A few commented on my blog post yesterday in which I was critical of pastors who refuse to visit members of their congregation. One person responded that he understood the importance of pastoral visitation but wondered whatever happened to the responsibility of deacons to do visitation.
It's a fair question and one that I considered including in yesterday's post. However, I don't like to make these posts too long or people won't read them so I can't always cover everything I might want to in a single post.
In a couple of my books I write about the need for churches to practice congregational care rather than relying on pastoral care. Ephesians 4 teaches us that the primary role of a pastor is to equip the saints to do the work of ministry. Not only should the deacons (or similar group in your tribe) be involved in visitation and congregational care, everyone in your church should be trained to minister to one another.
When I was a pastor I introduced the Deacon Family Care Program to our deacons and congregation. We assigned every family who attended our church, whether they were members or not, to a deacon. Each deacon had 8-10 families assigned to them. They were given a book where they could record information about their families and the visits/contacts they made with each family.
In the training I encouraged them to contact at least one family a week. That is very doable and would mean that each family in the church would have at least one contact each quarter. That's four contacts a year. The contact could be in the form of a personal visit, a phone call, a card or letter depending on the situation at the time. For instance, if a family member was in the hospital the deacon would normally make a visit to the hospital. On the other hand, a birthday card might suffice as one contact.
We discussed how to make hospital visits and home visits. We talked about proper boundaries such as not visiting a single woman at home by themselves. Either a spouse or another deacon should accompany them if calling on a single woman. We talked about the need for confidentiality.
As a result of this training, our deacons began to handle the bulk of our visitation. When a deacon rotated off and someone new replaced that deacon, the book was given to the new deacon who would take up where the previous deacon left off.
However, none of this precluded me from doing visitation as well. A deacon might call to tell me about a visit that probably needed my follow-up, and I would do that. If someone was in the hospital I would normally visit that person even if their deacon had already been there.
Every bivocational minister struggles with time issues, and having trained lay people who can do much of the visitation can help ease some of that pressure. That does require training them, and it requires training the congregation to accept ministry from the deacons. However, that training time is time well spent. It allows the pastor to focus on other pastoral chores and on being with those who have more critical needs while still providing on-going ministry to the entire congregation.