October 17, 2017

The New Liturgical Gangstas (2)

Today, we present our second installment in our renewal of IM’s popular feature, “The Liturgical Gangstas,” a panel discussion involving representatives from different liturgical traditions who will be answering questions regarding theology and church practice. Lord willing, the Gangstas will appear on the final week of each month to share with our IM audience.

Who are the Gangstas?

  • Father Ernesto Obregon is an Eastern Orthodox priest.
  • Father Joe Boysel is the rector of Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Hudson, Ohio (AMiA). He was formerly a professor of Bible and Preaching at Ohio Christian University.
  • Dr. Wyman Richardson is a pastor of a Baptist Church in Georgia (SBC) and director of Walking Together Ministries, a resource on church discipline.
  • Alan Creech is a Roman Catholic with background in the Emerging church and spiritual direction. (Alan was unable to join us for this post.)
  • Rev. Angie Gage is an associate pastor in a United Methodist church in Arkansas.
  • Rev. William Cwirla is a Lutheran pastor (LCMS) and one of the hosts of the excellent podcast, The God Whisperers.
  • Rev. Daniel Jepsen is the senior pastor of Franklin Community Church, an evangelical non-denominational church.

Today’s Question: PASTORAL CARE AND VISITATION

We have had many posts on Internet Monk lamenting the decline in pastoral visitation and the overall practice of pastoral care in the church. In your tradition and church, how do you handle this aspect of ministry? What part is played by the ordained ministers, and what systems are set up in your church to make sure caring needs in the congregation are met?


Rev. William Cwirla, Lutheran
Pastoral visitation is the topic is where most pastors’ eyes turn downcast, and like the publican praying in the temple, they must beat their breasts and say “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

I come from a tradition that has a venerable history of pastoral visitation.  You can read about it from the giants like GH Gerberding (The Lutheran Pastor) or CFW Walther (Pastoraletheologie).  The Lutheran concept of the pastor is one of “Seelsorger,” a physician of the soul.  Just as house calls by the family physician were once a vital part of ongoing health care, so the home visit by the pastor was, and still is, considered an essential component of pastoral care.  The Lutheran pastor is expected to be in the homes of his people on a regular basis, especially at times of sickness and distress.  He is also expected to visit in the hospital and nursing home, and to bring the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood to those who are too frail to come to church.

GH Gerberding describes the pastoral visit well in his book The Lutheran Pastor (1902):  “A true pastoral call has a pastoral aim.  It’s first aim is to win the confidence and love of everyone visited, of the whole family, including servants, or of the individual, if the visit is to him.  The pastor knows that, without the confiding love of those whom he desires to benefit, he can do nothing.  Neither can he know his people before he has won their confidence.  His further aim is to do good to everyone thus visited.  With kindly, tactful treatment he should lead them to open their hearts and the manner of life to him.  He should know their spiritual estate, their personal relation to the Saviour.  He does not expect all this at the first call.  It may require many interviews:  with some more, with others less.  He would give instructions, counsel, encouragement, or warning as each case may requires.  Every such visit ought to leave behind inspiration, courage, and resolution for a better life.  After each pastoral visit the impression left should be that a man of God has been in the house.” (Gerberding, 388).

Most Lutheran congregations, my own included, have a board of elders or deacons, lay assistants to the pastor, who help with the task of visitation.  Some larger congregations with several pastors on staff have one who is responsible for visitation.  Typically shut-ins are visited once or twice a month; members are visited once a year or more.  This is pretty much the Lutheran standard – some pastors are more diligent, other less so.

Unfortunately, house calls by the pastor are in danger of going the way of house calls by the family doctor.  Sadly, I have noticed that my visitation has diminished greatly over my 18 years at one parish.  There are a variety of reasons for this.  Our modern lifestyle is not as conducive to visits as it once.  Congregations are less community-oriented.  Half my congregation commutes from a distance.  Time for visits is greatly reduced by commuting and work hours and busy family calendars.  The “mega-church” mentality of the pastor as “leader” rather than “bishop of souls” has invaded the thinking even of the most faithful of pastors, to the loss of what I believe was once a great pastoral practice.

