December 1, 2020

Open Mic: Pastoral Care in Today’s Church

By Chaplain Mike

OK, it’s happened again. Over the past few weeks I’ve had at least half a dozen patients tell me that their pastor has not visited them and that the church has dropped the ball when it comes to keeping in touch with them during their illnesses (in these cases, terminal illnesses).

What’s going on with pastors and churches today?

  • One of my elderly patients has been a member of her church since she was 14 years old, raised her children in the church, she and her family had stayed active and been contributors in many ways throughout the years. Her son looked me straight in the eye and said, “They’ve been sh***y shepherds.”
  • Another had actually been the church secretary in her congregation, as well as the organist for 50 years! Yet when her husband was dying, she could not get the pastor to return her phone calls. He never did visit. They ended up asking another minister they knew to do the funeral.
  • Yet another woman asked me yesterday to do her husband’s funeral, because the pastor of their church, who had married them just a few years ago, never called or came by to see them when the man became a hospice patient. I had called on their behalf, left message after message, including a detailed one about them wanting contact. Never happened.

These examples come from more traditional churches, with a background in which it is understood that the pastor visits or oversees a program of care for his parishioners. He himself may not visit everyone, but one aspect of his pastoral responsibility is to make sure that the sheep are cared for in time of distress and need.

I’d like to open this up to our IM audience today.

In your setting and experience, what is the state of pastoral care and visitation in the church today?

  • Pastors and church leaders, chime in. Let’s hear from all traditions, and all forms of churches.
  • Parishioners, let us hear from you. Has the church provided good pastoral ministry for you and yours in times of need?
  • Professors who train ministry students: What is being taught in our schools and seminaries about the duty of pastoral care?
  • Friends from different cultural backgrounds and in other places around the world: How does this aspect of ministry work out in your culture?

I’m pretty discouraged about what I’ve seen as a hospice chaplain, working with families and churches. Few do this well. Many don’t seem to even have it on their radar.

Let’s talk.


  1. textjunkie says

    As a lay person who ran a newcomers’ ministry, I heard a lot from both the clergy and the parishioners about this as an issue or as feedback on what they thought of either their current or past church. There were a couple of issues:

    1) Size of the congregation vs size of staff. Is the rector supposed to visit everyone who’s sick, every week? Depends on the size and priorities of the congregation. Once the church demands get to a certain size, the head person simply *can’t* see everyone once a week–there are simply too many. But the congregation often discounts visits from everyone who isn’t ordained.

    2) Responsibility–so if it’s not the rector, who IS supposed to visit the sick? Is there an organized lay ministry for it? (Stephen’s Ministers were a great ministry in at least one church I was at, taking soup and prayer to home-bound or hospitalized folks, or others who were grieving a loss and desperately needed a loving ear.)

    3) Communication. How does the church find out someone is sick and needs a visit? We all know (hopefully) how telling the clergy anything on Sunday is hopeless, but it’s amazing how many people forget that. Sometimes the clergy just don’t *know* that someone is sick–the message didn’t get thru, the new receptionist at the front desk didn’t know who to give the message to, any number of things. Or it went to clergy person A who forgot to give it to B, etc. This ties back into #1 and 2, of course.

    Ways to solve this–I’m big on empowering the laity, so I think pastoral care should be something done by at least some folks who aren’t also tasked with running the church. I think churches with weekly communion have a leg up on this, because they often also have a ministry dedicated to taking the bread and wine from the church service to folks who couldn’t make it, and thus parishioners *know* that when they are away they are supposed to let someone in the church office know, and they’ll get a visit Sunday after church for sure.

    Or there are phone trees or prayer trees, lines of organized communication of needs that don’t depend on the head pastor knowing and doing all. I’ve seen other churches which have a spot during the service where sign-in books get passed down every row, so everyone can sign in whether they are a member or a newbie, and people note there who is missing and needs a visit. Or they put prayer requests in the offering basket–but there you have again to be really sure that the people who pull them out after the service know what to do and where the information needs to go.

    But the examples where someone called and called and called and nothing happened–ouch. A pastoral nightmare.

    • i don’t think the pastor must make all visits, especially in larger churches. I do think anyone who uses the title “pastor” should be actively involved in caring ministry and personal ministry in people’s homes, workplaces, and in medical facilities. He/she should also make sure there is a good system set up for taking care of people throughout the congregation.

      • I agree, and at the very least he pastor should regularly emphasize that caring ministries are a priority with the church. Loving one another is central in Jesus teachings. The problem is that the services are so carefully orchestrated and produced in larger churches that all mention of the sick is relegated to “Please remember to look over the prayer list in your bulletin.” I know the Stephen’s Ministry does good work in many churches, but that is a program that requires the participants to go through extensive training. One does not need special training to sit at the bedside of an elderly person in the nursing home, listen to them and pray with them is that is what they want.

        • Also on the Stephen’s Ministry, when the program was started at the church I was at, the requirements to be selected for the training seemed so selective that I felt sure I could never measure up, although I was regularly visiting the nursing home. I suspect most felt a bit intimidated. I think when everything has a special ministry there is a risk that other members of the church may feel, oh that’s for the people in that ministry or you have to go through months of special training to do that.

        • Really good points here. First, many of us seem to have pretty much uncritically accepted the notion that the real ministry of the church occurs in the main church services and/or are the province of special “ministers,” rather than seeing the work of the church being done by all of its members as a consistent lifestyle. Ministries are compartmentalized. The all-or-nothing mindset is a problem too. I have a little experience w/Stephen Ministries; the whole integrated program is a significant commitment for churches and those involved. But what about all the teaching and support materials they offer that don’t require such investment? There are study materials suitable for equipping Christians in general for compassionate ministry.

          • First, many of us seem to have pretty much uncritically accepted the notion that the real ministry of the church occurs in the main church services and/or are the province of special “ministers,” rather than seeing the work of the church being done by all of its members as a consistent lifestyle.

            Excellent point, and this becomes a problem in thousands of ways….oddly, though, this exact line has been used by pastors as an excuse to do little or nothing, becuase “It’s not my job, it’s yours…..” this is sad because it doesn’t have to be an either/or…..the pastor can set an example to follow, and the pastorate can follow at large.

  2. Michelle says

    This is interesting. My father was a pastor for 35 years and he refused to visit people in hospitals. He considered himself a “teaching pastor” and believed that his only job was to study the Bible and teach it. And that took ALL his time. He felt it was the job of the congregants to visit each other in the hospital. I know at least one couple who left the church because of this, there may have been more over the years. He also refused to do open-casket funerals because he felt that viewing the dead body was a denial of their eternal life.

    I don’t know–was this what they were teaching systematic theology students at Dallas Theological Seminary in the early 60’s? I’m kidding–I actually think that he had a personal aversion to the sick and the dead and he was using Scripture to cover that up. I tend to think that might be behind some of your pastors not showing up, Mike.

    • As one who was in school in the 70’s in a DTS-type school, I can tell you that virtually nothing was taught about pastoral visitation. It was looked down upon as an ineffective, rote practice that had been emphasized by those “liberal” churches who didn’t teach their people the Bible. Pastoral ministry in my training was almost completely defined as “teaching.”

    • cermak_rd says

      Interesting. I know that in the Orthodox Christian tradition, closed casket funerals are severely frowned upon, even when the circumstances would otherwise dictate it.

