Why Are Ministers so Reluctant to Visit Their Parishioners?

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I have observed a profound reluctance from pastors to routinely visit members of their church. I would welcome some responses from pastors. 

I don't understand it, particularly with the demise of the second service and all the recovered time that represents for the preacher. 

If the second service took 12 hours out of your week, you could do 6 visits during that 12 hours instead (not difficult). You could cover an average 100 family church within less than 20 weeks. What is so hard about that? Why enter the parish ministry if you are so reluctant to know each and every one of your families? How can you not want the homiletical material which the information from such visits could provide, not to mention the political capital you can build up for when things may get difficult for you.

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Thank you, John Tamming, for this provocative commentary. First of all, I'm not sure if the generalization can be demonstrated that pastors are reluctant to visit parishioners, though I DO know of some pastors who show such reluctance. In such cases, I share your perplexity. In my 27 years as sole parish pastor and preacher for churches ranging from 200 to 425 or so active members, with evening services for all those years, I would make about 8 to 10 pastoral visits a week in homes, work places, Tim Hortons or schools during noon breaks. (Btw, these do not include hospital visits). Most of the time it was a very good thing to leave the church building and study and engage with members (active or not). As you note, much sermon fodder (to be handled VERY carefully, of course) that grows in these visits. And, as you also comment, lots of political good will built up in those visits, even if that's hardly an exclusive reason to go visiting, 

But let's say your generalization is accurate. I won't make excuses for pastors and your point is well-taken that without an evening service, there is more time available. But this I do know: many pastors are basically shy people who have learned to be  as a good friend calls himself, "a professional extrovert." Still doing and being that is tiring for many of my colleagues and many of them find visiting hard; I never did. As well, as my years as a pastor increased, I found it harder and harder to do all I wanted and needed to do pastorally because meetings seemed to demand more time and preparation as years passed. There was much time dedicated to planning and strategizing, work that didn't come naturally for me, though I could and did do it as required.

Still, since I'm speaking only from my limited personal experience, I'd be interested if colleagues would comment on John Tamming's brief, edgy blog. Blessings and thanks again, John, for your contribution. 

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Along with James D. I wonder how prevalent this reluctance is?

When I compare the ministry practices of my first pastoral mentor (now deceased) as he shared them with me, over against what ministry is like for me today, I think there is more to this perceived reluctance to visit than simply pastoral unwillingness. 

There is also a growing reluctance to be visited in congregations.  My old mentor talked about the days when the list of households going to be visited by the pastor (and by elders for that matter) was printed each week in the bulletin.  So people made sure they were home and ready to receive the pastor.  That's a far cry from today, where pastors are regularly being rescheduled or receive replies of "will have to get back to you".  Seniors generally are available to visit, though even that age group is changing and far more mobile than in the past.  But church households with families ... wow are people ever busy compared to when I grew up.  

We did a congregational survey a number of years ago to get some input from people about pastor (and elder) visits.  There was a marked indication that the younger the respondent the more likely they appreciated meeting the pastor and getting to know him a bit but felt no need to have regular visits happening.  They just wanted to know who to call in an crisis or with church questions.  In fact, it is not uncommon today, that when attempting to visit a family, one has to indicate that "nothing's wrong, just want to get to know you better."  

I had a recently retired pastor once come to me to "instruct me" in how to do visiting (I believe he felt I was not doing enough of them).  I listened to his approach ... and was a bit appalled that he truly believed that knocking on a door and leaving a calling card if no one answered as well as  not staying longer than 15 min to half hour, constituted pastoral care.  Apparently he used to report all such activities as "his visits."  Not the old industry standard I hope.

I also echo James D's comments that there is a growing administrative and leadership development area of ministry that is calling on pastors to lead and do things they are often not trained or well-equipped to do.  Just read church vacancy ads these days.  And if I think of the church era I grew up in, previously pastors only stayed in place for about 4-5 years at a time and then moved on to a new congregation.  In my experience it seems that 4-5 years is about the time that the reality of what is really going on in households is coming out to the pastor.  The hard stuff starts piling up and the pastor moves on. 

And I am pretty sure many pastors, when moving on to the next church, no longer wrote one or both new sermons each Sunday but used the "barrel" and so freed up more time to visit.  When one stays longer in one church, the barrel gets used up or needs to be spread over a longer time.  And the need to stay fresh and renewed in preaching becomes a part of the journey.  And what congregations expect now from a preacher is plagued more and more with the comparisons with popular preachers online and nearby megachurches.   Cranking out "three points and a poem" (as we used to characterize it) just doesn't cut it anymore.  

Also doing actual pastoral counseling (not simply check in/social visits ) increases exponentially with the length of stay in a congregation.  This work cannot simply be measured in hours put in or number of households visited but also in the emotional toll this takes when pastors are wading around in difficult situations when they are only generalists not specialists in these situations.  

I think if someone is concerned that their pastor is reluctant to visit, grace-filled, supportive conversation needs to happen to find out what is actually going on.  Yes pastors can be introverts for whom visiting requires much more effort and energy than for a natural extrovert.  That doesn't mean an introvert pastor can say, "visiting is not my strength so I avoid it" but it does mean that such a pastor may need more encouragement and support to do visitation ministry well.  Extroverts head out the door to visit with gusto.  Introverts with intrepidation.  This does not equal " I don't care to know the people."  Pastors are not all things to all congregations but have strengths and weaknesses and need to be ministering with the elders and the congregation.  

Whenever I come across a member who says something like, "I don't get any visits from my elder" I follow up with "would you like to have that?" and "have you called them up and invited them over?"  Yet I do find most households are welcoming to a pastor visit.  It is less expected as generations come and go and is even experienced as something novel especially for newcomers to the faith. 

It is an important component of ministry but may not be of the same priority or status as it has been in the past.  One pastor said to me, "I would rather use my time to disciple a newcomer to the faith, than to do tea with a mature believer simply because they like that."  There is some truth to that, though I don't think the two are mutually  exclusive.  Familiarity with members is the foundation for pastoral care in situations of need.  Ticking off numbers of visits is not the only way to do that, nor are many visits necessarily an indication of effective pastoral ministry.  

The Lord lead us in His ways. 

Colin.