Too often, people associate a pastoral visit with either some crisis – a grave illness or death in the family, for example, or some kind of serious matter of church discipline in the way of Matthew 18.  I recall visiting a man in the hospital on the day he was being released.  Someone in the elevator spied my collar and said with a serious look, “Are you going to visit someone from your parish, Father?”  I said, “Yes.”  He said, “Is he dying?”  I said, “No more than any of us.  But for now, he’s on the mend and going home today.  I’m just here to see him off.”  He seemed genuinely surprised.

I am greatly encouraged and inspired by many of my younger colleagues who are endeavoring to restore regular pastoral visitation in our congregations.  I appreciate the Orthodox practice of visitation during the season of Epiphany for its intentionality.  I don’t know how that practice is going in the communion, but I think the idea of intentionality beyond need or crisis is important.  I am working with my elders to establish a more regular practice in our congregation, which includes some measure of accountability and encouragement.  I have found that when pastoral visitation languishes, so does the rest of my ministry including preaching and teaching.  The “care of souls” is not learned from books.  As Gerberding points out, the fruits of pastoral visitation are not always immediate, but the long term benefits are always worth it.

Rev. Joe Boysel, Anglican
I remember watching an episode of Spongebob Squarepants with my boys one time when Gary (the pet snail who is kind of like a cat…trust me on this) started acting exceptionally strange. Everyone in Bikini Bottom (that’s the town) was convinced that he had contracted a “zombie disease” until a doctor happened by and discovered that what was really bothering Gary was a huge splinter in his…well…paw (I know snails don’t have paws, but you’ll have to watch the show to understand). This cartoon series often has an Aesop Fable vibe and the moral of this particular episode was that often a perfectly reasonable explanation exists for unusual (or unfriendly) behavior, if only someone will stop and take a closer look.

The people in the church whose job it is to take a closer look are called pastors.

Of course, it isn’t just the grumpy or antisocial parishioner that needs special attention. All Christians need pastoral care. In fact, I think that it’s important to give attention to metaphor which describes the work of the clergy. “Pastor” reflects the work of one who cares for sheep. Following the metaphor, then, the only way for a pastor or a shepherd to know the health of the sheep (a metaphor for people) is by taking the time to inspect each one in close proximity. Unfortunately, this cannot happen in 13 seconds on Sunday at the back door of the church.

It has been my practice, therefore, to visit every one of my parishioners in their home (or at mine) at least once a year. The reality, however, is that this kind of soul care is not sexy work; it’s a toilsome industry that often distracts from more energizing pursuits, and worse, often leads to pastoral fatigue. Still, there’s no way that I’ve found to get to know people intimately apart from simply sitting down with them over a coffee or a tea. In this setting, I can discover a lot about the person. In fact, I’m at a loss for methods of developing an affinity for people apart from personal contact. The simple fact remains that loving relationships require face time.

Still I suppose the question remains as to whether a pastor should want to develop an affinity for the people in his or her charge. Perhaps some would argue that a pastor should maintain an emotional distance from the people. While there may be some merit to those arguments, it does not much sound like the ministry of the Good Shepherd to me. And insofar as the ministry of the under-shepherds reflects the ministry of the Good Shepherd I should not think that affective distance in any way improves one’s ability to minister.

Martin Luther once said, “Unless your heart toward the sheep is like a mother toward her children – you will not be fit to be a pastor.” Yes, people are difficult. And, yes, the more you get to know them the more maintenance they require. And, yes, the more time one spends across a table sharing stories and directing souls the less time he or she will have to work on increasing the size of their congregation. But I think developing an affinity for one’s congregation stand as a large part of the makings of a faithful priest.