  3. I think many do not do this well because they think they really don’t have the love of Jesus in their hearts. They equate ministry and being “servants of Jesus” with preaching a 45 minute sermon behind a pulpit on Sundays and some mid-week while the people of the congregation. Seldom can our pastors spend 5 minutes with us without thinking of the next thing they have to do or the next person they have to meet with. They’ve lost touch with the fact that ministry is about being with a person and walking with that person in their deepest need.

    Perhaps I’m just bitter but that’s what I see

    • Jonathan Blake says

      I do agree with you that ministry is about being with people and walking alongside them through thick and thin. Personally the church I’ve come from was a pentecostal church of 350 and the pastor(s) were always there when something happened. They visited my grandma every time she’s been in a hospital and my aunt virginia as she was dying (though she really wasn’t even my aunt; just my mom’s best friend and neither attend our church). I honestly don’t agree with a lot of their theology but I love them so much as pastors. They love people and that’s what matters most. On the other hand my grandmother attended a church of a few thousand and was a consistent member of a sunday school class. We could not get her pastors, sunday school teacher or anyone else from there to even give her a phone call when she’s been in the hospital. My grandmother was incredibly touched by the fact that everyday a pastor from our church came by to visit her. That’s just my experience though.

      • Jonathan Blake says

        By the way this wasn’t a bash against megachurches I just think that sometimes pastors see their roles in different ways depending on how large their congregation is.

    • Jerrod,

      I remember having a pastor, that we used to try to make him speak to us, after church or before an activity. The last I heard, he was teaching at a seminary, which might be a better use of his talents.

  4. I have a progressive neurological disease, and it puts me in the way of needing pastoral care quite often. I have been surprised and touched by the high quality of the care I have received from my congregational church. Not only do the elders board (including the pastor) keep me on their hearts and visiting list, but the deacons do as well and quiz me on how the elders are doing. In addition, regular status updates on anyone who is shutin are given from the pulpit and emailed. This keeps the rest of the congregation aprised of the situation and aware of when visits and cards and calls would be appreciated. I have been visited by people who’s name I didn’t even know, and cooked for by other people I have barely met. Everyone from the kid’s groups to the prayer meeting and the women’s ministry have sent me encouraging letters and cards. It is all a bit overwhelming, but whatever my condition I certainly feel a constant part of my church family!

    • Wow….now THAT’s a church family…. you are tasting heaven, Tokah.

      GREG R

    • Tokah, thank you for this marvelous example of Christian community practicing love in action.

      • I am glad to! The most powerful part of it is the incredible witness it has been to my unbelieving family and friends. They always saw me as an outlier of our faith, and the regular incarnation of Jesus‘ love in our lives in the form of so many different christians has really combatted that view. My sister asked for help to purchase a specialty food processor, and they instead choose to take on the entire financial burden. I don’t know how the love of Christ could be shining any brighter in the lives of my corner of the community.

  5. I’ve seen good and bad from pastors in this regard, so there’s no blanket statement one can really make. One problem, though, is that I think congregations have come to expect too much from one person. To me, the primary responsibility of a (senior) pastor is to preach and to teach, not to be a caregiver—not because caregiving isn’t important, but because one person simply can’t do it all. Deacons or other members of the congregation (possibly ordained themselves like Chaplains or possibly just trained laymembers), in my view, should be carrying the bulk of the caregiving load.

    So, yes, pastors sometimes have not shown even the minimal amount of caregiving that they should but I suspect more often the problem is that the congregation drops the ball. Perhaps there are so many exciting programs going on at the church or there are so many mission trips overseas that have to be supported, funds raised for, etc that no-one really has the time to just visit and care for those right in their own congregation who really need it.

    • In one of the cases I mentioned in the post, the church has a Stephen Ministry, with trained volunteers who, theoretically, are available to visit people and take some of the load off the pastor. The family got nowhere trying to get a Stephen Minister too.

      You can have a good system in place, but it requires a heart and the leadership and example of the pastors to work.

  6. Jeremiah says

    My very small church has been very good at this despite the pastor and leadership often being stretched thin. Our pastor is also a National Guard chaplain. So in addition to tending to the sick and dieing in our congregation he has had to deliver death notices and attend to the wounded service personnel and their families.

    For us it has been a beautiful chance to encourage and support our pastor as he certainly needs it.

  7. Here at my Vineyard, we have an ‘on call’ system, where various staff members take turns handling “emergencies”. I dont’ know where an ongoing difficult illness fits in (IF it fits in) to our set up, I know that a relative could call anywhere during that hospital stay, and someone would at least try to get out there and minister. My thoughts on the system ?? Uh…. meh…..

    Better than no system at all, but I know that many of these staff folks, and some are personal friends of mine, are very glad to get NO calls, cuz…’s like the weekend, or after hrs, or I’m really busy trying to do IMPORTANT stuff……you get the idea. I’m not very sure that there was specific , and thorough training prior to setting up this “phone tree” thing. I think it was a case of 1)we need a fire estinguisher to meet code 2) go to Ace hardware and buy a cheap one So, we HAVE a system, but I don’t think this is a big deal to our overall plan of ministry: at least not as I see it….and maybe a different Vineyard-ite would say otherwise.

    It would greatly help if the pastor himself/herself help set the tone and priority by 1)taking a turn themselves (I don’t think our SR pastor does, or not on a regular rotation) 2)referred to this ministry occaisionally, not to bring attention to themselves, but to underscore the need for all of us to be “one anothering” throughout the week, as they are. A huge wrench in the works, IMO, is the view of pastor as being PRIMARILY a ‘bringer of the WORD’, and therefore doing this kind of thing is just not going to happen, or seldom, and the real energy is given to the Hour of Power.

    As in many things, the revolution, if there is to be one, will be grassroots and grow UP, not TOP down…….and some of us will just have to visit the sick and minister where we can…..the ‘silent army’ I think you’ve called it ……great description.

    end of ramble
    Greg R

    • “It would greatly help if the pastor himself/herself help set the tone and priority by 1)taking a turn themselves (I don’t think our SR pastor does, or not on a regular rotation) 2)referred to this ministry occasionally, not to bring attention to themselves, but to underscore the need for all of us to be “one anothering” throughout the week, as they are.”

      Bingo. Anyone who calls himself a “pastor” by definition should be involved in the personal care of the sheep. Change the title if you’re not going to fulfill the job description.

  8. I am a pastor and I visit. Lately, i have gotten aggravated because people were in the hospital and no one told me about it.
    Many of my friends in the ministry really can not stand doing funerals and hospital visitation. Really makes me wonder why they went into ministry if they do not love to care for people. There is some church growth leaders who would advise against doing visitation because it holds you back from vision casting, developing strategies and such.

  9. Chap Mike: would it be too blunt to put the problem in the form of a question that each pastor would have to answer sometime during their ministry: am I going to put my best efforts/energy into pastoring people OR am I going to run a church ??

    This might sound blunt, but maybe it’s just as simple as: you just can’t do both….pick one.

  10. I have no complaints at all about the pastoral care from either the church where I’m a member or where I work. Some pastors have more of that spiritual gift than others but they all try.

    Maybe I’m generalizing but it seems like the pastors who are best at preaching don’t do as well at one-to-one care, and vice-versa. Maybe that’s just personality type.

