"Amazing Grace! How Sweet The Sound . . ."
I strongly believe that as we inspire, recruit, train, and work with deacons and deaconesses in the mission of the church, our church will have a worldwide army of servant-leaders totally committed to God and His cause to hasten Jesus’ second coming.
I am a church elder who prayerfully supports my pastor by utilizing my past experiences as a pastor and my current role as a clinical pastoral educator. All elders can use their skills in their professions to assist the pastor. My role as an elder enables my pastor—who has many tasks in this complex society—to do what he needs to do. As a church elder, I believe that the benefits outlined below are blessings to me, the board of elders, the pastors, and the laypeople in churches, too.
The B-L-E-S-S-I-N-G-S of visitation
B—Be like Christ. For elders and ministers to be like Jesus, they must participate in visitation as their Master did. Christ visited from house to house, from street to street, and culminated His visitation at Calvary as He was crucified for our sins. From the light of Calvary, visitations evoke in us a desire to know each other better; thus, visits enhance both elders and members and impart to both an even better knowledge of God.
Several years ago, a church elder who was a medical doctor witnessed effectively in his clinic. He won many souls—most of whom were his patients—to Christ. Later, as he was dying, he asked his wife to witness the baptism of one of his Bible interests. This physician was a soul-winner who inspired many to grow spiritually, and he introduced many people to Jesus to become “new creations” (2 Cor. 5:17). There will be many jewels in his heavenly crown.
L—Loving relationships. Pastoral visits enhance relationships. Since relationships are vital in Christian ministry, visits help church leaders to know the members better. Elders can answer questions regarding church programs and can also bring encouragement to members. Elders can help pastors organize visitation teams. As a result of frequent contact from church leadership, the congregation can became more united. Visitation fosters a warm and caring congregation. A pastoral visitation program with effective visits is certain to improve relationships among members. It is where each of us draws closer to Jesus in His presence (Matt. 18:20). Often we use the expression “our church family.” Visitation modeled by the elders ensures family togetherness and harmony. Providing opportunities to listen to each other is vital. One leader said, “Listening to each other shows respect and builds relationships.”
E—Education. Both preaching and teaching are in the educational realm. Pastoral visits give elders insights into their members’ lives and enables them to preach relevant sermons when assigned. Moreover, inspired thoughts come to mind during visitation which can be integrated into heartwarming preaching. Decisions for Christ are often made in homes, complementing appeals with the pastor or evangelist. Having a systematic visitation program demonstrates that care for new members and support for members of all ages are basic factors for a growing church.
S—Saving souls. Pastoral visits teach ministers the reality of life; therefore, the felt needs of the people in the community receive support. Arthur L. Teikmanis, a Christian author, wrote, “Pastoral calling [visitation] is evangelism in reality.”1 Should we prioritize pastoral visitation and training to reach members? Most often, visitation and follow-up programs are the weakest links in evangelism. What can elders do to motivate members to be more active in these areas? H.M.S. Richards said, “It is not enough to bring to life a strong faith in Jesus as the world’s Redeemer. That faith must be nourished, it must be sustained, it must be fed.”2
S–Stewardship. Pastoral visitation is essential in communicating the relevance of stewardship. During the global economic crises of the last few years, our church members suffered great losses. The impact of their losses—financially or in employment—were so great that worries and illnesses were and are commonly experienced. Home visits help elders and pastors to understand the spiritual and economic condition of members’ homes or workplaces. There is no better motivation for giving than for the elders and pastors to provide members with effective pastoral care through visitation and other congregational supports (2 Cor. 8:1).
I—Identity. “What am I and what is a visiting elder/pastor?” This question can be clarified by the Church Manual, an experienced pastor, a pastoral supervisor, and those who have learned to analyze the dynamics of visitation. Elders can clarify the following questions by asking questions that provide obvious answers:
• What am I? Do I reflect the love and humility of Christ?3
• What have I done? Have I given myself heartily to Christ?
• What principles do I undertake? Have I been called to ministry with the passion to win precious souls?