Rev. Angie Gage, Methodist
I have recently changed ministry settings. Within the United Methodist Church, we have a “call” system in which we submit ourselves to the authority of our area Bishop to make appointments to local congregations.  I have moved from being the solo pastor in a mid-sized church to being an Associate Pastor in a large church.  I have also served a small congregation.  The role of pastoral care in regards to pastoral visitation is much the same in these types of congregations, but I have found them to be quite different at the same time.  One thing that I have found common with all of my ministry settings is that we live in a very different world today than we did in the 1950s.

Today, pastors have to be aware of many factors.  Male pastors can no longer safely visit females who are by themselves.  Female pastors cannot visit males who are alone.  We have become a society in which we can’t even do something as basic as a pastoral visit without being aware of the potential of being placed in a position in which allegations of inappropriateness can occur.  We also have seen that pastors take advantage of being in a situation where their own behavior is not monitored.  We have become a litigious society in which everyone seems to be afraid.

The very nature of our current state of society has also changed how the informal visitations occur.  Previously, a pastor would just drop by at his/her convenience.  The one being visited didn’t expect a call ahead of time.  They welcomed the pastor into their home.  There are some things that are incredibly different.  In my previous church, I had a young man ask the following, “Why don’t you just drop by for dinner?”  At one point in time, this was a little more common for pastors to do.  People are busier now than they used to be, even pastors.  What had been a standard isn’t any longer as clergy families have gotten busier as well.   Too often the only time to visit some families is during the time that everyone else considers “family time.”  Clergy families appreciate spending time with their own families, just as members of the congregation do.  Since clergy no longer just “drop by” in the evenings due to their own family obligations, one possible solution would be for parishioners  to invite the clergy and his or her family into their homes.  This would create a greater sense of relationship between the clergy family and the family of the parishioners.

But enough of my ranting and rambling.  Pastoral visitation and care is essential; however, it is not only the responsibility of the pastor.  Within my current church, we have a lay pastoral care ministry which consists of dedicated people who visit shut-ins weekly, take communion to them, deliver special treats to them a various times during the year.  These people go out and realize that the ministry of the church is not just to be done by the pastors but is also the responsibility of the laity.  Clergy are expected to empower the laity.  It is nice to see it actually in place and working great.  As clergy, we are still expected to do the visitation.  However, because of these dedicated individuals who understand that they are also ministers, the responsibility is shared in a way that opens the door to clergy doing visitation, but not as intensely as some expect it to be.  Expectations on clergy are overwhelming at times.  Lay Pastoral Care programs can help in the responsibilities of the church to visit others.  God doesn’t call just clergy to visit the sick, the shut-ins, the disenfranchised, the weak.  God calls us all to do this work.  Clergy or Laity, we all share in this responsibility.

Dr. Wyman Richardson, Baptist
While I think I can safely say that Richard Baxter would not be pleased (try reading The Reformed Pastor if you feel just really great about your pastoral care efforts!), and while I have never felt that my own efforts in this arena were commendable, I do value pastoral care and visitation and I see it as an essential component of pastoral ministry.  Even while admitting my own shortcomings in this area, I want to eschew the often creative efforts that some pastors take to try to avoid pastoral ministry.

Some friends were telling me that a new pastor was called to serve their congregation.  After being voted in, he said to the congregation, “Let me be perfectly clear:  I’m a leader, not a shepherd.”  Translation: I will preach and cast vision (whatever that’s supposed to mean!), but I will not visit you. Other efforts include a pitiful retreat into corporate terminology (“I’m the CEO of the church.”), an attempt to box yourself inside your pulpit (“I’ve been called and gifted to preach, not to visit.”), an appeal to busyness (“Sorry, there’s no way I can visit people.”) and a whole host of other dodges.

But here’s the thing:  pastoral care is hardwired into the pastoral vocation.  Pastors must care for their people.

Why?  Because a proper Christology all but demands it.  Any pastor presuming to serve the people of God simply must go to and among the people of God with a lived-out gospel of care. To do any less is to be unfaithful to our Shepherd and King.  How we do so might be debated.  That we do so seems to me beyond debate.  What we are for our people is determined by what Christ is for us.  At the very least, this means caring for the people of God with the grace of God.

