One of the phrases that is only used in a church context is “pastoral visits”. In simple English, this is just a visit by a pastor. However, as a “visit” is something that can happen rather casually, it isn’t quite appropriate for visits by a pastor where the pastor would come over to check in and care for members of the church – so we use the phrase pastoral visits instead in the church context. Recently, among the younger generation of Korean pastors, there was some questions as to whether these visits served any useful purpose. With a renewed focus on training and teaching in the church, visiting members seemed inefficient, particularly as there was a preference for group meetings or within cell groups. Visits also became more difficult with the increased emphasis on privacy, and with the rise in women employment which led to people spending less time at home. It also takes a lot of effort and time as a massive cleaning exercise tends to take place in the event of an upcoming visit by a pastor.
I myself have had a lot of opportunities for pastoral visits as I started my ministry in Korea at a small church, and then moved onto a mid-sized church with about 400-500 people. Members of older churches tended to request and expect pastoral visits – upon my visit they would always extend a warm welcome to me, even though I was a then young pastor in his thirties, for the sole reason that I was a servant of God – almost as if Jesus himself had come by for a visit. Through these visits I’d be able to hear personal stories that would have been difficult to share in a wider group, and that fellowship would lead to a bond being built between pastors and other members of the congregation. These visits helped the church come together as a family, with the blood of Jesus acting as a bond.
Pastors from previous generations used to place a lot of emphasis on pastoral visits. The head pastor of the church would normally be busy with church admin or preparing sermons, so there would be a minister who would be in charge of pastoral visits during the week. Thanks to the comfort, consolation and prayer offered through those visits, the church would stand strongly together despite any inadequacies of the leadership of the church. Once a year, the head pastor would visit each and every member of the congregation. When that time came, the minister in charge would put together a schedule with 7-8 households a day, and the head pastor would come by with the relevant leaders of the church according to that schedule. During these visits, any prayer requests from the households would be recorded for follow-up prayer and the pastor and leaders would take some time to bond with the members of the congregation – and through such visits and bonding time, Korean churches came together as one closely knit family.
This week, I went to see a few families that are new to our church and also a couple that met and got married in our church. As Christians of our congregation live all around London, sometimes it can take up to two hours on car to visit a household. Even so, it is worth it as listening to all their life stories and recent difficulties, concerns and prayer requests is such a special bonding experience. My wife and I also share our experiences and difficulties with them – sometimes we even disagree with each other in front of the families, but as I believe sharing such moments of conflict can help bridge the gap between pastors and other members of the congregation, I try to share our stories and thoughts honestly and truthfully. My heart is always filled with joy and gratitude on the way back from a pastoral visit – which makes me really want to meet more of the Christians in our congregation.