How do we grow faithfulness in the local church? This represents a concern for pastors and other church leaders. This article explores home visitation as an adequate strategy to lead people to faithfulness.
The One Who Visits
The God of the Bible is involved in personal encounters with His creatures. He is both Elohim and Yahweh. As Elohim, He stands as the Creator of the universe and as the Sovereign God. As Yahweh, He is the God of the covenant who entertains an intimate relationship with His creatures. In Deuteronomy 4:7, Moses declares that the closeness of God participates to the greatness of His people.
Our first parents had the privilege to be visited in their personal habitat: “They were visited by angels, and were granted communion with their Maker, with no obscuring veil between.” After Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they did not receive a convocation but a visit. He came on a visit at the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8). This was God’s opening strategy to reach out to unfaithful humanity. The culmination of the redemption plan was also actualized through the visitation of His very Son to planet earth. Visitation is engraved in the interaction of God with humanity.
God follows a distinctive pattern during visitation. In reference to the account of Genesis 3, God visits to give an opportunity for those visited to speak out (v. 9-10), to provide a word of instruction (v. 16-19), to attend to existing needs (v.21) and to share a word of hope (v.15). Is the practice of visitation limited to God, the Invisible Guest, or does it stand as a model for His co-workers?
Shepherding and Visitation
Pastors and spiritual leaders accomplish several tasks in the local Church. However, their basic calling is to serve as a Pastor-Shepherd (Act. 20:28; 2 Pe. 5:2). What does it imply to be a shepherd? Shepherds are called to “keep watch” and to “take care”. Acts 20:20, reveals the two dimensions of the shepherding responsibility: public and house to house ministry.
Ellen White is explicit about the association between visitation and shepherding. She writes about an elder who was reticent to visit: “Elder H used to live here and preach to the people, but he was not a shepherd of the flock. He would tell the poor sheep that he would rather be horse-whipped than visit.” The absence of home visitation disqualifies a lay spiritual leader to be a shepherd. Pastors have a similar obligation: “The pastor is a shepherd of the sheep, guarding them, feeding them, warning them, reproving them, or encouraging them, as the case may require. There is visiting to be done…” Home visitation has even an administrative implication: “The flock of God have a right to expect to be visited by their pastor, to be instructed, advised, counseled, in their own homes. And if a man fails to do this part of the work, he cannot be a minister after God’s order.” Shepherding is a ministry of proximity, which is adequately expressed through visitation. Visitation is not an optional component of the pastoral ministry.
Visitations and Grooming Faithfulness
Visitation creates the conviction that one is loved. Apostle Paul speaks about the power of love: “For Christ’s love compels us…” (2 Co. 5:14). Love is the driving force that leads to commitment, dedication and faithfulness.
People experience the love of God directly and through human agents. In the time of the prophet Hosea, characterized by dire unfaithfulness, God endeavors to bring his children back to Him: “I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love.” (Hos. 11:4). People came to realize God’s love through expressions of “human kindness” and eventually returned to Him.
Stott elaborates on the benefit of visitation: “There is no quicker way of bridging the gulf between preacher and people than meeting them in their homes and in our home. The effective preacher is always a diligent pastor. Only if he makes time each week both for visiting people and for interviewing them, will he be en rapport with them as he preaches.” Visitation stands as one of the foremost means to build relationship and express love.
The experience of Zacchaeus testifies about the power of visitation to change the course of a life. Zacchaeus, led by his lust for possession, lived an unfaithful life until the day he met Jesus. The turning point of his life was this proposal from Jesus: “Hurry down, Zacchaeus, because I must stay in your house today.” Luke 19: 5 His situation was so desperate that a talk by the Sycamore tree or an appointment at the synagogue next Sabbath would not have been sufficient. A home visitation was needed to soften the heart of Zacchaeus. Hence, the greediest man of Jericho was changed into the most generous man of the city. Visitation grows faithfulness. It is particularly effective in leading people to faithfulnes in the stewardship of resources.
The Practice of Home Visitations
Ellen White explains about the content of visitation purpose: “There is visiting to be done, not to have a pleasant chat, but to do the work required of a watchman. There should be earnest conversation and prayer with these souls. This is the kind of work that gains valuable experience in the upbuilding of Christ’s kingdom.” Visitation is more than a social call. It serve as a spiritual checkup (2 Co. 13:5) for the community of believers.
The visitation ministry involves primarily those who have a pastoral responsibility: Pastors, elders, deacons and deaconesses. Others can also be enlisted in this work. An effective visitation ministry will have the following characteristics: Recruitment of a team, training of the people involved in this ministry, organizing the visitation program, establishing a calendar of visitations and debriefing exercise at regular intervals.
There are three common type of visitations: Systematic visitation, emergency visitation, specific stewardship visitation. The systematic visitation targets every member of the Church. Everyone who is part of the visitation team is involved. The purpose is to nurture members spiritually, including stewardship. Emergency visitation is for members who are going through a punctual challenge or experience. The choice of the one doing the visitation depends on the nature of the challenge. The aim is to listen, to assess the situation, to give encouragement, to provide a service or to suggest a referral.
The specific stewardship visitation is a sensitive exercise. It is primarily a means of reaching out to church members who are struggling with the issue of returning tithe. Hence, this visitation can only be accomplished by those who are privy to information pertaining to members’ fidelity in tithing. The finality is to lead members to recommit themselves to God and to their stewardship obligation. Referring to the principle of accountability enunciated in Ezekiel 3:16-20, the absence of visitation does not excuse the unfaithful, nevertheless the spiritual leader will have to answer for the negligence of the sacred responsibility. Churches who implement systematic visitations and are prompt to do emergency visitations have a reduced need of specific stewardship visitation.
We plead for the inclusion of home visitations as a privileged means to educate members in faithfulness. Local churches are encouraged to reestablish and revitalize this ministry. It is simple, affordable and not taxing on the church schedule. Blessed are those who do visitations in the name and in like manner as God. They will be known as Kingdom Builders.
1Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, 50.
2Ellen G. White, Manuscript ReleasesVol. 9: 342,344.
3Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, October 20, 1896.
4Ellen G. White, Appeals and Suggestions to Conference Officers, 18.
5Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, 479.
6John R. Stott, The Preacher’s Portrait (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ.Co.1961), 88.
7Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, October 20, 1896.