How do we do so?  To begin with, accessibility.  We must be accessible to our people.  Unlike one famed pastor in Atlanta, we cannot refuse to allow our people to touch us (the pastor in question refuses to shake hands with his congregants).  A good bit of pastoral care is simply being there in such a way that the people can see you and come to you.

And, of course, there is the active pastoral visitation ministry of going out:  hospitals, nursing homes, homes, etc.  This is where many pastors – myself certainly included – struggle.  It is hard to do what we should.  But here’s the thing:  the perfect is not the enemy of the good, and just because we cannot be everything doesn’t mean we cannot be something.

Furthermore, I do not believe it is a dodge to say that one of the most important steps a pastor can take in establishing a healthy ministry of pastoral care is the careful organization and structuring of the church to care for one another.  In my tradition – and, more specifically, in the church I pastor – this fleshes itself out most notably in small group care.  My church shines in this, and I’m forever humbled and challenged by it.  I have been challenged to care better by simply observing how the people I have been called to pastor care for one another.  It is truly a site to behold!

So I, for one, do try, though I want to be so much more.  But I cannot envision pastoral ministry outside of pastoral care, believing as I do the latter to be inherent to the very definition of the former.

Fr. Ernesto Obregon, Orthodox
Pastoral visitation is a contentious issue because it goes to the heart of the argument of what it means to be a pastor and to the expectations that congregations have of their pastor. I realize that there are many complaints about pastoral visitation. Yet, I do have a friend who is both a pastor and has been an editor of a major publishing house. I do not have the freedom to use his name, but he says that the rate of pastors dropping out of the ministry in the USA is at an all time high. They are not making it to retirement, but are giving up in despair.

That despair comes from the outsize expectations that we have of pastors today. We want that pastor to be there in the office every day. We want that pastor to visit people every day. We want that pastor to be involved in the community. We want that pastor to evangelize and bring people in. We want that pastor to lead more than one weekly bible study or other meeting. And, by the way, we want that pastor to be present at the meetings of the various church organizations. We want that pastor to visit the hospital and to baptize, marry, and bury. It is no wonder that the Roman Catholics went to mandatory celibacy for their priests. In the midst of these outsize expectations, I must sadly admit that what tends to be cut first is visitation.

Thus, I would caution that as we speak of pastoral visitation, we need to make sure that we are not having a set of expectations based on a model that worked in previous centuries, but is not fully applicable today. Having said that, there is a need for pastoral visitation. Among the Orthodox, we are required to visit every home at least once a year, and generally in January to February. The Blessing of the Homes in January to February is an annual opportunity to make sure that every home is visited by one of the priests in the church. Interestingly enough, there is no other set requirement than the once a year visit. On top of that, of course, are the unscheduled visits, such as illness, death, new members, etc. But these visits are in the context of a once a year requirement. An Orthodox priest is also expected to run a Saturday evening service, a Sunday morning prayer service, a Sunday main service, and the feast days. By the time you throw in the other expectations, this does tend to fill up that 40 to 50 hours a week. But, at least it is a reasonable manageable schedule. In my case, I make sure to visit the once a year and then the fill-ins, as necessary.

Rev. Daniel Jepsen, Non-Denominational Evangelical
I think two main issues are involved when speaking of pastoral care.  First, pastoral care means helping people through the difficulties or trials of life.  Second, it also means an ongoing relationship of spiritual help and encouragement, with the goal of helping that person become more Christ-like.

The idea that this kind of care is primarily the domain of ordained clergy is, in my view, mistaken.  Personally, it would be both arrogant and naïve to think that I can give personal spiritual direction to 200 people.  As the only ordained minister in our church, I have a key role in both the areas mentioned above, but the bulk of the work will be carried on by others.  We take seriously the priesthood of all believers.  To us that means that we are all commanded to “bear each others burdens” (Galatians 6:2) and to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other” (James 5:12).