    I will say it got a little strange when my wife let slip I was recovering from a vasectomy and I got a card from my Disciple class. Sometimes being cared for means you don’t have as much privacy as you might have, but that’s an easy trade-off to make.

  11. I wonder if it has to do with the size of the congregation/parish? I’m a lifelong Catholic, but until a few years ago, the churches I attended were so huge I didn’t even think of asking any of the priests in charge for personal help/care, much less expect it.

    However, for the past several years ago I’ve been attending a very tiny (less than 200 families) Byzantine Catholic parish, and it really seems to make a difference. There’s only one priest, and he is very proactive about visiting parishioners in the hospital or at home when they’re ill, and overseeing any funeral arrangements.

    So perhaps (contrary to what some of my ex-boyfriends have told me) size DOES matter … ??

  12. Having recently been suddenly hospitalized, I was very surprised that my former pastor (we’ve recently changed where we worship – it’s a long story!) came, my not yet pastor (haven’t done the membership yet) came, my boss (a chaplain for a long-term care organization) came, and several pastor friends came to visit, chat, read Scripture and pray with me. Many others kept in touch by e-mail or phone calls and cards. I was on the prayer list at church. My small group friends kept me in constant prayer.

    Working as pastoral assistant in a nursing home, I see many pastors regularly come to the visit their own members. There have been a few residents, however, who claim that their pastor has never come and we shouldn’t bother to call him to let him know where they live now. Compassionate visits are so very welcome! For some folks it is – if the pastor himself doesn’t come – don’t send someone else!

  13. Thanks for bringing this up. From my experience (evangelical, some mainline, upper Midwest) pastors in general are woefully underprepared to deal with long- term difficult situations. When my mother had the flu couple years ago, membersof her small church sent over so much chicken soup that she felt she could never look a chicken in the eye again; when she and my father were functionally homebound for a period of years as she served as primary caregiver during his final decline meaningful church contact was beyond hard to come by. My experience as a Christian mom whose husband left me with a toddler, joined a few years later by a debilitating chronic illness has been dismal. Pastoral responses have ranged from benign neglect to occasional limited assistance to active hostility, judgement, and false accusation. My own investigation tells me that most pastors are receiving very little, if any, training in this area, and I haven’t run into any with an articulated Biblical theology of helping the suffering within their congregations, and thus provide little guidance to the church at large. I know that the old expectation that the pastor was the “minister” responsible for all visitations was flawed, but it hasn’t been replaced by anything better.

    • “I know that the old expectation that the pastor was the `minister’ responsible for all visitations was flawed, but it hasn’t been replaced by anything better.”

      I agree,
      My wife and I attended a Lutheran church of about 200 which could afford three pastors and a student pastor. But you couldn’t buy a home visit or a phone call, even if you were, as were we, laid up for 4 months straight at home once with a chronic illness. Interestingly,one of the pastors was very keen on visiting parishioners in the hosptial, so perhaps if we’d gotten worse, we’d have seen him. To be fair, I know another Lutheran church of about 30 whose sole pastor makes home visits to his mainly elderly parishioners fairly often.
      As greg r mentioned above, it seems to come down to whether the pastor thinks he’s running a small business or sheparding sheep.
      By the way, it’d be interesting to hear if the influx of women in the pastorate has made a difference in visitations.

  14. David Cornwell says

    Somehow many of us have lost one of the primary concerns of a church, that of caring for the people. The church, in many instances, has become a copy of the corporate world with main goal being to grow and get as big as possible.

    I was a pastor for 20 years and I made pastoral visitation of the sick and dying one of my chef concerns. I probably didn’t always do it well, but I did it.

    My youngest brother died about 9 years ago. While in the hospital, after having major heart surgery, he was never visited by the pastor or staff of the large United Methodist Church in Cincinnati where he had his membership. They simply failed to come. After returning home he died on the 2nd day. Rather than depend on the UMC church, his family called the pastor of a smaller Presbyterian church that they had left, for pastoral care. This is where the funeral was conducted. Later they received a half-hearted apology from the UMC church.

    I have heard this complain often about pastors who simply do not visit or attend the flock.

    The church I attend now is a mid-size mainline downtown church in Fort Wayne, Indiana. We are very efficiently organized for pastoral care. It is the responsibility of each of the pastors, but there is a part-time pastor who has this primary responsibility. This pastor is very caring, knows how to listen, and to pray with the people.

  15. In an independent Pentecostal assembly I attended for 30 years, visiting the sick long ago became a ministry reassigned to a deacon or an assistant; and not because the pastor is busy “running the church”, but because the role of the evangelist was weeded out along the way and replaced by the pastor, himself, going here, going there, holding revivals and raking in an additional salary on top of the one he gets for supposedly sheparding his church…..

  16. Sorry about the eccentric grammar; I’m submitting this from a cell phone (a luxury, perhaps, but my main link to the outside world) and editing is an adventure. Thoughts: the thorny issue of material help for those church members in need. There seems to be an expectation that everyone in our churches should be able to maintain a living income if they are just responsible enough, not lazy, follow biblical stewardship of their resources. Prayer and tithes are part of this. Those who obviously can’t work will be provided for by … well, they will, what with all the government help out there. But the with government budgets in general and Social Security in particular in shambles, is that a safe assumption – beyond the theological problems these assumptions expose? Further, with lengthened life spans and improved medical tech more people are surviving longer with compromised function. This is combines with our famous American individualism, extreme mobility, lowered reproduction rates, and emphasis on the self-contained nuclear family to reduce the amount of support available to those in crisis, as well as increasing the burden on those family members who do step up. Beyond aging and chronic or terminal physical illness, other groups of concern include the mentally ill, developmentally disabled, those bearing the permanent effects of traumatic injuries, caregivers and family members, single parents (so many, and with fewer stable social supports than ever), and all of the assorted unfortunates who have fallen only to find that no one is there to help them up. There are some wonderful ministries out there (Stephen Ministries, Rest Ministries/Hopekeepers, and Heartfelt Counseling Ministries w/Steve & Robyn Bloem come to mind), but the church as a whole seems pretty disconnected from part of the core of its mandate – to love one another. Please forgive my rambling; I don’t mean to swamp this thread, but so few are asking the questions that when the opportunity to say something arises the flood gates open. Thanks 🙂

  17. I am one of two pastors in a church of around 100. We both do visiting, but he has a heart for visitation that has really taught me. He’ll regularly go in to pray with people before a surgury etc. Often we’ll go and pray for family members of parishioners who aren’t in a church.

    So I am blessed for in two ways: One that I have been mentored in a way to appriciate visitation. And the other that I still have another shepherd working along side of me to carry much of this responsibility.

    I have a question that I’d like to ask as we have several people in this situation. How often is a good schedule for visiting someone in a nursing home situation or a shut-in (not particularly sick just disconnected from the body physically)?

    When we have someone in a hospice situation, one of us is usually there every day, or at least every other.

    • When I am shut in, every week or two is definitely my preference. When you are very limited in physical ability, there is very little to pass the day and it makes a day feel like 3. Traveling, basic chores, work or play, these things that used to quietly eat up hours each day are gone. Imagine that the clock always moves as slow as during that last hour of work, and you get the idea.

