If the Servant model addresses the potential problem of pride in a Christian leader by the call to humble service, then the Shepherd model addresses the potential problem of angry impatience by the call to loving pastoral care.
Throughout Scripture, sinners in general, and God’s people in particular, are described as sheep. And those God sends to lead them are equally frequently called shepherds (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). We will look first at the character of the sheep, and then at the character of the shepherd. We start with the sheep because the key to leading as a shepherd is in understanding the nature of sheep.
I pastored for 12 years in the Scottish Highlands. During that time, I was surrounded by sheep: Sheep on the roads, sheep on the mountains, sheep on the beeches, sheep in my yard. O, yes, and sometimes sheep in their fields. My study on the Isle of Lewis was right beside a field full of sheep. Sometimes at night I would look up from my computer and see many pairs of luminous green eyes staring at me through my window! I got to know sheep pretty well. What did I learn?
I. The Character of Sheep
Question: Why does the Bible call us sheep and what can we learn from that?
1. Sheep are foolish
I don’t know what sheep would score in an animal IQ, but I think they would be close to the bottom of the scale. They seem to only know how to do one thing well – eat grass (and produce more grass-eating sheep).
It’s possible to know little, yet not be foolish; but not if you are a sheep. They are so irrational. You watch them as they pause in front of a stream. They know they can’t jump it or swim it. So what do they do? They jump in anyway!
2. Sheep are slow to learn
Every shepherd will tell you countless stories about how sheep can be taught a very painful lesson, and yet fail to learn the painful lesson. A sheep may get caught in barbed wire trying to break through a fence. And the next day it will try it again, and again,…
3. Sheep are unattractive
Some animals may not be very bright, but make up for it with grace and elegance in their movement and actions. Sheep are so awkward, so lacking in agility and dignity. Although some shepherds may tell you differently, to most observers sheep are dirty, smelly and ugly.
4. Sheep are demanding
Ever watch a lamb suckle its mother? Almost as soon as it is born, it is violently sucking its mother’s udders. And that insatiable demand never leaves them. They demand grass, grass, and more grass; day after day, and night after night. (Do they ever sleep?) And when snow is on the ground, they demand food from the shepherd. Just listen to them bleat if their troughs are empty even for a short time. And just watch the stampede when the shepherd appears.
5. Sheep are stubborn
Have you ever tried to move a sheep? It’s like trying to move an elephant. Ever watched a shepherd try to maneuver a sheep into a fold or a dip-tank? It’s like trying to wrestle with a devil. Half a dozen sheep invaded my garden once. I thought it would be easy to hustle them out the wide gate again. But it was as if an electric shield (visible only to sheep) stretched across the gap. I could get them to go anywhere and everywhere, but through that gate.
6. Sheep are strong
I’ve watched the most macho of men beaten by sheep. You look at their skinny “arms” and “legs” and think “easy.” Next thing you are flat on your back or face down in the dirt. I’ve been flattened by running sheep. It was like getting run over by a tank.
7. Sheep are straying
Perhaps the main reason Scripture chooses sheep to characterize us more than any other animal is because of its well-deserved reputation for straying (Isa. 53:6) and getting lost (Lk. 15:3ff). So many times I was out in the middle of nowhere when I would come across a sheep – miles from anyone and anything – and totally unconcerned. I would look up on a cliff and there was a sheep out on a lethal ledge. Other times I would come across ditches and bogs with the decaying remains of a wandering sheep, and I’d think, “How did that get out here?”
8. Sheep are unpredictable
If you travel along the roads of the Scottish Highlands you will soon learn to expect the unexpected. You look ahead on a quiet piece of long straight road with no cars. You spy sheep in the distance on the side of the road. They watch you driving along towards them. Hundreds of yards pass. You are almost level. Well, they aren’t going to cross the road now, are they? Screeeeeech! Well, what do you know!