To help people have an opportunity to minister in this way, we emphasize small groups.  Most of these groups meet three evenings a month, and consist of 12-15 adults. The normal agenda consists of three things: informal fellowship, a bible study with personal application questions, and praying for each other’s needs.  The Bible study goes deeper into the text and topic of the morning sermon, and is designed to help people apply the spiritual truths to the needs and issues of their own lives, (aided by the community of the small group).

This group is also the first to help out in times of great need or crisis.  They will provide meals or other practical help for the one in need, and will pray for the situation.  Usually the small group leader will try to visit.

In our church, about 70 percent of the adults are active participants in the small group meetings.  Those who are not active are still assigned a small group, and the leader asks one of the active members to keep up to date with a person who is not active for the purpose of prayer and help.

What is my role as pastor in this area?  First, I am active in helping train the small group leaders and meeting with them.  Second, after I finish writing a sermon, I also write the bible study with application questions for the small groups to use that week.  Third, if an individual or family expresses a great need or crisis situation to the group, the leader will call me if my assistance would be helpful (either to give advice to the leader or to visit the person in question).  Fourth, in cases of hospitalization or the death of a loved one, I always visit (sometimes several times).  I do this because for many people I have a special role as their spiritual leader (even if I have mixed feelings about the appropriateness of that title or role).  Also, of course, I have a lot more flexibility in my schedule than the small group leaders during the day.  Finally, I try to begin my week going through the church directory and thinking if there are any members who would be helped by my prayers, phone call or visit.

Comments

  1. One item I have not seen discussed is how medical advances have changed pastoral care for the sick. In the early to mid 20th century, hospital stays were quite long. Now, most things are done in day surgery, and even new mothers are often released in less than 24 hours. I recently had a friend with total knee replacement surgery out in 3-4 days.

    For me, unless I am really serious, I am not sure I care if a pastor stops by. I certainly see no need if I go in for a quick day surgery.

    The concept of a pastor talking with the family once a year is something I have never heard of. Very intriguing, and to me more important than sick visitation.

    • Allen, that is a good point, and I would say that it applies particularly after a surgery. However, one thing I know many people appreciate is prayer before their surgery, especially if they are concerned about it. Once the outcome is known, the patient often needs rest anyway, so visits can actually be counterproductive. I recommend checking in with the family and/or patient and being available rather than making an automatic visit.

      Visiting is the same as everything else. We need to be guided by the Lord and practice common sense.

    • Great point, Allen. And I completely agree. I’ve completely missed some hospital visits due to how close things are scheduled. Patients are in and out before you know it, and that’s fine with me. Visitation of the sick is different from the chronically homebound or the intentional visit of the member. On the other hand, medical maladies have almost become completely secularized in the sense that one seeks the counsel of physicians but not God in prayer. James 5 would remind us that healing is both a spiritual and a medical thing.

  2. I went for a long walk before I wrote this comment, because I wanted to carefully think about this issue.

    In many of the evangelical churches, the pastor is also “CEO of the corporation”. In this role, he casts vision, and his job is to take the church in the direction of his vision. Often, he selects, or strongly influences, the selection of key committee members, especially the building committee and finance committees.

    Now, let’s say this same pastor is also providing more traditional pastoral care. In his role of traditional pastoral care, he may hear confessions, or he may be with a family during a time of intense grief.

    This has the strong potential of a conflict of interest. He now has knowledge of private sins, or an individual has strong emotional connection to the pastor, and the pastor now appoints that person to a key building and/or finance committee. It is impossible for his relationship to not influence that person.

    I maintain that any fix to the evangelical problem in America is to separate the roles of CEO and pastor.

    • Separate the CEO and pastor roles. Yes! Yes! A thousand times, YES!

      Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, MI does this. They have Rob Bell as a teaching pastor and Shane Hipps as another teaching pastor (Rob travels a lot for seminars and speaking engagements). They have an administrative pastor (Rob and Shane’s boss) as well. Not sure the teaching pastor should be CEO either. Of course, with how many thousand people in that place a week, “pastoral care” is assumed and encouraged by laity, big time. Communities are developed around geography as well.