    • It would be wonderful if folks in long-term care centres/nursing homes were visited weekly or at least bi-weekly. In my opinion visits should be short, but more frequent. Since many, if not most, of our seniors can easily forget that the pastor has been to visit, it is great if a calling card is left, or a guest book signed, or the nursing staff made aware, or the pastoral care staff made aware that the pastor has been in to visit. Perhaps the pastor can bring the most recent bulletin/ church newsletter or a ‘thinking of you’ card the Sunday School class has crafted. We even have church newsletters sent by e-mail to us and we pass them on to the resident. That way when Mrs. S. says that no one has been in to visit, we can gently remind her and even cue her and engage her in conversation. “Oh, I met your pastor in the hall today………..” A large part of ministry to the seniors in 24/7 care should also be directed to helping their families cope. If the family has been dysfunctional in the past, the need becomes even greater.

  18. To me the fault does not lye with the “Pastors” particularly, but in the body that denies the gift of pastoral care. To some the gift of teachers, evangelists, etc. Pastoral care is a responsibility of the body not necessarily the paid clergy. When I had our deacon team, it was their responsibility, we divided the church into sectors or parishes or kirks, whatever term you like, and each deacon and deaconess had responsibility for that group. Visit each family at least 3 times a year, visit the sick either home or hospital. They were to keep their eyes open for situations that may need the skill of the elders or the pastor. The “pastor” has enough responsibility in overseeing, preaching and teaching. Could it be that we have lost the concept of care? Not only were deacons to take care of the temporal needs of the congregation but were to be men empowered by the Spirit, teaching the mysteries of scripture etc. Sounds like pastoral care to me.

    • While I agree with your fundamental point—that caring is the duty of the whole church—I disagree that the pastor should be exempt from that. If he/she is exempt, he/she is not a pastor, but something else. If that’s the way you want to set it up, you should call him/her something else—teacher, or preacher. Pastors take care of sheep. Shepherds do a heck of a lot more than dispense feed.

      BTW, if we’re not careful, we will import a lot of our own cultural understanding into this whole subject of the “gifts.” It seems to me like too many people read them like job descriptions designed to limit what we do and protect us from the uncomfortable tasks we want to avoid. Good traditional pastoral theology recognized the necessary balance between standing before the congregation and sitting with individuals and families in their living rooms. One practice informs and enriches the other. I would go so far as to say that one cannot be a true teacher in the Biblical sense without practicing personal ministry and pastoral care away from the gathered church. That’s because genuine Biblical teaching is pastoral in nature and can therefore only be done by those who know how to shepherd people.

      • Thank you Chaplain Mike, I did totally misuse the word gifts, didn’t have my reference handy to check, gifts is not used, simple that to some He has given to be… No I am not excusing pastors from visiting at all. My father, and grandfather, and on back were preachers and visitation was important to them. Toward the end of his life my father and I discussed this alot. The preacher is often expected to do it all. Visit, teach, preach, empower, evangelize and so on while the members sit doing nothing, because that is what he is paid to do. Not every “paid clergy” is good at all of those things, and should not be expected to be. My father was an exceptional preacher, an excellent visitor, but not so good at things like empowering, however his 1st elder was tops there. They made a good team.

        My only point being that I believe that traditionally we rely on the paid clergy too much. This negates the blessings, for lack of a better word, that the body would receive if they engaged in this work jointly with the pastor. Their spirituality would benefit as would the body as a whole.

        To your point on gifts, I’m with you. When I was asked to lead our deacons, I noted that the basic role was to turn on the heater and lights before services, and off after. There was no engagement with the body. After a great deal of study in the book of Acts I came to believe that that role was inadequate. Stephen was a role model that every “deacon” should aspire to.

        I love that fact that you are continuing with the fine tradition that brought me to IM, to make us think and reevaluate our perceptions and to adjust as needed. Keep it up, it is truly a breath of fresh air that is needed in our time.

      • Rereading some of the posts….you have put into words what is for me one the most painful elements of the ev. wilderness: I am asked to listen to long sermons by a person who is not known for their heart in shepherding folks, but in their speaking ability (which is formidable). I’m feeling ‘stuck’: I don’t want to be a fly in GOD’s ointment, but I want substance BEHIND the words, and I want an assurance that words are more than words. Some weeks it’s a flip of the coin as to whether I can endure another well crafted sermon.

        Your post above has been enlarged, bolded, and will be prayed over. LORD make us all men that do more than talk.

        Greg R

  19. Clay Knick says

    First thought: malpractice. Plain and simple. Dying people don’t “grow the church” I suppose.

    Another thought, which does not reflect the people you mention here: communication. People do drop out of sight. In medium sized and large churches if they are not connected to a fam. or friends, then it is quite possible for them to fall through the cracks. If they don’t initiate a call and let the church know what is going on this will happen. But when notified I always respond.

    My other thought has to do with the fear people feel regarding death. We all have issues to deal with, that is why most UM conferences require CPE. But some pastors will avoid this until the last poss. moment, they don’t feel gifted or comfortable in these situations.

    • Clay: re: communication and “falling through the cracks.”

      One pastor with whom I worked (in a growing mid-sized church) carried a list around with him everywhere he went. It was a list of every family unit in the church. After the services on Sunday, he and his wife would go out to dinner, and their conversation involved talking through that list. Who was there, who was absent. Who had mentioned a need. What new people came and should be added to the list. Who needed prayer. Who needed visits. Who was in the hospital or nursing home. Who was having surgery. Who needed help from someone else and how they should contact them and let them know.

      After Sunday, he looked at that list several times each day. Prayed through it. Thought about it. Looked at it when he was having conversations or meetings so that he could bring a matter up if it needed addressing. The list set his agenda throughout the week for time not devoted to study and other scheduled duties.

      That doesn’t seem like rocket science to me. That just seems like a pastor who found a simple and effective way to do his job. I’m pretty sure there were few matters that fell through the cracks.

      • Clay Knick says

        One thing I’ve tried to do when I go to a new appointment is reclaim folks like this. Tips help from members, SS classes, the people who sit near the missing each week, and the like. Keeping this issue in front of us is so important. But…we will miss some folks, they will drop out and we may miss an opportunity.

  20. I belong to a church with an attendance of about 1,000 people. I have noticed the decline in pastoral care in the past ten years or so. I don’t think it is meant to be malicious but there seems to be more emphasis on bringing in new attenders, particularly young married couples, than there is on maintaining relationships with the elderly or needy.

    I am one of the leaders of a smaller adult congregation, some would call it an adult Sunday School class, within the larger body. We have about 40 people who are part of that community. Partially by default, our lay leaders have taken over the role that the paid staff once had. I find that people in our congregation generally don’t expect the pastors to call if they are sick. I’m not entirely sure whether this is good or bad but the majority of people in the larger church congregation don’t belong to a smaller community and may well feel ignored by the church in times of need.

  21. As a recent seminary graduate, I can relate that at least at my seminary, pastoral visitation was strongly emphasized in our classes. I also had the pleasure of interning under an older pastor who visited all of his homebound/terminal parishioners at least once a month and was always in the hospital anytime something happened (usually before and after a surgery). It was a great experience to go with him from rest home to rest home and watch him work. Admittedly the church was fairly small (probably around 200), but pastoral visitation took up a good chunk of his time. He also was sure to include the terminally ill in his congregational prayer and keep everyone in the church up to date with how everyone was doing.

