Posted 21 Nov 2013
We had our last Alpha course meeting last night. This is the first time we have run Alpha at Brixworth Christian Fellowship, & it appears to have been successful. Last night’s session was about church: what it is, what it is not & the benefits of attending. During the discussion after Nicky Gumbel’s DVD presentation one of the participants made a very interesting observation. She said that years ago vicars & pastors used to visit members of their congregations regularly, to see who they were doing, to offer prayer & support. Then this lady observed that this seems to go on less & less now.
I’ve been thinking about that today: the apparent decline in pastoral visitation. It may be that some church leaders still regularly visit their congregations, to “touch base” with them & shepherd them. But it seems to me that many pastors don’t seem to have time for this activity today. They are probably busy with sermon preparation, being on various committee’s & serving in a whole variety of very valuable ways…
… One of THE most important ways to really show that you care & love people is to make the time to go round to their house & be with them. “Love” is actually spelled T-I-M-E. The offer of irreplaceable life-time to someone in need does not go unnoticed. Nor does the LACK of that offer, if you think about it.
One of the terrible symptoms of today’s world & western society is busyness. We all complain about not having sufficient time to do the things we want to do. The church (by that I mean the people who ARE the church, not the building) also suffers from overload in this way. Our vicars, pastors & pastoral care teams also suffer from overload & terribly busy schedules. So visiting people may seem rather a waste of time, especially when we are so apparently accountable for the time we do spend on our jobs…
… but …
… have we “forgotten” the intangible, hard-to-define benefits to other people of offering our time to them, which is really offering our love to them? Have our vicars, pastors, etc actually become so busy (with undoubtedly good works) that they are now TOO BUSY to go visiting? Add to that the seemingly incalculable but hard-to-see-&-define benefits of regular pastoral visitation, & you can see why it is difficult to justify pastoral visitation; why it is apparently in decline – to the impoverishment of us all.
I’m not “knocking” the great work our church leaders do. There’s is a terribly demanding job – I couldn’t do it, that’s for sure! But I think the benefits of regular pastoral visitation is being grossly overlooked by our “professional” Christian leaders.
Benefits of visiting the flock.
In the past, vicars went to meet their congregations regularly, hence the “more tea, Vicar?” joke! Is it just “wasting time” on drinking endless cups of tea… or is there something far more valuable deep within that seemingly pointless action? Is the REAL BENEFIT of visiting someone rather hidden, rather less-than-obvious, rather hard to define… & so rather easy to overlook, dismiss & avoid in this age of “every second counts”?
In the past the simple reality was that vicars MADE TIME to visit. In this way (as well as in sermons at church) they actually shepherded their flocks – leading them to “good pastures”, providing insights & opinions, support & a “shoulder to cry on” when necessary. It is probably very difficult to “put your finger” on the exact usefulness of a visit. Rather hard to clearly define SMART goals, as our modern business guru’s would insist we have to do in order to justify our time usage! It could be seen as a waste of time, or else as “simply” a visit, with no real benefit to either party…
…I rather think that there are less-than-obvious benefits (to both the visitee & visitor) that we are too busy to think about or acknowledge. There are probably a whole host of “hidden”, subtle, mysterious benefits both to the person being visited AND to the vicar visiting, if we care to think about it. In fact, there are probably benefits to the wider church congregation &, indeed, to the whole community. Perhaps there is a positive, regulating influence in a vicars visit which we automatically loose by not visiting at all, or else rather infrequently.
Perhaps there is a sense of belonging & community spirit & cohesion which is fostered & enlarged by such visitation? Then there is the sense of friendship, camaraderie & belonging which is fostered & nurtured by visitation. The vicar can leave a home knowing he has made a real, vital difference to a needy person, which helps him/her to feel useful, integral & valued.
When you stop to think about it, I believe there are many benefits to pastoral visitation which we have lost by not involving ourselves in this simple activity.
Perhaps our forefather’s were on to something… & something that we have lost: the art of simply “being there” for others. LOVE is spelt T-I-M-E, after all.
Having something amazing to show a needy world.
I think we have by & large lost that amazing pastoral support due to today’s ultra busy schedules. And the terrible truth of that is that we have thereby lost a AMAZING OPPORTUNITY TO SHOW LOVE IN ACTION. I fear people outside the church are looking in & seeing very littler difference between their lives & our (Christian) lives, even though we are meant to be showing a better way. One of the spectacularly “different” & BETTER WAYS we (the Christian church) CAN be different, is in our response to people’s suffering. Not only the “big” sufferings of bereavement or redundancy, but the “smaller” sufferings of simply living life in the 21st century. Similarly, if pastoral visitation where to be re-kindled, perhaps people outside the church would look in, see a very real, very different & VERY ATTRACTIVE church-based community, & that in itself would be the “difference” we are trying to show them: caring & love-in-action, which is our reflection of Jesus’ love for us.
If our vicars, pastors & leaders could re-find the benefits of the pastoral visit perhaps we really would have SOMETHING AMAZING to show this needy world once more.
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