This article was written by Larry Batts and published in “Uplook Magazine”, March 1991. Section titles have been added by the assemblyHUB editors.
The Chief Shepherd of the sheep declared, “My sheep hear My voice and I know them” (John 10:27). Those who have been given the responsibility as under-shepherds, as well as those whom God has given a caring, pastoral heart, should endeavor to follow the example of our Chief Shepherd in knowing the sheep. There is no better place to get to know them than right where they live.
Some areas of concern include:
- Feeding the flock. Often there are particular needs in a home that the pulpit ministry is not addressing at that time. Many of these needs are discovered by visiting in the homes of the Christians and can then be handled on a personal basis at that time. Asking questions during the visit such as, “Is there any area of spiritual need that we can pray with you about?” opens the door for feeding the sheep. Shepherds should note which sheep are not “feeding” well, and seek an in-home visit to encourage and build them up in the faith.
- Those who absent themselves from the meeting. There will always be “Thomases” who are not present at the gathering of God’s people. It is significant to see in John 20:25 that the “others” went to see him. When there are habitual absences noted, the pastoral heart visits that home for an opportunity to share Christ in order to build up that one who may have left his first love.
- Single parent families. The Epistle of James reminds us “to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction” (1:27). We can include in this category, for practical purposes, the mounting single-mother homes that seek spiritual help from the assembly. These visits require much wisdom and much discernment. It is highly recommended that either a husband and wife, or a mature older sister, or two brethren, make these visits. The pastoral care may go beyond instruction and encouragement, and may need to include financial help. Many widows are neglected financially in the local assembly because there has been no visit to their home.
- Shut-ins. There are the shut-ins who once were an active part of the testimony. These sheep should be visited on a regular basis by the assembly. They should be fed the Word, encouraged in the faith, and made a part of the local testimony by having them pray for all the on-going work at the assembly. This involves them personally in the work, and assures them their labors are not over for the Lord. Any small project such as addressing cards, stuffing envelopes, or folding bulletins, can stimulate their appreciation of being a part of the present work of the local church.
- Visiting the faithful. This is probably the most neglected area in the assembly. So much of our time is invested with the other needs that we overlook the faithful. It is from them, in the confines of their homes, that leadership senses areas of ministry that are needful in the assembly. These are the barometers for assessing the spiritual growth of the believers and for determining the direction that the assembly is going, or needs to go. The faithful need encouragement and instruction as well as those on the fringe. Many future problems have been avoided by simply dropping in on the stalwart saints.
Setting realistic goals
Pastoral visitation covers many other areas of need, including those hospitalized and those recuperating at home. All of these require time and attention. It is good to set a realistic goal for visiting in the home. Perhaps one family per week could be reached.
You could either invite that family to join your family for a meal in your home, or just drop by for a visit to their home. This is not an unrealistic goal and can be easily achieved as you carry out your other responsibilities in the local assembly.
Some simple suggestions and guidelines may be of help if home visiting is new to you.
- You may want to call and make an appointment. In many locales, the custom varies. Some homes would welcome an unexpected visit, while others would prefer to be advised. Sense the desire of your area and abide by those wishes.
- Do not allow the visits to the saints to be just social visits. The conversation may cover the weather, sports and the world situation; but be sure to have a purpose for the visit. If there is need for exhortation, encouragement, rebuke, or instruction, see that these are handled in the visit. Always pray with the home before leaving.
- Do not be a part of gossip or rumors. Much damage can be headed off by a verse from Scripture, an immediate insistence on praying for that one mentioned then and there, or a rebuke if necessary.
- Be careful of saints whose needs monopolize your time. It has been well said, “Ten percent of the flock require ninety percent of our time.” There will be those who build a growing dependence on individuals with a pastoral heart. Teach them to lean on the Lord and prevent them from relying on your constant counsel and advice to stabilize them.
- In cases of correction or rebuke, these visits should be made by the oversight and in a plurality.
- Any confidences shared during your visit should be kept that way, so that the saints can have confidence in you.
Home visitation is vital to the growth and the stability of the local assembly. This holds true whether the flock is small or large. The only difference lies in a greater need for coordination in the larger meeting. The shepherds of the flock have the greatest responsibility in this ministry, but they should cultivate and encourage others who exhibit a pastoral heart.