    It was amazing how powerful this simple ministry was. He would probably only spend 30 minutes with many of these people once a month, and yet they adored him. When I did an emergency solo visit to a woman in the hospital whom he regularly visited because she had a son with a terminal illness, she told me that she and her son listened to the pastor’s sermons on tape every week. Each time her son (who has difficulty communicating due to a degenerative disease) heard this pastor’s voice he would roll over propping his head on his hand to listen. She laughed (and I laughed) when she related that during my sermons, her son ignored the tape 🙂

    I will say, however, that this pastor sometimes had trouble with older hospice parishioners who would complain to their children that he never visited them. Usually, he had been there the day before! As a result he always made it a practice to sign and date the guestbook (which he could then point to if the children got upset with him). Now I realize that most of the time when a parishioner is unhappy with the level of pastoral care, they are probably in the right. However, in fairness to some pastors, some parishioners in an advanced state of illness forget that the pastor has been there regularly (sometimes once or twice a week) and will complain to their children, etc. about how little the pastor visits them.

    • Your last point is very true. There is that side of it too. Some people not only have problems with memory, some have unrealistic expectations.

  22. I actively attend two churches, an EV Free Church (350 people) and a Reformed Episcopal/Anglican Church (35 people); both churches have been *wonderful* in visitations. I’ve been visited in the hospital by our former evangelical senior pastor after having a C-section; he did the preaching each week, too. Sometimes the associate pastor visited in addition. Our current pastor also makes some hospital visits, and we have a seniors pastor who visits shut-ins and those who are chronically ill–even some who aren’t members but who call our church asking for a pastoral visit. He called me every other week when I was chronically ill and prayed with me.

    When I was ill with a chronic disease, one of the elders’ wives set up a schedule of women who would travel the 40 miles from church to our home and clean my house for me each week. This house cleaning was kept up for over three years on a weekly basis.

    Our EV Free Church also supports two hospital chaplains who are among our members, but their work doesn’t stop the pastors from visiting those who are hospitalized–even at the chaplains’ hospital.

    Our Anglican pastor visits each shut-in at least monthly, bringing them Communion. He also makes hospital visits whenever needed. The church is very small, but the loving care and pastoral care and prayer is magnificent. The pastor and his wife often entertain members of the parish and the church hosts a prayer blog and a prayer team–unusual in a church so small. They also hold a weekly Healing Service with laying-on of hands and anointing with oil; we also pray over all the health needs of the parish and beyond.

    So I have found my two Southern California churches to be wonderful in visitation. It’s the norm here in these two San Diego area churches. 🙂

    Susanne 🙂

  23. For everyone who is complaining that the pastor is too busy teaching, what are elders and deacons for? If there are not enough servants in the church to minister to the church, more need to be called, and as the overseer/bishop/epicopos this is the pastors duty to ensure the need is met.

    The apostles may have appointed deacons to pass out the food, so that they could teach. But they did not simply ignore the need. Instead, they appointed others so that they could be relieved of the duty.

    If there are more than 150 in the congregation, there probably needs to be more than one pastor as well. What better oppotunity for a pastor to teach someone one last time about the love and mercy of Christ, than on their deathbed, when the penalty of sin has nearly completed its work.

  24. How much of this is due to unrealistic expectations and the burning out of pastors? Some churches expect the pastor to do everything, so perhaps some pastors are drawing a line in the sand so that expectations can be lowered to realistic levels. I am not saying some of these pastors are handling it correctly, but there may be unrealized reasons.

    • I’m sure that is part of it, Rick. If so, I would say (and I know this from experience), one of the big problems is that pastors are not well-versed in pastoral theology and capable of working with the church on what a pastor is supposed to do. Granted, a lot of churches want to define that unilaterally for the pastor, but that in my view is unacceptable.

      • David Cornwell says

        I can’t help but wondering: have you ever considered leading a class or seminar in pastoral theology? You have the experience, knowledge, and apparent gift of teaching.

        • Thanks for the compliment, David. Perhaps something will grow out of my chaplain work. I’d be open to it.

          But I also like the comments we’ve received about how it is happening in some local churches where pastors are taking others under their wings and teaching them on the front lines. To me, that’s where it really counts and is most effective.

          • David Cornwell says

            Very true. It reminds me of an irony in the story about my brother. The large Methodist church of which he was a member had sent him to Saint Louis for the Stephen Ministries training. He was very excited about it. But then, when he was very sick, the church simply let him fall through the tracks.

            Actually I’ve never thought about it happening the way you describe. It would be the most natural way for others to learn.

          • David Cornwell says

            “cracks” not “tracks”– so much for spelling today…

    • cermak_rd says

      And yet, in the Catholic parish I was in as a child, the priest not only visited everyone who ticked Catholic on their entry forms in the hospital, he also visited weekly at all the Nursing Homes in town and did home visits as well for those he knew needed it. He also was listed as a local clergy man at the town’s hotels and there were nights when he would be called to counsel or even give last rites on occasion to the people visiting. He served faithfully for 30+ years until he died in a car crash.

      Now I ask you, which one would you want to be your pastor? The one I knew as a child or one who draws a line in the sand lest he burn out?

      • The one who draws a line in the sand lest he burn out. Sorry, but being on the pastoral side, I have seen clergy burnout with damaged families and children who want nothing to do with the Church. Saint Paul was right when he said that there were clear advantages to those remaining celibate and in ministry. Nevertheless, a pastor who cannot draw a line and balance his priorities is not a good example. There are damaged pastoral marriages and children to prove that.

        The other problem with the “wonderful” pastor is that the poor person who follows him ends up with a probably unbearable burden. The schedule you described is one that few can keep up, and they had probably better be celibate.

        I am not arguing against visitation, but I have had experience with expectations that are unreasonable. Chaplain Mike’s point was about churches that were not fulfilling their responsibility. Given the stories he told, shame on them.

        But, I have even more often seen unrealistic expectations. Since the pastor may not tell everyone about everything he has done or else he violates privacy, most people assume that the little they know about what the pastor does is all that he does. Moreover, the smaller the congregation, the more roles the pastor must fill. Thus it is all too easy to assume that he is not really too busy to [fill in the blank]. It is not an easy tightrope to walk some days.

        Nevertheless, Chaplain Mike’s point is spot on. Visitation needs to happen. It need not always be the pastor, but it needs to happen.

        • I don’t know beans about the EO, but I’m still a very young 54 .. 😉 How burnout happens in your neighborhood, i don’t know, but I think in ev. circles there are two major culprits:

          1)pastors are picked for their personality and ability to “run the show”, and by show, I mean that in the literal sense of the word; this creates an evironment of personality and status: pastor up HERE, the rest of ya, down THERE, pastors may not even like it, but the system is in place before they get there. If they don’t fight against it, they just get assimilated.

          2)Being largely program driven, the church becomes a carousel of “the next big thing”, the next program and big push. Not having , or choosing to use, a liturgical calendar for worship will give this tilt a whirl a huge push. Even churches that are not megachurches , and don’t want to be one can succumb to this: style over substance, and the pastor had better have the next big program ready.

          I’m very sensitive to pastor burnout due to working a good man or woman to death, but from where I’m sitting, they need to adjust the playground they live in and one of first things to do is: put the program pony on “pause”, and go see some folks.

