From the beginning of the early Christian church there were elders who acted as spiritual guardians of the people (1 Peter 5:1-3). These leaders dedicated their gifts in overseeing local church groups. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has sought to return to that early church organization that includes elders. We read of the commission given the elders in Acts 20:28-31:
"Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears."
While around the world on any given Sabbath probably more Adventist sermons are preached by local elders than pastors, we still find some misconceptions about the work of the elder in some societies.
I have been involved in public evangelism for 36 years, and too often in my travels I find that elders view their jobs to include platform presentations, church board and business meeting attendance, and solving church problems. I find something vitally important missing from this list, and that is nurture. Nurturing members involves visiting them.
Why Elders Don't Visit
1. Some elders either don't have the gift of pastoring or don't believe they have it. They may have the gift of organization, exhortation, preaching, or some other gift, but not pastoring in a nurturing sense.
2. The local church has not set up a plan for visitation.
3. There may be a lack of spiritual commitment on the part of some elders. They may find leading out in meetings not as difficult as a personto-person talk concerning spiritual matters. They may need to build up their listening skills since listening is an integral part of any personal spiritual conversation.
The Elder's Job Description
In working with various churches over the years, I have developed the following job description for elders.
1. The elder needs to faithfully attend elders' monthly meetings and be prepared to abide by and conform to majority decisions.
2. The elder must accept responsibility according to his or her spiritual gifts in overseeing departments of the church.
3. The elder gives spiritual leadership in the church by attending and participating in worship programs, training programs, and other ministries of the church.
4. The elder supports and promotes the social life of the church.
5. The elder must be a faithful tithe payer and supporter of the local church budget.
6. The elder accepts the responsibility of nurturing a group of church members. The group is determined by mutual consent in discussion of the membership roll at elders' meetings.
How to Conduct a Pastoral Visit
The elder needs to:
1. Pray for the family to be visited.
2. Be familiar with the family members, including the names of all children. Become informed about as much of the family's (or individual's) background as possible. Be aware of occupations, talents, leisure interests, etc. This material can be kept on a visitation card.
3. Make an appointment in advance either by phone or in person at church.
4. After a period of casual conversation, inquire about the family's welfare and schooling and/or work. You might ask them how they became Seventh-day Adventists and who baptized them.
5. Bring into the conversation the church and their relationship to it:
a. Sabbath school adult, youth, and children's divisions.
b. Worship services find out if they are receiving spiritual and social fulfillment. Do they enjoy worship?
c. Evangelism in the church are they involved in witnessing? What contacts do they have?
6. Discuss the importance of personal spiritual life family worship and individual growth through:
a. Bible study
7. Discuss church finances and find out if they understand how the church finances God's work at both the conference and local levels.
8. If the church has a church school, encourage discussion about the school and how it is progressing, and the importance of Christian education.
9. Discuss Pathfinders and their relationship to it.
10. Note the importance of being involved in small group fellowships.
11. End the visit with prayer:
a. Speak to God as a Father who knows all about us; one who is interested in each individual and loves and cares for us as His children.
b. Pray for each member of the family and mention them by name.
c. Pray for the home and family as a whole. Seek God's blessing for them. Pray that they will have courage to witness to their work colleagues, friends, and neighbors.
d. Pray for the church, its work, and witness.
e. Thank God for all His blessings, especially the gift of salvation.
f. Pray for forgiveness for what we have not done and ask God's help for us to be the obedient Christians He longs for us to be.
g. Pray that God will keep us strong in our faith, ready to meet Jesus when He returns.
Don'ts During Pastoral Visiting
1. Don't forget to pray before the visit.
2. Don't start talking about a business proposition.
3. Don't be drawn into criticism of the pastor or church leaders.
4. Don't take sides in any criticism. You will be quoted!
5. Don't do all the talking. Let the people talk as they wish to─you learn only by listening.
6. Don't pretend that you know everything. Be ready to say "I don't know" if you don't. Endeavor to find the answers to any questions and get in contact later.
7. Don't visit in untidy dress.
8. Don't stay too long─one and a half hours at the most. You can always make another visit.
9. Don't try to solve big problems on your own─confer with your pastor.
10. Don't betray confidences.
LYNDON S. UTTLEY
Lyn Uttley began his ministry in 1957 as a music director for major evangelistic campaigns in New Zealand. Four years later he became an evangelist, running campaigns in New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa. In 1980 he went into pastoral work, specializing in church growth. Currently he is senior pastor at Geelong Seventh-day Adventist Church in Victoria, Australia.