9. Sheep are copycats
OK, bit of a mix of metaphors here, but I think you get my point. When one sheep decides to start running, they all decide to start running. If you were able to ask them, “Why did you start running?” they would say, “Well, because he started running.” And when you got to the last sheep he would just say, “I dunno.”
10. Sheep are restless
It always puzzled me how little sheep slept. I would maybe be in my study at midnight, look out, and there they were still eating grass. And no matter what time I arose in the morning – 3am or 5am – they would still be eating grass.
Other times, there would be a beautiful summer evening when everything was still and quiet and you would come across a field full of sprinting sheep (usually due to the Scottish “midges” – look it up on Google).
I once heard that for sheep to lie down they need freedom from fear, freedom from friction with others, freedom from hunger, and freedom from pests and parasites. From what I’ve seen, that combination is very rare.
11. Sheep are dependent
Some animals can cope and thrive without any close supervision. Not sheep. They are very dependent on their shepherd. They cannot live without him (or her).
12. Sheep are the same everywhere
I’ve been in a number of different countries in my life and enjoyed the many cultural differences. But sheep are the one constant. The character of the American sheep is the same as the African sheep, which is the same as the Asian sheep, which is the same as…
Well, of course, this is not a zoology lecture, nor an agricultural seminar. The sheep metaphor reveals the nature of the sinner, even the saved sinner, and hence the difficulty of the task facing the shepherd.
And the greatest difficulty of all stems from the fact that the shepherd is also a sheep! It might be easy for pastors to read this post and say, “Hey that sounds like my congregation!” But it also sounds uncomfortably too much like me too! So how does a sheep-like-shepherd shepherd sheep?
II. The Character of the Shepherd
Question: What are the characteristics of a good shepherd?
1. The shepherd is patient with his sheep
The shepherds and crofters in my congregation would sometimes encourage me to get some sheep. Even my wife, who is from the Scottish Highlands urged me to do so. However, as a city-boy, I knew that I simply did not have the patience required.
In the Scottish Highlands there are many single track roads; they allow only one car at a time. Every hundred yards or so you can find little passing places where two cars can squeeze by. Many’s a time I ended up on one of these single track roads behind a bunch of sheep, slowly moseying along. Initially I would hoot my horn, rev my engine, shout out the window – all to no avail. I learned to simply wait until they decided to saunter off the road and back into their fields again. Nothing would rush them.
When you are about to blow a gasket with someone in your congregation, remind yourself, “They are only sheep…and so am I.” What’s the point of hooting your horn and revving up your engine. Be patient.
2. The shepherd knows his sheep
I have to be honest, despite years of looking at sheep, they still all look the same to me. Yet, I could walk through a field with a shepherd and he would know the names and even the characters of each one. He would know their ewe, their ram, and their lambs. He knew the scrapes they had been in and the number of times he had to rescue them.
While a spiritual shepherd should study and know the nature of sheep in general, he should study and know his own sheep in particular. The first task should be to get to know everyone’s names – from oldest to youngest – as quickly as possible. I will discuss some techniques for doing this in a later lecture. But, without coming across as a detective, you should also be growing in knowledge about each individual’s life and character. I used to keep a small notebook and pen with me – at the church door, visiting, and so on – so that I could jot down anything I was told about sick people, etc., so that I could follow up with that.
See Brian Croft’s two posts about how to ensure that you are regularly shepherding everyone in the church.[footnote]http://practicalshepherding.com/2014/01/26/how-can-a-pastor-be-certain-he-is-regularly-shepherding-everyone-in-his-church/ and http://practicalshepherding.com/2014/01/29/how-can-a-pastor-be-certain-he-is-regularly-shepherding-everyone-in-a-larger-church/[/footnote]
3. The shepherd values his sheep
I’ve often been amazed at the misty and dreamy expressions that come across shepherds’ faces as they talk about their sheep or point them out. They seem to say, “They may be only sheep, but they are my sheep.” They care for them and think about them constantly. One shepherd who moved to the city for a while told me that he once woke up in the night with a dream about one of his sheep. He phoned his mother to check up on it, and sure enough, the sheep was in need of medical attention. Explain that!