  25. I and my siblings just went through a terrible year as both our parents died. They had left their home in the country to move closer to their UMC family. They bought a little home close (half a mile) to their church and hunkered down for the duration, knowing that they would be near friends, and especially near church family as their lives were winding down.

    How profoundly hurt and confused they were as they realized that the church would not be there for them. The one visit by a “visitation team” at the hospital, during their worst days meant little since mother and daddy didn’t even know one of those people.

    They wanted their pastor and their elder friends and church family members. Especially the pastor.

    Where were the folks, the family, the institution, to whom they had given their lives? And they had given their lives to that church for MANY years, decades, working and giving, and helping and visiting. How destroyed they were when they realized that others, and their pastor (who was new to the congregation, but still the pastor) didn’t visit or know or help.

    The few who tried were old like them, so there was little they could do.

    It was horrible. They are both gone now. They died feeling forgotten and cast aside. I have talked with my brother about what we should do to help the church be aware of what happened SO THAT IT DOESN’T HAPPEN TO SOMEONE ELSE!!

    But we just can’t – we don’t know what to do.

    So, when the funerals were held at the funeral home and not the church, and a pastor / cousin performed the ceremonies, some of the elderly people called us in tears as to why we didn’t let the church host things, and we just couldn’t tell them right then.

    The pastor showed up for the first time – at the funeral.

    I hope my taking space here to tell you my story is of some help as you look at the issues involved in your churches.

    THANK YOU Chap. Mike for bringing up this painful, difficult topic.

    • These are the stories I am hearing, Wanda. I’m sorry for what happened to your family.

    • “The few who tried were old like them, so there was little they could do.”
      So sorry for your family’s experience, Wanda. I have a feeling that I’m not the only one who will say a prayer for your situation.
      I think the statement you made about who reached out is really important. It sounds like these people had personal connection with your parents that motivated their outreach attempts, but they also were in a position to empathize, to put themselves in your parents’ place as those who could find themselves in the same situation. I’ve noticed that often those who step in and try to minister in tough situations are those who have struggled themselves. Unfortunately, those familiar enough to empathize are often in the fire themselves, and have the fewest resources to spare. Perhaps your story can help others put themselves in others’ shoes before they are forced to walk the path themselves. Peace

      • Excellent point, Sarah. Excellent.

        I know my parents were so aware of that need. They ministered to so many while they could.
        All the more hard for them when they realized the next group, next generation, wasn’t stepping in to take over.

        • I hate to say this, but my husband and I keep having the same conversation:

          Husband: “We’re doing this and that, making differences in people’s lives. Helping people is wonderful”

          Me: “Yeah, well, let’s start making even more of a difference in the lives of our family members. ‘Cause you’re not getting any younger and when you need some help, none of those people are gonna show up. Just your own kids.”

          I admit I’m surly.

    • I am so sorry Wanda. Your parents’ experience reminds all of us to whom the baton has been passed that pastoral care is one of the most important parts of our ministry. We must never forget that. Just telling your story here helps to imprint that onto our hearts. Maybe, one day, it might be appropriate to share this with your parents’ pastor. Maybe not. But thank you for sharing your story with us. Peace.

  26. I attend a non-denominational church of about 1900 attenders/members. Four years ago I was critically ill and in the hospital for an extended period of time. During that time, I received several visits from members of the pastoral staff as well as several elders. I was visited by the Senior Pastor at least 3 times and his wife at least twice (that I remember). Others visited as well.Mind you, I am not a large contributor or a member of the Elders. I was just a member, nothing special.

    Since that time a more lay centered visitation program has been set up, which I joined. Pastoral staff still makes hospital calls, the lay program is for more long term situations. I know that the Senior Pastor still does visitation particularly in serious/critical situations.

    Obviously, I cannot complain one bit. I can see how people can fall through the cracks in any system. Especially, if the church doesn’t find out about the illness.

  27. cermak_rd says

    In my Jewish Temple, we call the requirement to visit with the sick and dying Bikkur Cholim. We have a group of people set up for it and it seems to work well, though I’ve never needed it (Knock on wood).

    When my Mom died last year, I sat Shiva (a mourning custom) for the customary week and then the next week I returned to my normal routine, including going to Temple. My rabbi insisted I meet personally with her to talk over the situation. It was quite therapeutic and I was touched by her care. She was puzzled by the fact that the funeral was on the Sabbath until I explained that Mom was a Baptist.

  28. Mike, I’m a hospice chaplain, too. Ditto your experiences. I also was part of a main-line church where the “pastor” bought the line, oft heard at seminary preaching seminars, that his main job was to preach a good sermon – not care for the sheep. At last count I heard, 50% of the membership of that church has departed in 3 years. Give me a sincere pastor (aka shepherd who loves the sheep) over a scintillating sermon any day. I’m sure you also have been with folks whose last days are fear-filled and agitated because, although they had had church experiences, they never understood the good news in loving relationship with our Lord, and never learned how to weave that amazing love into their own lives & relationships.

    • Glad to have you commenting, Ann. Praying for you in your work.

    • “I’m sure you also have been with folks whose last days are fear-filled and agitated because, although they had had church experiences, they never understood the good news in loving relationship with our Lord, and never learned how to weave that amazing love into their own lives & relationships.”

      Yes, Ann. That is what the fellowship here at IM is helping me consider and address. How to weave the amazing love of Christ into my life every moment… and into my relationships. Thank you.

  29. We should care for people just because we love them, because it’s what we’re called to do.

    At the same time, one side effect that I think senior pastors / teaching pastors often overlook is how much good will and trust faitfulness in visitation etc means. As a young pastor, I’ve found that caring for people in their times of need brings a new openness to changes in the church that they might otherwise be resistant to.

    Also, it builts the trust necessary to be able to effectively preach hard things and call people to follow Jesus in radical ways.

    Just a side comment, but I think it’s an important aspect for pastors to remember.

    • Excellent.

    • Make many disciples….send some to the Kansas side of Kansas City….please 🙂

      very well said, Dan

    • When I was in Bible college, and in much of my evangelical experience, we were taught the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 as Jesus’ great mission statement for the church. Besides the fact that I think we’ve perhaps truncated what it means to make disciples, over the years I’ve been drawn to Jesus’ last words to his disciples before his trial and crucifixion. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35). Preaching the word is important; but living it shows who we really belong to

  30. Wow. It’s startling to hear cases that extreme, but I guess it doesn’t necessarily surprise me. I don’t know how the last church I attended handled hospital visitations, but I know that I couldn’t talk to the senior pastor without going through a series of steps. Other pastors, maybe, but it wasn’t preferred — they still rathered that you went through the steps.

  31. As part of my ministerial training I’ve spent the last week on placement with a Baptist church in the UK and went on my first hospital visitation. The elderly and infirm are visited as much as possible and the assistant minister is part of the ecumenical hospital chaplaincy team who are available for everyone in the local hospital whether believers or not. One of the problems the leadership have is that some church members expect to see the minister rather than anyone else and he simply doesn’t have time to go round everyone in a church of this size.
    At college, pastoral issues are high on the agenda as is teaching/preaching. I think that some people find pastoral concerns are less important to them than others and so they give this area of church life less attention. The minister I am shadowing would say that his gifting is in the area of the visionary/evanglism and so he has deliberately appointed team members who balance him out in the areas he is weak in.
    After some grim experiences with church leaders who seem to place their visionary agenda above any pastoral concerns, this church is a breath of fresh air. I’ve only been there a week but I’m beginning to regain my faith in the integrity of Christian leaders.