These questions, asked by H.M.S. Richards, Sr., our most respected radio evangelist and church educator, deserve thoughtful answers evoked by pastoral visitations. Last year, in my seminar on visitation to dedicated elders of the Potomac Conference, these reflective thoughts emerged. These questions, asked by elders to rediscover themselves, apply to pastors who are searching to know that their identity is relevant to them, too.
N—Nurture. Pastoral visitation is an integral part of church ministry. Jesus’ parting words to Peter urged him to feed His lambs and sheep (John 21:15-19). Coming close to people is essential in nurturing them. Each day people are bombarded with unwelcome ideas from news, the Internet, and various media. Attaining nurture through shepherding is crucial, and it includes healing, sustaining, guiding, and reconciling.4 Today, when most church members constantly experience stress and hurt, prioritizing shepherding in pastoral responsibility is essential. This calls for increased training in pastoral care and pastoral education, both in the seminary and in continuing education programs.5
Recently, I visited with a young seminarian. Humbly, I asked her to pray for me. She prayed that the Lord would give me words to speak and calmness in my presentation. Her prayer blessed me. Often during my visitations, I have been the object of such blessings. Visitation provides nurture to both the visited and the visitors.
G—Growing in wisdom and personal growth. Visiting others often reveals inadequacies in the visitor’s life, whether it pertains to elders or pastors. One psychiatrist confided to me that “many ministers need repentance that leads to reformation of character.” Could this be applicable to lay ministers and elders, too? Absolutely! Some elders are ordained pastors who need revitalization. One can attain personal growth by asking, “Am I fulfilling Christ’s mission?”
Recently, I visited a young man in his fifties; he was dying of lung cancer. He had stopped smoking a little too late. On his deathbed, he confessed his ignorance about tobacco. In spite of his unbearable pain, he grew spiritually. We encouraged each other. Upon reflection, I realized that he had blessed me through his lesson on temperance in all things, including a consistent and healthy lifestyle, and I have been able to share his blessing with others in my ministry.
S—Strengthened in faith. In Joshua 1:7, we read, “Be strong and be courageous, be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. . . .” Today, how much greater is our need for strength as we prepare for the Lord’s return! What is our response to revival and reformation? How can we enter the cities to share the gospel? Pastoral visitation can play a vital role.
To recap, there are many life lessons which elders can learn through visitation:
B—Be like Christ
G—Growing in wisdom and personal growth
S—Strengthened in faith
There is nothing more rewarding than preaching the gospel, healing the sick, comforting the grieving, and delivering captives from sin through visitation. Listen to the praise of one who fulfilled such a call: “Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing the Father there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Spirit, there is balsam for every sore.”6
The one who visits is blessed. Our Lord has many ways to reach hearts through us in various environments and circumstances. Each time we visit, “we may find precious lessons if our hearts are but open to discern them.”7
The blessings received through visitation are ours to cherish. Let us as elders and ministers make pastoral visitation a priority in our church program, and we will receive Christ’s richest B-L-E-S-S-I-N-G-S.
Chor-Kiat Sim, D.Min., is CPE Supervisor/Diplomate at Washington Adventist Hospital and an elder in the Capital Chinese Seventh-day Adventist Church in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Illustration I: Example of a Monthly Elders’ Roster that Includes Pastoral Visitation
|Task||Weekend 1||Weekend 2||Weekend 3||Weekend 3|
|Sermon||TBA by Pastor||TBA by Pastor||TBA by Pastor||TBA by Pastor|
|Presiding||Elder B||Elder C||Elder D||Elder A|
|Prayer||Elder C||Elder D||Elder B||Pastor|
|Visitation||Elder A/D||Pastor/Elder B||Pastor/Elder||Elder D/A|
See next issue of Elder's Digest for more practical keys for success.
1 Arthur L. Teikmanis, Preaching and Pastoral Care (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1964), 24.
2 H.M.S. Richards, Sr., Feed My Sheep (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1958), 207.
3 Richards, 83.
4 Steward Hiltner, Preface to Pastoral Theology (New York: Abingdon Press, 1958), 28.
5 Ibid., 32.
6 J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Toronto: Hodder and Stoughton, 1973), 14.
7 Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1977), 60.