Visitation is a blessed ministry. When He lived here on earth, Jesus Himself used this method: "Our Saviour went from house to house, healing the sick, comforting the mourners, soothing the afflicted, speaking peace to the disconsolate" (Gospel Workers, 188). As servants of the Lord, we must follow His example.
Because of its importance, visitation cannot be approached carelessly. Preparation and planning are essential for successful pastoral visitation. The following steps will help make your visits more effective:
"All who are under the training of God need the quiet hour for communion with their own hearts, with nature, and with God. In them is to be revealed a life that is not in harmony with the world, its customs, or its practices; and they need to have a personal experience in obtaining a knowledge of the will of God. .. . This is the effectual preparation for all labor for God" (Ministry of Healing, 58).
Thus, the primary ingredient for an effective visit is personal preparation. Every good thing starts when we are alone with God. As the Bible says: "Out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45). We will never take Christ's words to people if we do not take time to be with Him. Bible study, Sabbath School lessons, Spirit of Prophecy books, morning devotionals, and prayer constitute a basic survival kit. Without these ingredients, there is no spiritual life. We need to spend quality time with God, talking to Him and listening to His voice. When we make ourselves available to God's leading, we become Satan's main target. This is why we must reinforce our communion with heaven to obtain power for overcoming evil and strengthening our brethren.
Planning the visit
"Since the beginning He was specific regarding the planning and execution of His work" (Christ Triumphant, 2002 morning devotional, page 155). Following God's example, we should carefully plan visitation. Here are some hints for the planning process:
Make an appointment. If possible, arrange appointments in advance. Choose an appropriate day and time so that visitation does not become a drawback. When establishing an appointment, briefly explain the purpose for your visit and explain that your agenda will be brief and exclusively spiritual, thus eliminating any pre-visit concerns about hosting, meal preparation, etc. This should facilitate easy access to the homes.
Choose a companion. It is not good to visit alone. Choose an adequate companion your spouse, a deacon, an elder, the pastor, a member undergoing training for this task, etc. When visiting the home of a lonely member or when only one spouse belongs to your church, take care when choosing a companion for visitation. In such instances, the ideal companion is your own spouse.
Mentally visualize the family you will be visiting. Think about their characteristics and reflect upon potential situations that may make them uncomfortable. By doing this, you reduce the probability of making a mistake or provoking an uncomfortable situation. Reflect also on the problems that this family might be facing and think of what you can say to respond to their needs.
Prepare some Bible texts. Choose in advance the text to be read. During your visit, problems may become evident for which a biblical response would be helpful. Have several verses in mind for these situations. Give preference to positive verses that emphasize trust in God's love and God's care for His children. Some helpful texts are 2 Chronicles 7:15-16; Psalm 37:3-5; 40:1- 3; 46:1, 2, 10-11; 103:1-5; 121; Hebrews 3:17-18; Matthew 11:28-30; and John 14:1-3; 16:33.
Choose appropriate attire. Do not overlook this very important detail. Home visitation does not require formal attires, but clothing should be discrete and tasteful. Do not worry about fashion, but also do not make flashy combinations. Consider the climate and the expectations and living conditions of the family you will be visiting. To be appropriately dressed is a matter of good sense.
Ask for the Holy Spirit's presence. Before you embark upon your visits, pray that the Holy Spirit will go before you to feed the people and prepare them to receive you as a servant of God. Also pray that He will put the right words in your mouth, making your visit effective.
Fellowship and loveliness
"The loveliness of the character of Christ will be seen in His followers" (Steps to Christ, 59). When you arrive at the home, express love and kindness. Greet everyone present and take time for informal, friendly conversation. Listen attentively when people speak, especially if they are sharing difficulties that they are facing. Show empathy for their problems. Avoid subjects that may generate division such as politics, debatable theology, etc. If someone raises one of these subjects, listen with kindness and try to lead the conversation to another subject. When people are timid, talk about subjects of general interest (family, work, hobbies, God's blessings in their lives, etc.). Honestly compliment their children, house or garden. If your host seems uneasy, request a glass of water. Providing something for a guest will set the host at ease.
"Prayer and Bible readings are needed in the homes of the people" (Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, 540). After spending 5-10 minutes in conversation and when everyone feels comfortable, transition to more spiritual topics, saying "I've come to share some words of Scripture with you and to pray a blessing upon your home." Even though you are moving deliberately to your spiritual agenda, try not to appear worried about the time or act as though you are working through a checklist. Read one of the Bible verses previously selected and make a brief comment, preparing the spirit for prayer.
"They also met together to present their requests to the Father in the name of Jesus" (Acts of the Apostles, 35). Before praying, ask each person present if he or she has a special prayer request. If so, write down these requests and tell the family that you will be remembering them in your personal prayers.
"We should pray in the family circle . . ." (Steps to Christ, 98). If appropriate, invite those who are present if they would like to pray or if they prefer you to pray on their behalf. Never make people uncomfortable by expecting them to pray aloud. In the home, it is appropriate to kneel or to pray while sitting or standing. The prayer should be brief and objective. Pray for each request and try to mention the names of everyone present, asking individual blessings upon their lives and needs. Also ask for blessings upon the home and the family. Remember to pray for family members who are not present.
The visit should be short. Ten or fifteen minutes is usually enough, but if you sense the need for more indepth conversation, make another appointment and return at a later time. After prayer, thank your hosts for their hospitality and the enjoyable moments you have spent together. Offer your availability for future contacts, leaving your business card or telephone number. Reinforce your pleasure in assisting them and leave immediately. This will impress upon their minds the spiritual impact of your visit rather than allowing the spiritual scope to unravel into ordinary conversation. Of course, there are appropriate times for social and relaxed encounters, but those times are not pastoral visits.
After you leave, make notes immediately so that you do not forget any details. Note relevant points that deserve your attention in the future. Record the names of new individuals that you met during the visit and how they are related to this family. Note the prayer requests so that in the next visit, you can ask about the concerns for which they requested prayer.
Remember that God enables us for His work, but we must do our part. May God bless you in this special ministry!
Derson da Silva Lopes, |r. serves as an elder at the Juveve Seventh-day Adventist church in Curitiba, Parana, Brazil.