  32. Isaac Rehberg (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

    I haven’t read through all the responses yet, but wanted to weigh in nonetheless.

    1) When I was the music minister at my previous congregation, I was often the only person to accompany our pastor when it came to funerals. This was one area where our pastor was really good. Rarely did we do funerals for folks who were members of our congregation; usually it was family of members who had passed. It was a Messianic congregation, the pastor is Jewish, and I think some of why this was an area of strength was because a high priority is put on doing right by the dead and for the mourning in Jewish culture.

    2) When it came to hospital visitation, the pastor and his elders didn’t do as good a job. But this was mostly due to them not finding out about someone being *in* the hospital until they were *out* of it again. Poor communication was the culprit, but feelings were often very hurt. Later, they tried to delegate the communication and some of the visitation to the deacon board. That didn’t work out so well.

    3) My grandmother is a semi-retired deacon in the Episcopal Church, and she has a special ministry gifting/calling for pastoral care. Prior to the semi-retirement, she ran the pastoral care ministry for her rather large parish. She’d organize the Lay Eucharistic Ministers, made sure visitations of some sort were happening, etc. When she went into semi-retirement, the ball was dropped. The remaining deacons didn’t keep things running well and the priests had been used to the deacons taking care of it. She ended up having to set up some sort of communications network to make pastoral care happen again. From what she tells me, it’s not as good as it used to be, but it’s much better.

    4) I’m currently a graduate student at Wayland Baptist University working on my Masters of Christian Ministry. Last semester, I took a class titled “The Christian Ministry” in which we discussed the issue of pastoral care. One of the books we read had an appendix in which the author argued that pastoral care cannot be the primary role of the pastor. We had to write an essay where we discussed his argument’s strengths and weaknesses and came to our conclusions about pastoral care. I argued that the author’s argument was flawed and got a very good grade as well as some comments from my professor that suggested I had brought up some points he may not have considered before. Also in the class, one of our major projects was to actually conduct a counseling-type of pastoral care session. In fact, the professor suggested that we use the term “pastoral care” rather than “pastoral counseling” because most of us will not become licensed counselors.

    5) I think one of the problems with pastoral care is that of church size. My theory is that there are many churches that ought to do a church plant when they reach a certain size. Instead they just keep growing and build a new building. This waters down the pastor’s ability to effectively care for his sheep. But I suspect that many times he’d rather just preach and teach anyway.

  33. A couple of years ago I had rushed my husband to the emergency room with severe abdominal pain and fainting. We thought it was a kidney stone (extremely painful, but generally not all that life-rocking in the overall scheme of things) but weren’t sure. In the emergency room I had most of my attention on my thrashing husband, another big chunk on the nurse, and a tiny fraction on giving answers to the person checking us in. Went through “name” “address” ” health insurance” “are you a member of church?” “What is the name of the church?” on auto-pilot answering.

    Then the clerk asked “If your husband is admitted to the hospital, do you want us to notify your church?” and my attention suddenly noticed my mouth saying “No! Don’t!” very emphatically. I surprised myself with that answer. I’ve been contemplating that ever since.

    I go to a small church. The church has strong points and weak points. I and my husband are known. The pastor and elders are easily accessible. But, based on several years of observing normal life church interactions, honestly, I think I’d get Christian platitudes, which I’m rather allergic to at this point, if the elders (or any other people who might be likely to come) came. And I think I’d get a rather awkward conversation of theological theory if the pastor came. And, in this denomination, all of those people would have been men (slightly more awkward for me, somehow) … unless they sent the wives, who would have been ten times as full of platitudes.

    Maybe all this is worse because I’m a thoughtful person who at this point just has to keep my mouth shut on a lot of my thoughts about a lot of church life. Or maybe it is because I have dealt for many years with a chronic health situation and have found much more real, honest, tangible help and listening from my (secular) co-workers and quite a few (secular) medical workers who go way above and beyond the call of duty. Whereas many (not all) church people are full of cliches and certainties that I just don’t buy into anymore … but which really offend the church people if you admit to questioning them. Definitely not all church people are that way … and the small percentage of pushy people who are certain they know the answer to “fix” you skews my attitude I’m sure.

    Or maybe it was just that I was pretty sure it was just a kidney stone and my attitude would have been different if I’d been more scared.

    I’m not really sure … just that, with my defenses down, I blurted out something that somewhat surprised me and that I’ve been thinking about every since.

    • You’ve given me an idea for a future post: “When Visitation Does More Harm than Good.”

    • Michelle says

      “But, based on several years of observing normal life church interactions, honestly, I think I’d get Christian platitudes, which I’m rather allergic to at this point, if the elders (or any other people who might be likely to come) came. And I think I’d get a rather awkward conversation of theological theory if the pastor came.”

      This is exactly why I’ve stopped going to church. For now, anyway. I just can’t take it anymore.

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Becky. I hope your husband is doing okay now.

  34. The Guy from Knoxville says

    First of all – my hat is off to the pastors and associates who do take time to make visits – it is time consuming and takes away from family time that is just as important to the ministers as it is the congregants and, btw, the congregants need to understand that aspect of things and not put overtly unreasonable demands on them – lighten up folks.

    On the flip side though is a disturbing trend that I see in the younger “hip/cool” pastors of the contemporary churches and the younger ones coming into established older traditional churches – they seem to be oblivious to the specific need for pastoral care compared to past generations and I’ve had them tell me and have heard told everything from don’t have the time, I don’t do that, I’m not going to do it, I don’t care etc. When my mother was sick in 2004 with liver failure that took her life in March that year we could not get the pastor of their church to come by and neither could we get any of the associates, for the most part, to come by and any call to them about it was met with hostility and reasons as to why they could not and would not etc. It seems the younger crop of pastors come with the purposed intention of not doing pastoral care – especially if it’s the hospital and, to some degree, the funeral home too.

    The pastors that still care anything about this aspect of things are, as many stated, the older ones and they are not able physically, in some cases, to carry out that part of ministry anymore. I know many younger pastors excell and are concerned with pastoral care but the trend away from it is definately there.

  35. Having been responsible for pastoral care in a nursing home I know well how demanding it can be but also how important it is for both the patients and their families, and sometimes even for the medical staff. These people, however, were all in one location. I would imagine having to visit people at various locations spread out over a large area would require a great deal more time than just the time spent with the person and his/her family.

    The churches I have been part of as well as others I am familiar with all have members spread out over a vast area. Some towns, cities, have many different hospitals. Just thinking about people who are sick in their homes, others in different hospitals and others in rehabs or nursing homes, paints a picture for me of a real good amount of travel time, let alone the traffic in some areas. Thinking of where I live presently, there are 3 different hospitals we could choose from. They all take between 30 to 45 minutes to get to, one way, when it’s good weather. There are a few different nursing homes and rehabs which would take 30 min. (for one) and between 45 – 75 min. ++ to the others. People from my area could go to any of these facilities. That would take up a great deal of travel time to visit parishioners spread out like this. If this were all someone did for a ministry, I could see them having to juggle their schedule to get to see everyone. But for one particular person/pastor with many different church responsibilities as well as possibly a spouse and children, to try to see everyone that is ill I would imagine could be difficult.