      I attended, for 5 years, a church where the pastor has few, if any, real friends (a reality of a denomination that has “candidating” for new pastors), and those are elders.

    • Why not do away with the CEO altogether? Since when does modern business management theory dictate how to run a church?

      In American Evangelicalism Inc. it may be the way things are done, but the Church in America is in real trouble, and most Christians I know border on Biblical illiteracy. This model is failing, especially in regard to discipling the next generation. I live in the home of purpose driven mega churches, and although they can turn out great books and seminars, and things look good, the reality on the ground is far different.

      In many cases it morphs into a kind of “evangelical” cultural Christianity, where everyone you know has at one time or another attended three or four of the big name churches, and now are working their way through a circuit of satellite churches that have sprung up in the shadows of these mega churches to cater to the burnouts, malcontents, and overflow from the big name churches. Everyone speaks the same ‘Christianese’ lingo; many are divorced and onto their second or even third marriage; many have kids in serious trouble of one form or another, and that wholeheartedly reject the church.

      No thanks…. Give me a small congregation and an old school Pastor who takes his calling and the Gospel with deadly seriousness.

  3. As a former Protestant, I have some fairly negative memories of pastoral visitations. My pastor was a really wonderful guy, and he cheerfully came to my home and spent time with me, when invited. However, I know that he spent a lot more time with the families of our more “able” financial givers in the parish, had friendships with them, spent Sunday afternoons at the club with them.. My Catholic priest may not remember my name, but he will provide sacramental assistance to me, without regard to my financial status in my parish, and I’m thankful for that. Maybe it’s a Catholic thing, or maybe it’s just a priest shortage thing, but I don’t feel like I’m getting short sheeted by the amount of my pledge amount.

  4. Totally off the topic, but I wanted to congratulate IMonastery;s Team, the Cincinnati Reds, on winning the National League Central Division title.

    Okay, back to the important God stuff …

  5. Several comments have mentioned this – what do the people expect? Life has changed in the last 40 years with regard to regular visitation (work schedules, feelings of independence or privacy). In my small church I try to be aware of the lives of the parishioners – who seems a little down, who just had some family issues to deal with, and who is not felling well or facing surgery. (Of course, I regularly take care of shut-ins and nursing home folks) Rather than random visits to folks I see each week in worship – I try to focus on those I don’t see so much, and others who seem to be in need – even if I can’t quite figure out why I feel that way. Maybe that’s the Holy Spirit’s leading?

    • A pastor I know has a great system. He always carries with him a roster of the people in the church. His is not a tiny church, so it is a pretty long list. He looks at it many times each day and uses it when he prays. If he hears about a need, he will make a note and pray about how best to follow up, and who all should be aware and involved in helping. Every Sunday after services, he and his wife will sit down and talk thru the list–who was and wasn’t there, news and reports they had heard, etc. This is the main practical tool of his ministry, and like I said, it is always with him. Simple, but very effective.

  6. Being a pastor’s son, honestly, I have to admit that I’m somewhat ambivalent towards this whole topic. I can recall more than one family vacation cut short through a death in the church or a serious illness. I also remember many evenings when my dad was called away unexpectedly. It always seemed to me growing up that my dad’s attention was demanded by a small handful of “repeat offenders”, and this actually prevented him from giving his attention in a more equal way.

    I do think part of a pastor’s calling is to visit the sick, shut-ins, etc. The thing I’m not convinced of, though, is that this calling is only for the one man in the church we call pastor (assuming, we’re mainly talking about smaller churches with one pastor on staff). I think, ideally, elders could help shoulder some of this responsibility. I actually told this to a senior pastor I used to work under, and he told me, “yeah, but people want to see me, because they think of me as the “real” pastor” (which reminds me somewhat of kids asking to see the “real” Santa at Christmas…). Anyway, I think that as a whole, the church needs to get away from the idea that there is only one pastor or a staff of pastors in the congregation that has a pastoral calling and anointing. I think there are plenty of average people in churches who can serve in pastoral roles.

