Lesson 7 Home Visitation
A fading tradition in the Presbyterian church is that of home visitation by elders. Ministers have always been expected to do so visiting, but even that is now fading, perhaps because of specialization in the ministry. Even then the visiting is limited to the sick, shut-ins, and special needs. I am proposing that we revive home visitation among all the elders. Here are the advantages for such a ministry.
1) The first is that such visits build shepherding relationships. We have all heard comments such as these: “I don’t know my elder.” “The only time my elder has visited was to raise a problem with me.” When we had the pledge cards, there was a comment, “The only time my elder has checked on me is to see why I didn’t fill out my pledge card.”
The beauty of the home visit is that it sends the message to the parishioner that his elder simply wants to be a good shepherd to him. The elder has not been sent to address a problem or request support. He is simply giving attention to a member of his flock. If the elder’s visit goes well, he will win the confidence of the individuals and families to seek his help when such a need comes. He will become known to the individuals as “my elder.” And should a time come when you need to confront a sin, that person will more likely be receptive to your involvement.
2) A second benefit of home visitation is gaining insight into the family and personal lives of your people. As you already know, what you see in church may or may not correspond with what you will find in the home. Even in a home visit, the family may try to display their Sunday faces, but you have a better chance of discerning the true relations in the home, as well as the spiritual state of individuals.
You can pick up on the sense of formality in the home. Observe how comfortable children are with their parents, spouses are with one another. Who does most of the talking? Are the parents ignoring poor behavior of the children? Are they overly worried about how the children behave? Is one spouse critical of another? In the home, family members tend to relax their guard a bit and reveal unconsciously their relationships. This is especially true of children, perhaps whom you have never spoken to until such a visit.
With insight into what might be areas of concern, you may be able to offer preventative care. For example, you notice a young mother struggling to manage her toddler while the father is completely preoccupied in discussing an interest of his with you. You may then express empathy with the mother about the challenging of raising an active toddler. You might find out if the mother has support from other women and make a mental note to have an older women contact her. You might decide to take the father aside another time and discuss your concern that he give more support. None of these things you would have thought to do without being in the home.
3) Connected to gaining insight is that home visitation provides time and opportunity for in-depth conversation. In a recent visit to a family I thought I knew well, I learned from the conversation of the parents about worries for their business, the unique characteristics of their children, their views about the church, their practice of home devotions, and a number of other insights I had not known. A home visit provides the leisure of getting to know your parishioners beyond a superficial level.
4) If visiting is systematic among the elders, then it assures that everyone is being shepherded. Especially in a large, transient church like Tenth, there are church members who are falling through the cracks in receiving pastoral care. If all elders are making visits and are coordinating their visits with the parish elders, then we can provide, at the minimum, visits every two years. That may not seem a great standard, but it is still better than none and we are likely to get closer to annual visits. Even if the visits are but every two years, do not underestimate the influence of those visits. Your parishioners will remember the effort you made, and because you have already established a relationship with them through those visits, they are more likely to contact you as they have need.
5) Finally, such visits build confidence in the church leadership. By demonstrating effort to know your people, and by building relationships, you build confidence in the leadership as a whole. This is especially true if you communicate that your fellow elders are making the same visits. And if you communicate that you represent the Parish Elder. Reasonable people understand that in such a large church, they cannot expect to be known and to know every elder. They understand as well that their Parish Elder cannot meet with everyone. But that does not matter if you come as a representative of the Parish Elder and of the Session. You become an ambassador for the church leadership, and your effectiveness in demonstrating loving shepherding care will be taken as representative of your fellow elders.
What to Do
Whom to visit first? I suggest first consulting with your parish elder. He will soon have online access to a parish directory. It really doesn’t matter that much whom you choose. Everyone needs a visit, even those who seem well and are active in the church. The main thing is to coordinate visits through the parish elder so that you are not overlapping visits.
The main goal of the first visit is to get to know the family. There are many questions to ask and areas to explore:
– his and/or her line of work;
– inquiries about their children (very important to the mother);
– their biographies: where they grew up; how they met; how they came to Tenth;
– their spiritual backgrounds and testimonies;
– their interests and hobbies;
– who they know at Tenth.
– do they have questions or comments about the church
Any of these questions may lead to another line of inquiry to follow. You are trying to get to understand them, especially where they are spiritually.
Come prepared with a Scripture passage to read; may be taken from your personal devotions or from the previous sermon. Plan to read the scripture near the end of your visit. Scripture and prayer is a fitting way to conclude a visit. Be alert to change the scripture because of what you have heard in conversation. You might even ask if they have a passage they would like read. That can lead into further insight into what they are facing at the moment.
Ask for prayer requests and be sure to include them in the prayer. Make a note of the children’s names and pray for them by name. It would be good to know the names before the visit, even if need to write them down.
Visiting single women. Generally it is best to bring along a female companion – your wife, a deaconess, a woman from the support network. But you can judge the situation. When I am alone with a woman (unless visiting someone my mother’s generation), I avoid physical contact. Especially when a woman is expressing a deep emotion, I am careful to avoid contact so as to protect her and myself while she is in a vulnerable state of mind. All the more reason, I want to find another woman either to be with me or to follow up soon afterwards. A distraught woman needs the comfort of physical contact, but that should come from a “safe” source.
What about taking along others? This is appropriate in other circumstances. In our stage of life, my wife is free to join me and useful. She carries a conversation well and picks up on clues that I might have missed. She has the natural ability to make those around her feel encouraged. You may want to bring along a deacon or deaconess, particularly when you suspect the individual or family has physical needs to be addressed. You may want to bring another elder along or another man who has potential for becoming an elder. In all these cases, you must discern if a companion will aid or limit your ability to have in-depth conversation.
Shut-ins and the sick. Take time to learn what you again about the person and his situation. Besides the parish elder, pastoral staff may have insight about the persons, particularly Carroll Wynne and Cora Hogue. It would be good to know if they have not been able to receive communion. If so, you could arrange with a teaching elder to bring communion. Are there appropriate gifts to bring, including church materials that they would not have received?
What if the parishioner refuses a visit? Some do not want anyone coming into their homes. It may be a heart issue or simply that they are embarrassed about their living condition. Offer then to meet elsewhere. Some will say that they do not want to take up your time and do not need a visit. It is up to you to assure them that you want to visit them. Others may really see the visit as an intrusion. This is a heart issue that needs to be dealt with. Discuss it with your parish elder and others who may know them better. Receiving a visit from an elder is a privilege of membership; it is also an obligation. When we join a church, we are making a commitment to be supportive of the church and accountable to it.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By D. Marion Clark. © 2021 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org