I am thankful for many things this week. Among them are those of you who are willing to ask your most honest questions and those who are so generous with your experiences and wisdom.
Questions can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
On to the question!
I have been ordained since 1989. Aside from 3 1/2 years spent as a full time mom, very part time pastor, I have been solo pastor of small membership churches (ranging from 45-65 average worship attendance). Not surprisingly, there are many senior adults in these congregations also with homebound and folks in nursing homes.
I don't have any office help except a volunteer who comes in on Fridays to run off the worship bulletin and fold them. Time management has never been my strong suit. Visitation has always been problematic for me. I enjoy visiting folk when I get there, but I find myself "trapped" in the office. Things have gotten worse over the past few years as my husband was experiencing a deteriorating emotional state and our home life descended into chaos. Now he is getting treatment for schizophrenia and active in AA and I feel the need to find a better way to organize and manage visitations.
My question is, how often do you think I should visit folk who are not completely homebound (they go out for dr. visits, hair appointments, maybe even out to eat) but no longer come to church? How about those in nursing homes or assisted living? What about those who attend worship but seem to be getting increasingly frail?
Currently I have about 15 folks either in skilled nursing, assisted living or mostly homebound.
Dear Visitation Pastor,
My heart goes out to you. You sound exhausted and this can't be helping your ministry or your life.
As hard as this might sound, you need to initiate a paradigm shift. Gone are the days when only the clergy visits the homebound or the hospital patients. Gone are the days when the only "minister" is the professional clergy person. It sounds like you are engaged in loving ministry, but you are a pastor in the 21st church and you have much more to do than a man (and it was always a man) who served a congregation as pastor in the 1950s.
Your congregation will balk because it involves change and people hate change. But tell them this:
(not necessarily in this order)
1- You are exhausted and cannot serve them at this pace much longer. You are not God.
2- It's Biblical: the priesthood of all believers, the call of all disciples (followers of Jesus), abundant life -- it's all in there.
3- Their church will die without this shift. Maybe it will take 50 years, but more likely, it will take about 10 years.
4- They are called to serve the living God as surely as you are. And those wonderful, moving moments by the bedside and holding hands in living rooms? They should be blessed with those too.
5- You only job according to Ephesians 4 (the role of pastors) is to equip THEM for ministry. (Yes, there are other tasks you do -- like preach -- because of your special training.)
Have a Come To Jesus Moment with your officers and say, "This will be happening. If you do not want to serve in this capacity, for any reason, that's fine." (I am happy to send you the letter I sent my own officers.)
Train the officers who are ready to follow God's calling. Teach them how to pray with people, how to visit someone in a nursing home. Remind them they they'll be doing this as ambassadors of Christ (not as mere friends) and so, they will be closing visits with prayer (just like the pastor).
They will say:
"What are we paying YOU for?" (you are being paid -- and probably not generously -- for being their pastor.) Again, see Ephesians 4 for the Biblical job description of a pastor.
You will say:
"We are the body of Christ together and I can't be all (or even most of) the body parts."
They will say:
"We don't have time to do this."
You will say:
"We make time for the priorities in our lives. If we are on fire to serve God, nothing will be able to keep us from doing this."
What we (the Matriarchs) say: "Bless you sister."
The answer to this question will vary from congregation to congregation. I'd say you need to get your lay leaders in on this discussion. What are the congregation's ministry priorities? If caring for elderly and homebound members is a high priority, they need to support that with lay volunteers or agree that you will spend your work time doing more of that than something else you could be doing. And if it is a high priority, help them define what "caring for" means. Does everyone get a once a month personal visit? How about once a quarter? Is a phone call okay? On the other hand, if the congregation really wants to reach out to the neighborhood, start new ministries, explore alternative worship styles, etc. it isn't reasonable to also expect that the pastor will be spending half her time visiting shut-ins and doing clerical stuff in the office. Small churches especially need to be clear about their vision and priorities since both staff and lay volunteer time is more limited.
I commend you for what all you have been through and that you have handled everything you have been through and continued to Pastor. Perhaps you have been doing time management your own way and not aware that is what it is.
There are several factors here to be dealt with; Do the church leaders have a clear understanding of the number of people that are homebound or slightly homebound who need visitation? Are they aware of how much more you are having to do in the "office" than before? Have you done a time usage study to be able to show them the facts? Have you asked for more volunteers to "help" either in the office or in the visitation. Our church developed a team to do some of the homebound visitation, which has taken some of the load off the Pastor. We just recently began to add volunteers to help with our office work as well. Many churches are unaware of how much time many things take along with visitation. Home bound visitation often takes more than a brief visit as many of our volunteers have learned and have testified to. I think it is helpful for church members to be aware and to be involved in these ministries of the church, and for the leaders to take ownership in these ministries.
Now having said that, you still have got to do your part as the Pastor. I'll be honest I struggle with the visitation of the homebound and slightly homebound too. But having said that I think this calls for the principle of "working smarter, and not harder." I think your time usage study will help you some with this. Perhaps make a list that prioritizes the homebound persons by need. The church I serve presently would like for me to go at least once a month to see the homebound. But with 15 or more homebound that is a lot of time spent driving, visiting, and recharging. I try to combine places and people with visits. Those who are across town. Those who are in the same facility or apartments. Those who need it more. The other thing about the members visiting is that they are also able to tell me who needs a visit or would like one or who is doing okay right now. And sometimes I will go with one of the members to visit as well. It takes the "heaviness" of the visit off of one person.