    • Not to mention the many people with the title of “pastor” whose main gifting is administration, or evangelism, or teaching, or …

      Over my time as a Christian I’ve had many wonderful pastors — some of whom had the title of pastor, and some who were just folks in the congregation, or another congregation, on no congregation at all. And I’ve dealt with people who had the pastoral title, and weren’t so relational and nurturing. One of the best senior pastors I dealt with was very uncomfortable in 1-on-1 situations, but was an excellent preacher and organizer. (And surrounded himself with a pastoral staff of “people persons” to make up for his deficiency in that area.)

      So I agree with Phil — we need to recognize those who have a pastoral gifting even when they don’t have a ministerial license or ecclesiastical position. And we need to recognize that sometimes those who have the license and position weren’t necessarily blessed by God with the full relational skill set.

      • I agree mostly. But one thing I have a strong opinion about–I don’t think someone can be a truly good preacher if he/she doesn’t spend time with people in pastoral situations. A person may be gifted in passing on knowledge, but he/she can’t communicate love. Of this I am convinced.

        • I understand what you mean by this, but I think it can look different for different people. There are all sorts of ways to express and receive love, and not every pastor does it the same way. Like Ray mentioned, I’ve met plenty of pastor who weren’t be nature nurturing, but yet they have a calling to be where they are at. Now they can learn these things, I think, but it’s not going to be the same for someone to whom it just comes naturally.

          I guess part of the issue is that we want to person with the title of pastor to be a jack of all trades. We want awesome, well-exegited, expository sermons, a well-administered church, someone to be a prophetic voice to us, and someone to visit us when we’re sick. It’s no wonder that pastors have a high dropout rate. This is why I’m convinced that one person is not meant to fulfill all these roles.

    • When I had my surgery, a lady designated to recruit people to bring meals was contacted. But my small group leader stepped to the plate and enlisted various members of my group to bring food. Also, a friend who doesn’t go to church brought me a meal. So I only needed the “committee” at church one night.

      If we have problems and need prayer, we are able to call and talk with people in our small group. We pray for and minister to one another, and truly have borne each others’ burdens.

      I once saw a pastor vehemently criticized because he was not comforting and praying for a woman in a large church one Sunday morning. Someone else was doing it. IMO, this is how the body of Christ is supposed to function: bear one anothers burdens, pray for each other, forgive each other. A small group or Sunday school class can do the job nicely.

      Putting the entire job on the pastor’s shoulders is like expecting a husband and father to take on the entire responsibility for the spiritual condition of his family. Yes, he should teach, by word and example, but I’ve seen women wring their hands in worry because the children aren’t receiving spiritual nourishment from him at home. Come on – provide it yourself! But that is another subject, and possibly opens a whole other can of worms that would best be left, at this point, unopened.

  7. Seems to me that those small groups, as described by Rev. Jepsen, more accurately compare to the home-based churches of the earliest Christians and should be, by themselves, considered as “churches”, regardless of where they meet …in fact, they may often meet in the homes of the small group leader (better termed a pastor?) or other group member. They seem to perform the functions that Paul describes as being paramount in the church, and they don’t require a corporately designated theologian to accomplish their purposes. Real relationships are born there.

    I would add that a visit from a church CEO or anyone else who has not previously established an intimate relationship with the person being visited is usually awkward, brittle, uncomfortable and an imposition for both. The sheep needs to know the shepherd’s voice.

    Small groups do the trick. Cultivate and prepare their leaders. Make the focus of your pastoral work the nurturing of those small groups and think of the Sunday service as a “time out” between the weeks when the real work gets done. Drop in on one or two small groups each week as a participant and don’t steal the show from their leader. Cultivate. Facilitate. Don’t pontificate.

    …and GO REDS! :>)

    • …and I should add that those small group leaders and group members then have the requisite rapport with their members so that a visit during special times of need can be a welcome and helpful thing. A visit from a friend is more valuable than from a delegation of staff.

