Orley M. Berg was associate Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference when he wrote this article.

One of the finest compliments an elder can receive is one I recently overheard concerning a minister friend: "He is a person we know we can go to and be received with understanding. He is so easy to talk with, so approachable, and he always brings encouragement and hope."

This relationship between the elder and his congregation is becoming increasingly important in these days crowded with cares, concerns, and anxieties. Group polarization's are developing on every hand. It is becoming more and more difficult to get through. There are serious gaps, between husbands and wives, parents and children, the home and the church, elders and people.

Statistics reveal that the chances for happiness in marriage, even within the church, are constantly diminishing. Also, a growing number of youth brought up in Seventh-day Adventist homes are leaving the faith. The significant role of the elder in this distraught picture is worthy of serious consideration. He is to stand as a vital link between the members and the Lord. He is to represent the church and what the church has to offer. Through him Christ and His church are to be set forth as providing ample resources to cope with all the exigencies of turbulent times.

If he is to do this effectively he must, first of all, come to know those under his care. He must know them in a far more personal way than simply being able to address them by name as they leave the worship service on Sabbath morning. He must know them as individuals, persons with whom he is intimately involved. He must become one with them in their interests, their joys, and their fears. He should be able to sympathize with them in times of sorrow or tragedy. They must know that his heart beats with theirs and that he stands as a tower of strength and encouragement to them.

This close relationship cannot be developed or sustained from the pulpit alone. Preaching occupies a place of pre-eminence in the mind of many, but much of its relevance and effectiveness comes through parish visitation. It is in the homes of the people that the elder comes to know them. It is there that he wins his way into their hearts and gains their confidence and trust.

The relative merits of preaching and ministry visitation are not to be considered on an either-or basis. Both are important. Each supplements the other. Neither can be carried on successfully in a program without the other. Someone has said, "The elder builds up his congregation by wearing out automobile tires and shoe leather, and holds the congregation together by worthy preaching." Without visitation, sermons often fall on deaf ears. Too many of the modern generation cop out on the preacher because they think he is a phony. They listen to his pleasing platitudes and nice ties but question his sincerity. The fact may be that they just don't know him. Visitation can help to break down this barrier.

In pastoral visitation not only does the elder come to know his people but his people come to know him. This is equally important. In the home he will demonstrate a sincere interest in every member of the family, from the tiny tot in the crib to the grandmother in the wheelchair. He will ask the young students how things are going at school. He will inquire about the work in which the members of the family are engaged. He will identify with all, not in a superficial or professional way, but as one who is genuinely interested in their welfare. All the while he will manifest a healthy, radiant, Christlike bearing, so he will be thought of as a deeply spiritual and genuinely sincere person. He will be remembered most for his prayers, the faith he inspires, and the wise counsel he offers.

These meaningful visits in the home can be supplemented by various other thoughtful considerations. This will, of course, be true when illness comes, whether to a child or adult. A birthday card or a special visit just before Henry goes off to college can be very significant. An appropriate card for graduation, a letter of appreciation for some special work done in the church or school or community, a word of congratulation at the time of a promotion at the office, or a few words of understanding during a period of crisis or difficulty can contribute much toward establishing a close relationship that can be so rewarding.

Preventive Medicine

Trouble is always just around the corner, and sooner or later it comes to all. If the right relationship has been established, the pastor enters naturally into these situations and becomes a balm in Gilead, whose wise counsel is sought out and welcomed. However, the elder will be more than one who stands by to give first aid or emergency care in time of disaster.

The greatest service the elder can offer is in the area of preventive medicine. By having established the relationship suggested here, he will accomplish much through his kindly ministry and the over-all program of the church either to prevent many of the situations from developing into crisis proportions or to help members know how to face such periods of stress with the inner resources Christ has to offer.

Most of our problems center around home relationships. Some threaten the marriage vows, others have to do with children who are drifting away from parents and the church. This being so, it is at once apparent that it is in the areas of marriage counseling and parent education that guidance is often needed. The alert elder recognizes this and seeks to do something about it.

Fortunately, God has provided us with ample resources in these areas. Our problem is not the lack of instruction, but rather a strange indifference toward the instruction we have. The books the Adventist Home and Child Guidance are particularly important in giving the direction so desperately needed today. The Ministry of Healing and other books also have passages that can help carry many a soul through a time of trouble. The wise counsels given here are more up to date than the latest works on psychology and education. The elder who carries his congregation on his heart will recognize the great need for more serious attention to these valuable counsels.

With good materials available, a program of parent education can be successfully carried on in every church. As to its importance, Ellen G. White has said, "We are sustaining terrible losses in every branch of the work through the neglect of home training." —Child Guidance, p. 303. Again she declares, "Home religion, home training, is what is now more needed." —Sign of the Times, April 8, 1886.

Present conditions in our society, in our churches, and in our homes should awaken a new desire to do more in this very important area if our families are to be saved in the kingdom. Bringing children into this world of sin has always been a solemn responsibility, but never has it presented a greater challenge to parents than now. Without divine instruction training children is an impossible task. Fortunately, the divine instruction is available, but in too many cases it has been given but slight attention. What excuse will avail in the day of judgment for such laxity? The challenge is one that faces every elder and congregation. It would be well if some carefully planned program of parental and home education could be offered at least once each year in every church. This, together with meaningful visitation and Spirit-filled preaching, will help save many a family for the kingdom.

Orley M. Berg was associate editor of Ministry when he wrote this article.