A new year has begun and your session has set itself the goal of visiting each member family during the year. Good! So when are you going to start? If you or your fellow elders are like me, you may find it easy to let the first months of the year slip by. Then summer comes, and of course you are super busy, and with families having vacation schedules, it's tough to make visits, so you wait until fall. Ah the fall, everyone's back in school... now if we can only work around those holidays. Honestly, did you get to the end of last year without making nearly the number of home visits you were supposed to make? While serving on my presbytery's Visitation Committee the number one lament that I have heard is that sessions don't think they are keeping up with home visits the way they ought to. I suspect that many of you might be in the same situation.
However, the intent of this article is not to make you feel guilty. Rather it is to encourage you to get on with the fruitful work of shepherding the flock entrusted to your care, especially in this particular aspect of that care: the Home Visit. You and your session may find several suggestions helpful toward a productive year calling on the families of your church. Perhaps at your next meeting you can discuss these suggestions to see how they fit into your session's best intentions for this ministry.
Organize the church so that each elder knows for sure on whom he is to call. Whether you call these "flocks" (as we do), "small groups," "parishes," or "districts" is beside the point. What is important is knowing which elder is responsible for each individual or family in the church. Publish this list so the congregation knows what to expect. Somewhere between 10-15 family units is about the maximum that a single elder can handle. That's about one visit per month, certainly an achievable goal if one doesn't procrastinate.
Docket time in each session meeting to discuss briefly the home visits made during the previous month. It would be a good idea to record in the minutes that "Reports on home visitation with the following families were received." Your clerk should not record discussion of these reports in the minutes. Each elder can record notes from the visits on a Sessional Calling Record form that can be kept in a private file in the pastor's study. Does your session take time to pray for the congregation at each session meeting? If so your visits will provide a source for informed prayers.
Does the session have a theme or scripture passage to use for the coming year? My session has never done this, but I have often thought that this could be unifying and helpful to both the elders and the congregation to have a particular Bible passage read in each home as the elders visit. In any event, each visit should begin with prayer, Bible reading, and a brief devotional. It is so important to set the home visitation ministry apart from the social calls that the pastor and elders may make at other times. Beginning with these three elements as soon as is politely possible sets the tone from the very beginning for serious ministry to the family. My point is that you, the ruling elder, need to prepare a passage ahead of time appropriate to the occasion. For example I have found John 15:1-17, Colossians 3:1-21, Hebrews 12:1-24, and 2 Peter 1: 2-12 excellent passages to read at home visits.
Create a home visit call sheet that helps you fulfill the goals of the home visit. The very first issue of Ordained Servant (Yes, that's Vol. 1, No.1) had a calling record sheet that you might like to copy. But what I have in mind is one that our session uses, one that spells out a number of questions centered around the threefold service for Christ that the OPC Form of Government speaks of in Chapter II 4. "The work of the church, in fellowship with and obedience to Christ, is divine worship, mutual edification, and gospel witness." It is our goal to find out how our families are growing in their life of worship, mutual edification, and witness for Christ. We want to be sure that they are receiving and giving in these areas. Are they being equipped for this manifold service for Christ, and are they in turn contributing to the life of the church according to the measure of grace given them in Christ? Our Sessional Calling Record contains questions that we hope will allow us to see the Lord's work in their lives and enable us to stimulate them in their sanctification, encouraging them to make use of the means of grace.
Is your own house in order? Your ability to deal with problems that are brought to your attention during home visitation will be greatly affected by your own godliness. How can you exhort a family to tithe if you don't? Will you have boldness or insight into the father leading family devotions if you fail to lead devotions in your own home? Can you encourage them to share gifts of, say hospitality, if you don't? This is to say that undershepherds must reflect the life-transforming glory of the Great Shepherd if they are to effectively guide the flock to the green pastures and quiet waters for his sake.
The author is a ruling elder in the Westminster Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Westminster, California. He is a member of the General Assembly's standing Committee on Christian Education and serves on the Ministerial Training Subcommittee. Reprinted from Ordained Servant 7.1, January 1998.