      • While I agree with your basic point, there is no getting around the fact that many people, especially those who are from older generations, want a pastor or priest to visit. They see it as an integral part of being a shepherd. I can’t say I disagree with them. That doesn’t mean he/she should do it all, but this should be accepted as a primary duty. In particular, the discipling type visits Rev Cwirla talked about.

  8. Great Post Pastor Cwirla,
    There is a second thing contributing to a break down in home visits, the people. I think you are right it is harder to see people because of busy schedules. But I find people often don’t want to be seen also. I try to get around to visitors within a week. I like to do catechesis in home. if I can also.
    Every so often i determine to just go down the church roster and stop by to see people. I’m not sure that it always has much of an intention other than to say, Hi, I’ve been thinking of you. and win their trust. on top of shut ins I like to pester the people whose attendance has fallen. Though they rarely see it as a pestering. I even get the “pastor you haven’t been around in a while, thought you may have forgotten us.” and I’m thinking ditto.
    You are right though it helps with sermons. You can’t preach to people you don’t know, not very effectively. but being with them and just talking gives a chance of learning their fears, and pains. not to mention maybe vices.
    my biggest trap is I find myself visiting some people quite often and others not enough.

  9. Fr. Obregon,
    The expectations laid on pastors, what a huge one contributing to burnout. i’m happy to have a smaller congregation. I don’t know that they had any expectations when I showed here, and I’ve lived up to them. In reality though, I think often thee expectations are laid on the pastor by himself and not the congregation. And one might just take a good read of Acts chapter 6, realize what the Apostles accomplished with that narrow vision, and do like wise.

  10. A data point.

    Church with about 2000 to 3000 people there each Sunday. 16 pastors. Someone in the hospital for a surprise 2 day stay.

    A deacon unknown to the person shows up hands him a CD and small book of readings says a brief prayer then leaves. Turns out this is this deacon’s “job” and he has more people to see. Only time patient ever sees this person. Ditto most others that he visits. No pastors ever show unless it’s a person friend of theirs.

    I’m not there anymore. I’m fairly certain this also ties into the small/large church post.

    To be honest it left more of a negative opinion than anything else. At least with me.

    • A friend, who is now a Lutheran Pastor, was raised in a very large and nationally prominent Evangelical Church in Southern California.

      His dad was a physician and a faithful church member, attending with his family, volunteering, and supporting the ministry with hundreds of thousands of dollars in tithes and offerings over 30 plus years.

      When his dad was stricken with brain cancer, the family tried for months in vain to get someone from the church to visit. Finally they were granted an audience with the head Pastor over at the church, for a quick prayer and a few scripture verses.

      In the mean time the Pastor from the Lutheran congregation my friend was attending faithfully visited his dad every other week or so, often praying with him at his bedside. This happened for months until my friend’s dad died.

      Your theology of the office and function of the Pastor has a great deal to do with how you view pastoral roles and duties. I think the CEO/vision caster model is more from our culture than from the Scriptures.

  11. Off the topic, but seeing as today is the feast of Ss Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels, I just wanted to wish a happy Michaelmas to all, particularly those whose patron feast day this is – that’d be all you called “Michael” (like my brother-in-law) or “Mike” (like Chaplain Mike), and in memory of the iMonk himself.

  12. Chaplin Mike-
    I had an experience recently I’d like to share.

    I’m an ICU physician and like most weeks I had a elderly gentlemen actively dying with the family at his bedside. We had our hospital Chaplin come urgently to assist the family. With the patient in and out of consciousness, I heard the most beautiful thing in my life. Instead of saying niceties and comforting the family, our Chaplin proclaimed the gospel to the patient. No decisions, no questions, no “what abouts”. Pure, straightforward, “your sins are forgiven because of what Christ had done on the Cross.” The Chaplin did not tie it with anything else. The pure and unilateral Grace of Christ proclaimed at a person’s dying. It solidified how external, from him to us, this amazing Gospel message it.