The spiritual shepherd should value each and every sheep as highly as possible – whatever their physical, spiritual or financial health! 99 may be doing well, but if one is missing, he will move heaven and earth to find it. When I first moved to the Scottish Highlands, in the course of pastoral visitation, I used to innocently ask, “So how many sheep do you have?” I could never figure out why the answers were so vague until my Scottish Highland wife told me, “David! That’s like asking how much money do you have in the bank!” I stopped asking. So why do we always ask one another, “How many are in your congregation?” Like the shepherd, we should value each sheep as of infinite worth. So whether we have 10 or 1000, the value is the same – infinite!
4. The shepherd loves his sheep
The shepherd does not just value his sheep as if they were units of economic production (in fact most Scottish shepherds I know made a financial loss on most of their sheep). He loves them; and not just as a collective, but as individuals. He does not just have loving feelings but takes loving action.
The spiritual shepherd will find it easy to love some of his sheep. But there are others… Pray over the particularly unloveable ones. Ask God to help you find something to love in them, or to help you love them even if there is nothing loveable about them – after all that’s what the Great and Good Shepherd does daily for you!
5. The shepherd observes his sheep
No matter what day I looked out at the sheep they all looked the same and all did the same. However a shepherd can detect the smallest difference. He can sense problems long before they fully develop. He sees a sheep in an unusual spot in the field. He sees a change in its posture or eating habits. And he takes action.
A spiritual shepherd will develop these powers of acute and careful observation as well. He will develop an instinct for problems in his sheep’s lives. He senses a different expression on the face, a different posture in worship, a change in vocal tone, and he may not be able to put his finger upon it, but he senses something is wrong. And often a few wise questions reveal well-founded fears.
6. The shepherd feeds his sheep
Hungry sheep are unhappy sheep…and noisy sheep. The shepherd knows the best fields to take his sheep at different times of the year. He knows when they need particular kinds of grass. He knows when they need water to refresh and reinvigorate his flock.
The Apostle Peter had a passion for feeding the flock of God, and we know where he got that from (John 21:15-22; 1 Pet. 5:2). When I started out in the ministry, one senior minister told me, “If you keep their bellies full, you won’t hear any bleating.” It takes a wise shepherd to know what kind and amounts of food each sheep needs. May God help us to feed the right kinds of food, in the right amounts, at the right times. And may he help us not to starve or over-feed our sheep, nor give them indigestion!
7. The shepherd leads his sheep
In Western cultures, the shepherd follows behind the sheep, and directs the sheep with dogs. But in the East it was the custom for shepherds to go before the sheep, to break up the way, to clear paths of danger, to take the safest path. He leads them beside the still waters, in straight paths, through the darkest valley.
Too many Western pastors have embraced the Western model of Shepherding when it comes to leadership. They follow the sheep rather than lead them. The spiritual shepherd should be out in front of his sheep in his theological knowledge, in his spiritual experience, in his awareness of danger, in his plotting of the course, etc.
8. The shepherd speaks well of his sheep
I eventually learned not to criticize or mock sheep, especially if they belonged to that shepherd; it was a rather sensitive topic. And I also learned to listen to wonderful long descriptions about individual sheep, as the shepherd brought out the strengths of each member of his flock.
We should make it a policy to speak well of our flock as a whole and of its individual members. If someone criticizes one of our sheep, we leap to his/her defence and brings out the good. When we travel to other places and are asked about our sheep, we reply with words of affection and appreciation. And not just because words of criticism will almost always get back to the sheep.
9. The shepherd pursues his sheep
When a sheep is missing or straying, the shepherd does not say, “O well, I’ve got 99 left.” No, he seeks until he finds it (Lk. 15:3ff). No matter how far away, no matter how foolish the sheep has been, no matter how frequent his straying, the shepherd goes after it.
