Practical Pastor: Making Pastoral Visits in Homes

In a previous post, I spoke about the dying art of pastoral visitation and looked at some practical things I’ve learned about visiting people in the hospital.  In this post, I want to think about making visits with people in their homes.

Determine a clear purpose for your visit.  Why do you want to see this person?  Do you desire to just spend time with them or do you desire something more?  Certainly, Christian encouragement can and should happen “on the fly” as the unplanned consequence of two or more believers being together. But the New Testament calls us to something more intentional. There is a meant to  be planned attempt at investing in people’s lives.  Along with that, people are in different places.  Remember Paul’s concern to present everyone mature in Christ (Col 1:28)?  You need to know where the person is in order to help them move towards greater maturity in Christ.

So, for example, you have Paul saying, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thess 5:14).  The idle doesn’t need help, they need admonishment—they need to be told how to get it together, but the weak person—the person struggling spiritually—they need help.  They need someone to be tender toward them.  Yet, Paul says they all need to be encouraged with patience on our part.  This is an important place to start: determining a purpose of the visit.

Determine a plan for your visit that involves the Bible. Three common purposes for a visit are: evangelism, encouragement, and correction. Each of these will best be carried out if you take a Bible and plan to use it.  Even just reading God’s word to someone can be beneficial if the take is immediately applicable. But you need to know which texts are best to read or explain.

If you’re going with the intent of evangelizing, make sure you have a basic plan for your gospel presentation. Are you going to dive right in or lead the conversation there?  Are you going to use a tract like Two Ways to Live or take through the ‘Romans Road’?  If you’re going to encourage them, how are you going to do it?  What do they encouragement for—family issues, assurance of salvation, loss of a loved one, extended illness, or something else?  Do not pick random verses to share with them—land on something that speaks to the issues they are facing and need encouragement for. The trickiest visit to make is one for correction.  Should we even bother with this sort of thing?  God seems to think so.  Consider some verses:

“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:91-20).

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Gal 6:1).

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt 28:15-20).

So, how do you make such a visit?  First, be humble. Be humble about your own sin and the fact that you are not perfect. Second, be loving. If you cannot make this visit with the intent of lovingly helping the person come back to God, then don’t go.  This is not about punishment, but redemption.  Third, you should pray, pray, then pray some more.  Make sure God is with you.

Schedule a time to visit.  For the most part, the days of the drop-in visit are gone. Some people are still okay with it but schedules tend to be so chaotic that you may not even catch someone at home.  So, before you drop by, call or email the person to find a good time for getting together.  This will also help you feel out their responsiveness to your visit.  If they are enthusiastic, you will likely plan different than if they are hem-hawing around and are acting like they don’t want to commit to a time.

Pray for a good visit.  Most of us know we should pray, but we don’t really pray like we should. Prayer reveals your need of God. It shows that you know he is the one who brings about spiritual change in people’s lives, not you (1 Cor 2:14).  Ask God to give you wisdom about what to say during the visit and how to handle anything that unexpectedly comes up (Jas 1:5-8).

Think about the practicalities of the visit.  I heard one of my professors in seminary talk about making an evangelism visit one time where the guy he was with launched into a heavy presentation and was barreling ahead at full steam with a guy when he suddenly stopped and said, ‘Do you have a bathroom I could use?’  The length of time he spent in there along with the accompanying sounds pretty much killed the conversation.  Think strategically about your time there.  For example, I don’t recommend stopping for Mexican or Thai food on the way.  Furthermore, even if you have to pop into a McDonald’s, try to meet any bathroom needs before you go.  It simply alleviates what could be an awkwardness to the visit. Think also about having something to jot down notes on–either a an old school notebook and pen, or a note-taking app on your phone. Finally, make sure you silence your phone.  By that, I mean, turn the ringer all the way without the vibrate function, or simply put it in airplane mode. This will allow you to give all your attention to the person and still be able to access your calender app if you need it.

Be a gracious guest.  When you arrive many people will offer you something to make you comfortable.  What are you going to say?  Will you accept or decline?  Most people will at least offer you something to drink.   Even if you take a glass of water, you are allowing the person to show you hospitality which will automatically encourage them by your visit.  It may seem odd but allowing yourself to be served can actually serve others.  At the same time, don’t walk on those you’re visiting.  If they offer you something that may not be your favorite, don’t snarl your nose up at it.  Don’t make them feel bad for not having what you prefer. Any an innocent comment about what you usually do can make them feel bad about not being able to meet your needs.  I would even suggest you check your routines and preferences at the door and have whatever they offer you.

Get to the gospel.  Regardless of the kind of visit you are making, the gospel is the life-source of any spiritual conversation.  It will either serve to bring people into the kingdom of God, encourage those who are in to persevere, or remind those who are caught up in sin of the love God has shown them and of the faith that have professed.  The gospel message is the centering point for our lives.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom 1:16).

“Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen” (Rom 16:25-27).

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain” (1 Cor 15:1-2).

Pray before you leave.  Ending with prayer can have the effect of cementing the time you spent together in someone’s mind.  It can add a real sense that the visit was more than a social time for the two of you.  Furthermore, it can be a way of bringing to a natural and important conclusion all that you have talked about.  Spent just a minute to two leading in prayer, thanking God for the time you had and asking him to continue to work in your lives in the areas you discussed.  If you want the other person(s) to pray, have them begin.  This takes the pressure off of them to try and conclude the prayer with something profound and makes them feel like you are doing the heavy lifting.

Follow up with the person at church or over the phone.  If you visit someone during the week and end up with a spiritually significant conversation, don’t let it end with that visit.  The nature of the subject might necessitate a follow up call a few days later. If nothing else, make a point of saying ‘hi’ to the person when you see them at church the following Sunday.  Let them know you enjoyed the visit (if appropriate).

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