No matter how much a pastor or lay person prepares for a visit to a member of the congregation and no matter how experienced a pastor or lay person may be at making such visits, eventually a visit will go poorly. How the pastor or lay person responds to a poor visit will determine if the visit escalates into a disastrous situation or not. Visitation disasters take a tremendous amount of time and energy to repair relationally and spiritually.
In order to avoid visitation disasters, consider these practical ideas regarding pastoral visits:
1. Pray before the visit starts. Release the power of the Spirit over the situation.
2. Know the situation before you go. This will keep you from walking into a situation that is already tense without being prepared.
3. Phone in advance to state the purpose of the visit so there is no confusion.
4. Arrive on time. Being early or late creates tension.
5. Refuse to be drawn into an argument or gossip session. That is never helpful in a pastoral visit.
6. Take your Bible and other appropriate literature. If the visit begins to turn negative, open the Bible and read an appropriate passage as a way to stop the flow of negativity.
7. Take someone with you; it is rarely a good idea to visit alone. This is especially important if you are visiting the home of a person of the opposite sex or a minor.
8. Accept, but do not expect, hospitality, such as a cup of tea. Otherwise you might offend the person wanted had planned in advance to serve something to you.
9. Introduce yourself to those present whom you do not know so that you do not come off as rude or aloof.
10. Take care of your personal needs before the visit (bathroom, etc.).
11. Be non-judgmental in all situations, but do not imply affirmation of all things.
12. Know your limitations. Do not intentionally get into situations you are not equipped to handle. Capitalize on your strengths. This is why lay people should work as a team with the pastor and other church leaders. Each person is good at something, so focus on what you are good at.
13. Build visitation times into your regular schedule. Otherwise, more time may elapse than you realize and that creates hard feelings. A disciplined time for visitation leads to productivity and successful time management.
This material can be found in the book “Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church” and was adapted from a number of sources, including “Pastoral Visitation” by Nancy J. Gorsuch, Augsburg Fortress, Minneapolis, 1999, pages 70-73 and a website by Roger Loomis, http://ministrydirect.com/pastoral_care.