When a person is missing from public worship, the spiritual shepherd enquires after him or her. When a person is missing a few weeks in a row, we are getting ready to leave the 99 and go after the straying soul. When we hear that a member has been involved in a heated public argument, or has started dating a non-Christian, or has been saying inappropriate things on Facebook, etc, his cloak is on, his staff is on his hand, and he’s on his way to recover the stray. My brother-in-law once so spent himself hunting for three lost sheep that he just about died with exhaustion! He would not give up, and neither should the spiritual shepherd.
10. The shepherd rests his sheep
In Scotland, just before the winter started, the shepherds would go out into the moors and mountains to gather their flocks that had been enjoying the summer pastures. Sometimes it would take a few days to drive them to their winter shelter. But he never chased them or pushed them beyond their limits. He knew when they needed a rest and a breather.
There are times in congregational or family life when we must pressure the sheep to move on. Maybe, there is a building program to be undertaken, or an outreach campaign that needs all hands on deck, or a change in direction that’s needed. However, the wise shepherd knows when he has driven the sheep far enough and long enough. He knows there are seasons of rest and refreshment needed as well.
11. The shepherd perseveres with his sheep
There are days when the shepherd feels exhausted, discouraged, frustrated and unappreciated. He is tempted to give up. “Why do I get up every day and give myself to such ungrateful creatures?” However, the good shepherd patiently perseveres.
This is not to say that the spiritual shepherd never leaves a flock and moves on to take care of another. It is simply to say that he does not do so when the first problems appear. And when he does sense the Great Shepherd’s call to move on, he may leave the sheep, but the sheep never leave his heart.
O that the Lord would make us and give us such shepherds today, according to His promise: “Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding” (Jer. 3:15).
12. The shepherd knows he is a sheep
I suppose that this is where the metaphor finally breaks down. The ordinary shepherd will never be a sheep.
However the spiritual shepherd is continually remembering that he too is a sheep, and that he too needs shepherding – by the Lord, but also by fellow shepherds.[footnote]George Bush, Moses on Management (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999), 173.[/footnote]
III. Pastoral Visitation
Before concluding, I’d like to give you an example of the kind of pastoral visitation I practiced in full-time ministry in Scotland. I’d like to give you a normal pastoral week followed by a normal pastoral visitation. If you are not convinced of the need for this, read Joey Pipa’s article, The Lost Art of Pastoral Visitation.[footnote]Joey Pipa, “The Lost Art of Pastoral Visitation,” reformation21.org, accessed 5.28.14, http://www.reformation21.org/articles/the-lost-work-of-pastoral-visitation.php[/footnote]
A. A Normal Pastoral Week
Obviously “normal” can quickly become abnormal if you have a death in your congregation. And what was “normal” for me in my situation may not suit you in your situation. In my last congregation I had about 130 homes (some families, some couples, some individuals) to visit. About 75% of them were located in the small town of Stornoway, where I also lived, with the rest scattered in very rural communities north, south, east and west of the town. The furthest home was about an hour away.
While the congregation had a good mix of ages, there were probably more elderly people than a “normal” city congregation due to many island folks being drawn back there for retirement, and many students having to leave to study on the mainland.
Types of Visits
1. My target was to visit every home in the congregation at least once a year. Allowing for vacations, special church meetings, funerals, etc., I reckoned I would have about 40 “normal” weeks in the year, which meant at least three pastoral visits a week.
2. In addition to annual pastoral visits to every home in the congregation, there were five other types of visit.
a. The sick in hospital. I tried to visit both before and after operations, as well as a visit when the person returned home. I usually spent no more than 20 minutes with a sick person.
b. The elderly in their own homes. I had a number of seniors who were not well enough to come out to church, but were still living in their own homes. I would try to visit them once a quarter (which was never enough!). Visiting time between 30-60 minutes.
c. The elderly in nursing homes. I would also try to visit them every quarter. However, as they were surrounded by other people and tended to see more visitors, I would tend to visit the elderly in their own homes more than this group. Visiting time 30-45 minutes.
d. The emergencies. “Stuff happens,” and so maybe once or twice a month I would have to make unplanned visits to homes with problems or special needs. Visiting time up to 2 hours.
e. Non-church-goers. In the course of living in a small town and visiting other homes, I would often come across people who were not going to church anywhere, and so I would ask them if they wanted a pastoral visit. Maybe 25-40% said yes. Sometimes that resulted in people coming to church. Usually not. Visiting time about 1 hour.
