Lyn Uttley wrote this article as a church pastor in Australia.

"Many of your church members are carrying burdens that they have never spoken about. As you make visitation part of your regular ministry, they will grow to respect and trust you. They will open their hearts and you will have opportunity to point them to Jesus for forgiveness, grace, and power. This kind of ministry is one of the most effective ways elders can serve their people."

From the beginnings of the Christian church, elders have acted as spiritual guardians of the people (1 Peter 5:1-3). These leaders dedicate their gifts to overseeing local church groups. We read of the commission given the elders in Acts 20:28-31: "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over 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." The Seventh-day Adventist Church has sought to return to this early organizational model.

Although on any given Sabbath, elders preach more sermons than pastors do, we still find misconceptions in many societies about the work of the elder.

I have been involved in public evangelism for 36 years, and too often in my travels, I find that elders think their jobs are platform presentations, attending church-board and business meetings, and solving church problems. Something vitally important is missing from this list: nurture. Nurturing members involves visiting them.

Why elders don't visit

  • 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, or preaching, but not pastoring in a nurturing sense.
  • The local church has not set up a plan for visitation.
  • Some elders may lack spiritual commitment. They may find that leading out in meetings is not as difficult as person-to-person conversations concerning spiritual matters. Because listening is an integral part of any spiritual conversation, elders may need to improve their listening skills.
  • They may never have been trained or even have been expected to visit.

The elder's job description

In working with various churches over the years, I have developed the following job description for elders:

• The elder faithfully attends monthly elders' meetings and must be prepared to abide by and conform to majority decisions.
• The elder accepts responsibility according to his or her spiritual gifts in overseeing assigned departments of the church.
• The elder gives spiritual leadership in the church by attending and participating in worship programs, training programs, and other church ministries.
• The elder supports and promotes the church's social life.
• The elder pays a faithful tithe and supports the local church budget.
• The elder nurtures a group of church members. The group is selected by mutual consent in discussions about the members' role at elders' meetings.

How to conduct a pastoral visit

The elder needs to pray for the family he or she is to visit and learn as much as possible about them, including the children. It is also important to learn as much as possible about the family (or individual member's) background: occupations, talents, leisure interests, etc. This material can be noted on a visitation card or in a membership database.

Make a visitation appointment in advance, either by phone or in person at church. After some casual conversation, inquire about the family's welfare, schooling, interests, and work. You might ask them how they became Seventhday Adventists and who baptized them. Guide the conversation to the church and the family's relationship to various aspects of membership:

• Sabbath school: Adult, youth, and children's divisions.
• Worship services: Do they receive spiritual and social fulfillment? Do they enjoy worship?
• Evangelism in the church: Are they involved in witnessing? What contacts do they have? Do they have friends or family members who would be willing to attend services with them?
• The importance of personal spiritual life: Family worship and individual growth through Bible study, prayer, fellowship, and witnessing.
• Church finances: Find out if they understand how the church finances God's work at the world, conference, and local levels.
• If the church has a church school, discuss the school and how it is progressing. Talk about the importance of Christian education.
• Pathfinders ministry to young people.
• The importance of being involved in small-group fellowships.

End the visit with prayer, saying, "May I ask the Lord to bless your home?"

1. Speak to God as a Father who knows all about us, who is interested in each individual, and who loves and cares for us as His children.
2. Pray for each member of the family and mention each person by name.
3. 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.
4. Pray for the church, its work, and its witness.
5. Thank God for all His blessings, especially the gift of salvation.
6. Pray for forgiveness for what we have not done, and ask God to help us to become the obedient Christians He longs for us to be.
7. Pray that God will keep us strong in our faith and ready to meet Jesus when He returns.

Don'ts during pastoral visitation

• Don't forget to pray before the visit.
• Don't start talking about a business proposition.
• Don't be drawn into criticism of the pastor or other church leaders.
• Don't take sides in any criticism. You will be quoted!
• Don't do all the talking. Let the people talk as they wish to—you only learn by listening.
• Don't pretend that you know everything. Be ready to say "I don't know," if you don't. Try to find answers to any questions and share the information later. It is always appropriate to say, "Let's ask the pastor to help us find the answer to this question."
• Don't visit in untidy dress, although there is no need to wear a suit or formal attire.
• Don't stay too long—10-20 minutes at most. You can always visit again.
• Don't try to solve big problems on your own—confer with your pastor.
• Don't betray confidences.

By following these simple principles, you can make a deep spiritual impact on the members under your care. You will be assisting the pastor, and you will be preparing individuals for the kingdom.

Lyn Uttley wrote this article as a church pastor in Australia.