In the Reformed tradition, pastors and elders typically are required to visit church members in their homes at least once per year. In larger churches, an elder assigned to care for a certain number of families often does the visits. Unfortunately, home visits have not become a universal practice for Presbyterian churches. Many Presbyterian pastors and elders make regular home visits; many do not.
Due to the relatively small sizes of the Presbyterian and Reformed churches of which I have been a member, the pastors usually make the visits themselves, often assisted by another pastor or elder. This personal act of being in the church members’ homes and caring for their spiritual needs builds much closeness between the consistory/session and the congregation. It is one thing to say hello in passing on a Sunday or to have a quick conversation after church. It is another thing entirely to have your pastor in your home, fellowshipping around a table, conversing about spiritual matters.
I learned of the concept of home visits soon after becoming Reformed. Before he came to our home, I presumed that my pastor cared for my wife and me and probably prayed for us. He even might have thought about our spiritual growth once or twice. After he visited me in my home, I had deep confidence that he cared for our souls and was very much concerned with our spiritual development. He takes his role as shepherd very seriously and knows that he is accountable before God for those under his care.
The churches that I had attended in the past could not have been more different. I had been a member of two Evangelical mega-churches, where the senior pastors had no idea who I was. How could they know my name when they had congregations of over 5,000 people? If I missed a Sunday, no one noticed. The members were supposed to receive their pastoral care in Sunday School, not from the senior pastor. However, my Sunday School class was over 250 people. My Sunday School pastor knew my name, but overseeing countless ministries left him so overworked that he did not notice when I moved away. It was not until I joined a new church that the leadership even knew that I was gone. My own ecclesiology was so lacking that I did not deem it necessary to inform the pastor of my move. Our relationship went about as deep as the relationship that I had with my local barista. I did not tell my barista that I was moving, why tell my pastor? I do not blame the pastors in these churches. Most of them are fine men attempting to bear the workload of three people. It is the corporate system of the mega-church that is flawed.
Mega-churches are not conducive to shepherding people. The pastors must juggle innumerable projects while caring for thousands of people, many of whom live far from the church. The congregations of these churches are always transient, with a huge percentage of turnover each year. Many people who attend these churches eventually leave the congregation and fall away from the faith altogether because they feel forgotten. Does anybody really care about me as long as there is someone else to fill the offering basket and occupy my seat the next week?
My pastor knows my name; he knows where I live; and he knows what I look like across a kitchen table. I know the same things about him. If you are a member of a church and are not being shepherded, respectfully broach the subject of regular pastoral visitation. As a child of God, you have a right to belong to a church whose the pastor will care for your soul. There is great comfort in this.