    This is one of various reasons the Catholic Church is still firm on not allowing priests to marry. They are suppose to be always available, reasonably, for the “flock” they shepherd.
    When my mother was home, dying of cancer, I called the church they had been part of since I was a child. It had been many years since they attended services there and I lived out of state so, the new Priest didn’t know my parents nor myself. When I called to ask if he would come to administer the Sacrament of the sick with no hesitation he said he’d come the next morning. My mother died around 5am that morning. I called the Priest shortly after and told him he didn’t need to come since she had passed away. He said he would come anyway and to my surprise about 30 minutes later he was there. I knew this was more as a benefit to myself and my dad. Since lay persons cannot administer the sacraments, a priest will always come providing he is notified. Lay members however, take on the task of the more frequent visits as well as bring Holy Communion to those who are unable to attend services.

    When my dad passed, I was a member of an Assembly of God church in a nearby town. The only time my dad went to church in the last 6 years of his life was when he came to visit me. Thus, it was natural for me to ask my pastor if he would preside at the funeral service knowing, given the distance, it may not be possible. He traveled 4 hours, one way, to do the service and another 4 to get home. All in the same day. That was beyond the call of duty in my book.

  36. As part of a home church fellowship with people (myself included) who serve in leadership roles but with no official paid pastor, I guess I view ministries like visitation a little differently. Whenever one of us is sick or has a sick family member or has lost a loved one, our general policy and practice is to tackle the situation as a body and spiritual family — and to shower that person or persons with love, prayer, support, and plenty of shoulders to cry on. When my father passed away a few years ago, I was made very aware that I had a second family and that this second family was in many ways more willing and ready to share my burdens and grief than my blood kin.
    With that said, a post like this one tends to convict me to examine myself — who have I visited or encouraged or helped or prayed for recently? — rather than looking with a critical eye at the pastoral performance of some other person.
    Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that there are particular individuals who are called and gifted by the Holy Spirit to be pastors of this flock we call the church. But if we as the church continue to insist that these people function not only as pastors, but also as preachers, teachers, evangelists, administrators, and program organizers — and, at the same time, requiring that they jump through all the educational and professional hoops necessary for ordained clergyship within the denomination — then we will continue to be disappointed in the level of pastoral care in the church.
    I know that’s how the system is set up in most denominations and that there is little to no chance of altering that reality in the near future. That system is just too deeply entrenched, and there are way too many people who would stand to lose by scrapping it and going back to the drawing board. But the brutal truth is that the system of the solo pastor/everything man doesn’t really work — not if you’re shooting for a healthy, every-member-functioning body of Christ. However, if you’re just looking to create captive Christian audiences, then, sure, that system works just fine.

  37. I know the post was prompted by people complaining that they didn’t get the pastoral visits they wanted, but what about people who don’t want the pastoral visits they get? My mother was ill for years, and the last thing she wanted was for someone who really wasn’t a friend to come in and use up her energy on a visit, especially if they propounded theology she was too weak to argue with. She did appreciate communion visits, because that was a ritual which required no effort to come up with conversation.

    Perhaps pastors would be more willing to make visits if they had a clearly understood ritual like communion to carry them through, and that would help ‘smooth over’ the situation if they were visiting parishioners with whom they were not simpatico.

    That leaves unaddressed the bigger problem of why, if we spend all this time in communities in which people supposedly love each other, so few of us *like* each other enough to want to visit one another, or to have anything to talk about when we do. This ‘Christian love’ is weak beer. I’d rather know an atheist who likes me than a christian who ‘ loves’ me.

    • I’d rather know an atheist who likes me than a christian who ‘ loves’ me.

      wow…..that’s sad…but quotable; sad to say that the great mass of humanity, christian and nonchristian, are looking for just this….and what are they finding ??

  38. Also – I may be jumped on for this, but what is this full-time preaching and teaching deal? In a small church, the pastor delivers what, two or three 30-minute sermons a week, and maybe a few hours of education? Plus, unless it’s his/her first time through the lectionary sequence, s/he has read the material before … I’m expected to deliver 15 hours of lectures a week, including some courses that have to essentially be redesigned every year.

    I’m not saying that being a pastor isn’t a full-time job plus, but it sure wouldn’t be if all you did was the preaching and teaching components of it. In my church at home, we had a pastor who was also a full-time microbiology teacher at the local college. He did the required ‘preaching and teaching’ in his spare time, with no complaints of being overworked!

  39. Earlier this year my mom was rushed to the hospital one night in severe abdominal pain. The next morning, she was rushed to another hospital an hour away from where she lies and goes to church, so that she could have emergency surgery performed. Her pastor drove that hour just to be with her before she went into surgery. He even called me to see if I was on my way to see her before she went in, because I was rushing from where I live three and a half hours away. My dad was with my mom, but he’s not a Christian and, frankly, he’s not that good in hospital situations. (Dad came for about an hour every day and then left. He wanted me to leave her alone in the hospital every night.)

    I just know that the day after her surgery, when she could finally talk, one of the things she couldn’t stop saying was how nice it was that the pastor drove all that way to see her. She made me call him the next day to thank him for visiting.

    I could never fault an overworked church staff or pastor for having to cut out some hospital visits for necessity’s sake (or if some situations are accidentally overlooked due to break downs in communication), and I would hope that the sick and their families could be understanding in those situations, but I never realized how important that ministry was until I saw it this year.

  40. I’m Catholic. The first thing we do when anyone in my family goes to the hospital is call the parish. Even at my parents’ “mega-parish,” I’ve always gotten a follow up call within hours to find out if they need to send a priest up for Anointing. Since we use the Catholic hospital, a pastoral care person often brings up Holy Communion. When family members have died, the priests have always been ready to assist, even in the middle of the night. You do have to make the contact with the parish and you may not get your favorite priest, but, thank God, we’ve never been ignored.

  41. The Guy from Knoxville says

    One additional note – I know in large mega-churches that a pastor or pastors can’t possibly get to every sick person in the congregation and especially so if you have a sudden rash of sickness. However, I tend to think that visits for terminal illness and when death occurs would be in order for pastors in the huge churches if at all possible but the rest can be handled by associates and deacons etc.

  42. Chaplain Mike,

    Thanks ever so much for this post. My situation seems to be from a unique perspective from other responses I’ve read, in that I am a bi-vocational pastor in the UMC. Our district is rural, and perhaps one-third of the charges in it are pastored by bi-vocational pastors or retired pastors.

    My charge consists of four congregations that total roughly 120 parishioners. I commute roughly 100 miles round-trip on Sundays for worship services. Due to the small membership and financial restrictions of this charge, an appointment of a full-time pastor is not a possibility for them.

    I am about to begin my sixth year as their pastor and have from the beginning felt it was my duty to visit those who are hospitalized or are homebound. Although I have little free time for social visitation, I continue to visit those who are hospitalized or homebound,and am continuously humbled by the love I receive from those I visit. I continue to remember a former pastor of mine who was so influential in my life and realize
    God was using this man to show me the attributes of a pastor. When I am tired or discouraged, I remember this man’s actions in response to his duty, and try to be faithful in mine.