The Holy Spirit’s guidance is the key to our success. The following experience demonstrates His leading.
After my preaching service one day, our church secretary said, “Pastor, can you sign these birthday cards?” With excitement in her voice, Helen,* the church secretary, handed me a pile of birthday cards for the month. She was enthusiastic about this plan to reach and contact members on an ongoing basis.
Besides scheduling my weekly visitation, she initiated innovative ideas for nurturing members through these visits. The Holy Spirit inspired Helen’s work. She was a newlybaptized member, full of enthusiasm and love for the Lord. Her favorite Bible text was John 16:14, which says that the Holy Spirit will glorify Christ and take whatever belongs to the Lord to affect disciples and all believers. Helen had a heart for people, reflecting her love for others. She has been blessed with creativity in bringing enthusiasm to my pastoral efforts.
Our lives are measured by what we give and how we serve. There are many keys to success in visitation. The following nine keys may be discussed in elders’ meetings in order to improve our leadership.
A well-planned pastoral visitation program is invaluable. Putting pastoral visitation front and center on the elders’ agenda and even in church board meetings will help to make pastoral visitation a priority. Many churches that have incorporated visitation in their congregational nurture and stewardship programs have been re-energized. At least once a year, plan to review communication with church members; this review can take place during a church business meeting. Up-to-date membership data, discipleship, stewardship, and worship are some of the vital areas to consider.
Good listening skills are vital to successful visitation. Most seminaries and conferences teach students and elders how to preach, exegete, and manage a church, and these tasks are important. But we should not minimize or omit training in how to listen and how to visit. Some ministers and elders are tempted to neglect visitation. Ellen G. White said, “You must educate and train yourselves to visit every family that you can possibly get access to. The results of this work will testify that it is the most profitable work a gospel minister can do.”1 She also says, “Here Jesus could meet all nations and all ranks, the rich and great, as well as the poor and lowly; and His lessons would be carried to other countries and into many households. . . . The Saviour and His mission would be brought before the world.”2 May I add that patience, compassion, and genuine diligence are needed to assist pastors in this important work? It is necessary that training on these items be provided to enable elders to be efficient. Together with the pastor, elders can organize one or more teams each week to do God’s work.3
Using time wisely is essential in all church work. Some elders and pastors may neglect visitation because they do not take time to plan visits effectively. Setting aside hours and energy for visitation takes heartfelt planning. Perhaps they do not commit themselves to visiting because they are afraid it will reveal too much or make them vulnerable. One way to manage time is to delegate elders’ duties in an annual calendar. This facilitates adequate preparation.
Our faith is increased at home. The faith of our members is strengthened when the leaders visit them and meet their spiritual needs, and when their material needs are presented to God in prayer. In some churches, elders are responsible for visitation in adition to preaching and platform duties. I first saw this implemented at Oakwood University, and I applaud them for this practical innovation.4
5. HOLY SPIRIT
We must trust in the work of the Holy Spirit, the source of strength for elders and members. Some ministers are satisfied with a superficial relationship with their parishioners. When they lack a deep knowledge of God and self, their relationships with others can remain distant and shallow. Many members in the congregations would gain confidence if they witness in their pastors and elders the infilling of the Holy Spirit.5
Accepting Jesus’ command to feed the sheep motivates those who visit members. As elders and pastors, our hearts need to overflow with love, commitment, and amazement as we read great chapters on shepherding such as Psalm 23 and John 10. After reading Psalm 23, one commentator observed: “Do I sit up on my pedestal of self-pride and look with contempt upon my contemporaries, or do I get down and identify myself with them in their dilemma and there extend a small measure of the goodness and mercy given to me by my Master?”6 Some churches observe an annual Week of Prayer, and elders can make it a practice to visit those who are hosting this event.
It is important to explore pastoral education programs in Seventh-day Adventist educational and health care institutions. Many Adventist colleges and universities have courses in pastoral care and spiritual nurture. Similarly, hospitals have Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) centers. Adventist hospitals in the United States that offer CPE include Florida Hospital, Kettering Medical Center, Loma Linda University Medical Center, Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, and Washington Adventist Hospital. They have trained chaplains and supervisors or teachers who can mentor elders in pastoral care and advance spiritual support competencies. Ask supervisors of these centers for resources and training that may activate or rejuvenate pastoral care programs in your church.
8. BACK TO BASICS
The Bible is a rich fundamental resource and reference for learning to care, and there are countless statements from God’s messenger, Ellen G. White, in the Spirit of Prophecy. Some of these statements are included in the book Pastoral Ministry, printed by the Ministerial Association of the General Conference.7 Study these resources and apply their message to pastors and elders passionately for loving and leading church members to heaven. Sermons on feeding God’s flock can be found in Ezekiel 34:15-16; Matthew 25:36; and John 21:15-17. Our divine Teacher taught us well.
9. ADEQUATE SUPPORT
Any successful program requires personnel, strategies, and money. Nurturing the strong and visiting the sick and aging are necessary. Reaching out to new interests and neighbors in the church community requires funds. A budget should be provided for a church secretary. In some cases, visitation materials and transportation may be needed. Print name badges for elders and distribute them with the monthly supply of birthday cards that will be sent to every member. Perhaps a yearly church-activity calendar and a devotional/prayer book can be given to church members during visitation.8
Pastoral visitation is not an option but a way of life for elders and pastors. How grateful I am to Christ and my mentors, who guided me for several years in visitation! My mentors included the late D. E. Venden, an evangelist who believed in visitation and coached me on how to care for members and evangelistic interests. Many church professionals, including my secretary, who was inspired by the Holy Spirit, assisted me. I was motivated to include in my schedule weekly pastoral visits, often with my elders, to train them. In those days, we were very much occupied, but the most memorable period in my pastoral ministry was seeing elders take leadership and watching church members grow and mature in stewardship, understanding, and observance.
As elders and ministers, let us make pastoral visitation a priority in our church program, and we will receive Christ’s richest blessings.
1 Ellen G. White, Evangelism (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1946), 442.
2 White, Christian Service (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1946), 127.
3 Dietrich Bonfoeffer, Spiritual Care (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 45.
4 See Elder’s Digest April/June 2014 issue.
5 White, Steps to Christ (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 63).
6 Philip Keller, The Inspiration Writings (New York: Inspiration Press, 1993), 115.
7 White, Pastoral Ministry (Silver Spring, Md.: General Conference Ministerial Association, 2008).
8 Chor-Kiat Sim, Purposeful Prayers (Silver Spring, MD: amazon. com, 2013). This companion book for Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing is available at the Potomac Adventist Book Center; email [email protected].
Chor-Kiat Sim, D. Min., BCC, is a CPE Supervisor/Diplomate at Washington Adventist Hospital and an elder at the Capital Chinese SDA Church in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA.