Many people can dread a pastoral visit because they don’t know what they will talk about. If the visitor is their regularly preaching Pastor they may fear that the visit will be a kind of doctrinal or scriptural test that they are doomed to fail. They may fear that the conversation will be abstract or academic, or solely about spiritual things. A good pastoral visitor will not bring this dynamic into your home. Small talk is a common grace, a kind of hallway that can ultimately lead into the heart of matters, and is often a powerful way of building a bridge between people.
Pastoral visitation is a powerful means of spiritual encouragement and a tangible demonstration of the love of Christ to his people. It is a ministry which can reap slow but rich dividends in the lives of individuals and the life of the church and provides an opportunity for genuine fellowship between Christians. While I have written before about the benefits of visitation to the life and work of a Pastor, this post will seek to lay bare some of the basic principles of visitation which could be of help to those on the receiving end of it. Not everyone who is engaged in pastoral visitation is an ordained Pastor, and so this post shares more widely about those men and women gifted for and engaged in caring for God’s people (as well as those in full time Pastoral ministry).
Below are five things to bear in mind if and when you receive a pastoral visit:
1. We Want to Be There
Of all of the opening phrases that I have ever heard in conversation during a pastoral visit, one of the most common is an apology that my time is being used in this way. Pastoral visiting is an unusual thing in many ways, especially given the isolation and individualism of our wider society. As the person being visited it is easy to feel that you are asking something out of the ordinary or unreasonable to have someone come to your home and hear your story. If you are an empathetic and caring person yourself you may fear that a largely one way conversation is in some way selfish, or that it reflects badly on you in some way. None of these things are true. Your visitor, be they your Pastor or a valued member of a visitation team, have chosen to make this ministry part of their life. They are glad to be with you, and these kinds of conversations are not strange to them or an inconvenience. In actual fact, even as you share about your life and faith – be it struggle or joy – they will be blessed and challenged to grow in their own Christian life. Your visitor wants to be with you, and recognising this might just allow you to share more freely and with less fear.
2. We Won’t Inspect Your Home
If having people in our homes is not a regular occurrence then we may feel self-conscious about the condition of the place we are bringing a relative stranger into. Many of us feel that an untidy house, a shelf of unwashed dishes, or decor that is not ‘show-house ready’ is a bad reflection on us as people. The truth is that most of the pictures of people’s homes on Facebook are carefully curated, and the homes we go to for entertainment are often sparkling in the wake of a day’s anticipatory cleaning. Your visitor is there to see you, not to inspect the condition or tidiness of your home. I once met someone the day after a visit to their home who highlighted something they were embarrassed about in the condition of their home. I had to inform them that if they hadn’t mentioned I would never have known!