So, adding it all up, I probably did about 10-12 visits a week.
3. Every Saturday I would decide which homes to visit the following week, based on need and geographical proximity. I tried to visit homes that were close together to minimize driving time between visits. I usually arranged the day and time of the visit at church on the Sunday.
4. If a person or couple could be visited in the afternoon, that’s when I would visit. That left my evening visiting times for those who were working through the day.
5. I usually set apart Wednesday to do most of my visits. Why Wednesday? Let me set out my week to explain.
Monday. On Monday, after Sunday’s exertions, I was good for nothing. From the beginning of my ministry my wife “forced” me to take Mondays off with her and our family (who are home-schooled). I’m glad she did, because the Pastor needs a “sabbath” too. I think there were only two times in my ministry when I decided to work on Mondays, and by the end of the week I regretted it, as I ground to an inefficient halt (but that’s another blog post).
Tuesday. Fully rested, on Tuesday I was raring to go again. However, as visiting exhausts me, and I did not want to run down my gas before the week even started, I usually did not visit on a Tuesday. Instead I worked on reading, writing, and lecture projects on Tuesday morning, catching up on administration and phone calls in the afternoon. Evening spent with my wife and family.
Wednesday. After a few hours in the study, I would usually leave the house about 11am to begin my visiting. I would begin with visits to the elderly at home and in nursing homes. After lunch on the go, I would then do some hospital visits (not in the morning because nurses and doctors are usually busy with patients then). By mid-afternoon I was on to my annual pastoral visits of those who were at home in the afternoon. After returning home for a quick evening meal, I would then be out again for the first of two evening visits (usually two of the annual pastoral visits). I would schedule these for 7 pm and 8:30 pm. Initially I tried to squeeze three in, but with traveling time between visits, that meant I was sometimes in a home for less than an hour. I found 90 minute visits to be the best length of time. Any longer and conversation would become more social than pastoral. Obviously if any major issue came up, then I would promise to return. Most of my congregation knew that I was on a tight visiting schedule and so they did not really expect visits to last the whole evening. I also found that if people knew you had another visit planned, it was easier to end the visit on time. I usually returned home before 10.30pm.
Thursday. I’ve worked on building sites in Eastern Europe in sub-zero temperatures, and yet I found pastoral visitation far more draining! So on Thursday I would usually take an extra hour or so in bed, before getting into the study to prepare my message for the midweek prayer meeting and Bible Study. That would take me 4-5 hours. Late afternoon I would catch up on administration, and maybe begin “looking for a text” for my two Sunday sermons. Evening at the midweek meeting, often followed by a deacons or elders meeting, or maybe a counseling visit.
Friday. Day in the study preparing for Sunday sermons. Often I would have to go out late Friday afternoon to visit someone who had taken ill since Wednesday. As I had not spent an evening with my wife since Tuesday, and as Saturday and Sunday evenings were taken up with preparation and preaching, I would usually reserve Friday evening for her and my family.
Saturday. Preparing for Sunday sermons. I usually tried to be finished sermon prep by late Saturday afternoon so that I could go for a long walk on the beach to loosen up study-tightened body, listen to some sermons from Sermon Audio on the texts I was going to preach on, read a bit, go over my sermon, etc. I would never visit on a Saturday unless it was a real emergency.
Sunday. VERY BUSY. No visits unless ultra-emergency. All energies devoted to preaching the Word.
1. Again, please do not take me as a norm. As I look back, I think I should have visited more. On the other hand, I do feel my preaching and family life would have suffered if I had. You need to find the right balance for you and your situation.
2. I had a great team of 10 elders and 12 deacons who also visited their designated areas regularly. That took a lot of pressure off me.
