditation books, etc?)
- Are they confident of their salvation in Christ?
- In what concrete ways do they as spouses express love and dedication to each other? (If there is marital discord, don't pretend you don't know it. This is the place to bring it up, to ask if they would like to visit with the pastor or a counsellor.)
- Is there financial or diaconal need?
- Be aware of this family or person's financial contribution to the church.
- Is this family contributing to the church? (Some can give more; some cannot give that much. All should be encouraged to give of the resources God has given them.)
- Are they happy to contribute?
- Are there suggestions that they would like to make for greater fellowship, developing of gifts, etc?
- Be sure to close in prayer, thanking God for this family and praying for its well-being and blessing.