Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tips for Helping Lay People Make Effective Pastoral Care Visits

Many of us can recall a time when a minister visited us at a crucial point in our lives. Perhaps we were in the hospital, or perhaps had just lost a loved one, but in a moment of need, a pastor was there to comfort us and pray with us.

When a pastor makes such a visit in a time of need, it is called “pastoral care.” The main difference between a pastoral care visit and just a visit from a friend is that a pastoral care visit includes a spiritual aspect such a Bible reading or prayer. A mere “friendly” visit may involve discussion about family, or the weather, or who won the ball game. A pastoral care visit may discuss those kinds of things, but will also include scripture reading and prayer and/or other encouraging spiritual aspects.

Many pastors who are fully funded take time each day to make rounds to the hospital or to the homes of church members to provide pastoral care. Pastors who are bivocational, which means they work a job in addition to serving the church, have much less time to devote to pastoral care. This does not mean that bivocational pastors care less than fully funded pastors, it is simply a reality of the amount of time bivocational pastors have available due to their other jobs. When a church has a bivocational pastor, it is vital that lay people assume some of the responsibilities for pastoral care; otherwise this important ministry may be unintentionally neglected.

Lay people may feel intimidated about providing pastoral care to their fellow church members. But pastoral care is not as complicated as it may seem. Lay people can be trained to offer pastoral care effectively. In order to make effective pastoral care visits, lay people should follow these simple tips:

1. Focus on the person being visited, not our own stories or history of similar situations.

2. Keep the visit short. The visit should be a maximum of ten minutes unless it is a life threatening situation or the person clearly does not want you to leave.

3. Read a short scripture that is appropriate to the situation. Consider purchasing a Minister’s Manual or the Bible Promise Book that has appropriate scriptures organized in categories for easy use.

4. Ask if there is anything the person needs done. It is important to follow up on this need. If the person asks for something that is not feasible, it is better to tell them so and ask if there is anything else that can be done instead. Otherwise it might create a false sense of hope, which can cause greater problems later.

5. Close the visit with a short prayer for the person and the situation.

The above is an excerpt from the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett. The book contains six easy to use lessons to teach lay people to work as a team with their pastor. Though the book is designed specifically for bivocational pastors, many fully funded pastors are finding it equally helpful to training their lay people as well.


  1. Excellent, practical stuff Terry.

  2. I've loved your posts this past week.

  3. Where do you find the time to come up with all these ideas?

  4. I have trained lay people from 12 churches around Vermont in how to use this material. I have also shared it with denominational leaders in several states. So far, everyone says it works great. I pray it will be a blessing to many.

  5. I like this.

  6. Joan O Connor, Spartanburg, SCMarch 18, 2011 at 12:59 PM

    God opened my eyes and admonished me thru this message, Terry.

    You have addressed the most neglected area of our churches. By doing so you have raised the bar and each member and each pastor will either pass or fail.

    The battle is intense when we do home visitations. The battle will get more intense, but the victory will come because the Word of God is not neglected. As always our purpose of visitation is to get the whole family into church. It is soothing to realize that God’s Word can do all the convincing that we used to do carnally.

  7. Very Helpful Terry, Have never really considered reaching out to those who "are broken" pastoral care. But have found much peace myself by walking with those in need whether for a few moments or a long duration. Our community is filled with those who have known a great deal of loss.... have always felt that as a church we failed in offering both spiritual and practical support. And realize that it would be extremely difficult for a bi-vocational Pastor who doesn't reside in the community or know but a handful of its residents to accomplish. Would love more information on this work... guess I will have to buy the book :))