3. Start as you wish to continue. Don’t start with three hour visits or people will be disappointed if you only visit for two hours the next time. Let your congregation know that they can expect at least one visit a year. My first congregation was much smaller (about 30 homes) and I tried to visit them twice a year.
4. Pray before you go, as you go, and after you go. Pray especially that the Lord would give you His loving shepherd’s heart. We do not want to be doing pastoral visits in a legalistic, Mormon-like spirit.
5. Get organized. Make sure that you keep a record of your visits so that you don’t miss anyone, and so that you can defend yourself if a forgetful elderly person says to the elders “He never visits me!” (it will happen). Also, although I started each year with the mountain of 130 homes to visit, if I was “ticking off” 3+ homes a week, I could relax knowing that I would get to the top of the hill eventually.
6. Ask parents to make sure that their children will be present for the visit.
7. A death in the congregation will throw your schedule out for week or more (I’ll return to that another time).
8. Remember your wife and family. The ministry can devour all your time…and your family. If you let it.
B. A Normal Pastoral Visit
So, if that’s a normal week of pastoring, what does a pastoral visit normally look like? With the usual caveat that what’s “normal” for me may not be “normal” for you, here’s my answer.
1. Prepare with prayer
First, I prepare for visitation with prayer. I take a few minutes or so to pray for the family I am about to visit. During that time I make sure I know the names of both the adults and the children, I remind myself of what each is doing in their lives, and I make a mental note of any special needs or concerns that we had previously talked about.
2. Family conversation
Second, for the first 15 minutes or so of the visit, I try to chat to the family about what’s going on in their lives: how’s the job, the kids, school, etc. If there was some important local or national issue we might talk about that as well. Obviously, this sometimes stretches quite a bit beyond 15 minutes. And sometimes it is difficult to change the topic to something more “spiritual.” However, I like to “break the ice” in this way.
I know some pastors disagree with this kind of approach, preferring to get straight to the “spiritual” by starting with Bible reading and prayer. In some of the Dutch Reformed churches, the people have been trained to expect that from their pastors, and that’s great. However, probably for most of us, getting people to talk about their souls is not an easy matter, and it is best to “warm” the conversation up a bit first.
I don’t think this is pragmatic or manipulative. As a pastor, I am interested in the spiritual welfare of my flock above everything else; but I am also interested in every area of their lives. I enjoy hearing about their vacations, their jobs, their schools, their friends, etc. I enjoy seeing and savoring the different personalities and characters. Often, issues arise in these conversations which we could never have predicted, taking us into the Scriptures in a very natural way (I’m always looking for opportunities to relate God’s Word to the person’s world). Usually it just helps everyone to relax a bit and makes it easier to move into more directly “spiritual” issues. I agree with the old saying, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
Sometimes I find it helpful to share a bit from my own life and family. I try to show that I have a normal family life with all its joys, worries, and sorrows. Obviously you have to be careful here. You don’t want to “let it all hang out,” and you don’t want to spend too much time talking about yourself. However, some people find it easier to open up if the pastor himself is prepared to do so.
3. Spiritual Conversation
Third, the main aim of a pastoral visit is to have a conversation about spiritual matters. Sometimes that’s very easy, as mature Christians especially will be used to pastoral visits and will probably have some spiritual questions to ask, or some spiritual topics they want to talk about. But, for the sake of this post, let’s assume that you are visiting people who are not used to spiritual conversation. How do you guide the conversation to produce a profitable discussion? Until now, I’ve never sat down and thought about what questions I ask people.
But I’ve tried below to list some questions that have been helpful. It’s important to ask these questions in a friendly and natural way, rather than in an accusatory or “clipboard” way. Sometimes I find it easier to direct some of these questions to the children initially, as they often talk much more freely about spiritual matters.
- Is there anything you would like me to pray for?
- What have you been reading in your Bible? Anything that’s helped you or puzzled you?
- What do you find difficult about reading the Bible?
- What do you feel burdened about in prayer?
- Is there anything you would like to hear a sermon on? Any verses you would like explained?
- Are there any sermons that you’ve found helpful… confusing… challenging?
- What did you think about the sermon on…?
- Would you say you are going forward spiritually, or backwards?
- Are you reading any good Christian books? Is there anything you want to share from it?
- Have you found any verses that are helping you to live life and prepare for eternity?
- What gifts do you think the Lord has given you? Do you feel the church is making most use of your gifts?
- How would you describe yourself: Unsaved, saved and sure of it, or not sure?
- Do you think much about death and life after death? Do you feel prepared for that? How are you preparing?
- What is your hope of heaven? What reason will you give for being admitted there?
- What do you think of Jesus Christ?
- What would you most like to change in your life?
- What is your greatest fear?
- Are you facing any difficult challenges?
- Is there any one thing that stops you from following Christ?
- Children, what have you been learning in Sunday School?
- Do you have any questions for me?
Maybe only one question will be required to start a profitable conversation. The ultimate aim is to find out where people are spiritually, and how you can help them either to be saved, to be sanctified, or to be of more service to the church. See Dr. Joey Pipa’s list of questions here.[footnote]Joey Pipa, “Pastoral Visitation: The God Given Responsibility,” reformation21.org, accessed 5.28.14, http://www.reformation21.org/articles/pastoral-visitation-the-godgiven-responsibility-to-shepherd.php[/footnote]
4. Finish the visit
Fourth, finishing the visit can sometimes be difficult, especially with older and lonely people who have lots of time on their hands. You need to keep good track of the time (with unnoticed glances at a watch or clock), especially if you have another visit arranged. I usually let people know when I arrive that I have to be somewhere else at a certain time. That helps to focus the visit a bit, and also avoids people thinking you are bored with them, when you eventually have to draw the visit to a close. You can always arrange to return, if necessary.
And even if you don’t have anywhere else to go, don’t overstay your welcome. If you start to detect cues that it’s time for you to go (people obviously looking at watches, some members of the family disappearing, longer silences, etc), then go!
But not without prayer and reading of the Bible.
During the course of the conversation you should be making mental notes of matters for prayer. And in the concluding prayer, try to gather up these various pieces of information and pray about each of them – even trivial matters raised by young children. Also, try to pick a relevant chapter of Scripture to read, a chapter that speaks to their needs. Try to show how prayer and Bible reading should impact ordinary life. Maybe ask the children questions about the passage?
5. Follow up the visit prayerfully and practically
Fifth, pray about the visit in the car on the way home or when you get home. Maybe take notes about anything you should follow up on with a note in your diary to phone again in a few weeks. Also, maybe think about how a sermon might be able to help that family.
6. Return to the Great Shepherd
Finally, I don’t know any pastor who thinks he’s a great pastor. Most of us are very well aware of our shortcomings, our failings, and especially our fear of man which shuts our mouths. So, end every pastoral visit by returning to the Great Shepherd of the sheep to seek His free and full forgiveness.
Shepherding the church of God is an awesome task. As Joel Beeke points out:[footnote]Joel R. Beeke, Overcoming the World, (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2005), 164.[/footnote]
- We need a shepherd’s heart that beats with unconditional love toward the flock of God.
- We need a shepherd’s hand to guide God’s sheep in paths of righteousness and to steer them away from sin.
- We need a shepherd’s eye to keep our sheep from predators and to detect their backslidings.
- We need a shepherd’s ear to hear their cries of distress.
- We need a shepherd’s knowledge to know their diseases, joys, sorrows, strengths, and weaknesses.
- We need a shepherd’s skill to lead them to pastures that meet their needs and to give them the right medicine for their ailments.
- We need a shepherd’s faithfulness to stay with them in time of need.
- We need a shepherd’s strength to use the rod of God’s Word to beat them back to the right paths, and to use the staff to lift them up in difficulty.
- We have none of these qualities in our own strength; for every one of them, we must point to the Good, Great, and Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ.