I don’t know about you, but I actually enjoy a surprise visit once in a while! Sure, like everyone, I stress out about the house being messy for an unexpected guest or not being prepared to show hospitality by offering them something to eat or drink. But if I can get over those things, it feels nice to know that someone was thinking about me enough to want to stop by and chat for a couple of minutes and to see how I am doing.
Did you know that the very idea of visiting your neighbor, stopping by their house to see how they’re doing, is something the Bible takes for granted that Christians will do for one another? Consider for example the Apostle Paul, who not only visited but even went house to house to teach new Christians about the faith (Acts 5:42; 20:20). Or how about the early Christians in Jerusalem, who visited with each other daily, enjoying fellowship in their homes (Acts 2:46)? In fact, the Bible even makes much of God coming to visit His people (Gen. 18:10; Luke 1:68).
Martin Luther gives many other examples in a letter he wrote for a group of church leaders that were to visit each of the congregations in Saxony: “Both the Old and the New Testaments give sufficient evidence of what a divinely wholesome thing it would be if pastors and Christian congregations might be visited by understanding and competent persons. For we read in Acts 9[:32] that St. Peter travelled about in the land of the Jews. And in Acts 15[:2] we are told that St. Paul together with Barnabas revisited all those places where they had preached. All his epistles reveal his concern for all the congregations and pastors. He writes letters, he sends his disciples, he goes himself. So the apostles, according to Acts 8[:14], when they heard how the Word had been received in Samaria, sent Peter and John there. Also we read in the Old Testament how Samuel travelled around, now to Ramah [1 Sam. 7:17], now to Nob [1 Sam. 21:1], now to Gilgal [1 Sam. 10:8; 11:14; 13:8; 15:12] and other places, not out of delight for taking a walk but out of love and a sense of duty in this ministry and because of the want and need of the people. Elijah and Elisha did the same, as we read in the books of Kings [1 Kgs. 17:9; 18:1; 19:21; 2 Kgs. 2:1; 2:18; 2:23; 4:8; 4:38]. More than any, Christ has done this kind of work on behalf of all, and on this account possessed no place on earth where he could lay His head of which he could call His own. This began even while he was in the womb, for he went with his mother over the hills to visit St. John [Luke 1:39]” (LW 40:269).
We visit the members of our congregation because we care about them and want to get to know them better and their needs, fears, joys, and struggles. We visit so that we might have the opportunity to encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ, to pray for them, and to share the promises of God with them. While the duty to visit is a responsibility of the office of pastor, it is also the responsibility of every member of congregation to care for one another.
One of the things that most impressed me about Zion when I first arrived here as pastor in 2015 was that Zion had a very active, intentional, and thorough program for visitation in the parish. And it was not only carried out by the pastors, but many lay members of the congregation gave of their time and energy to care for their fellow members by visiting each other.
Up until the pandemic began, we had a program of weekly visitation. We called it “Outreach”, but it was really primarily “In-reach.” We did not go house to house throughout town knocking on strangers’ doors, seeking an opportunity to witness to them. Rather, we focused on visiting Zion’s own members as well as visitors and prospective new members that had attended church recently. Many times, we were visiting folks that had not been in worship for a little, seeing what spiritual care needs they had that might be keeping them from church. Other times we would visit with members who had had a significant change in their life, whether a new joy, or a new sorrow, so that we could help share their joy or help bear their burden in Christ.
With the pandemic, we obviously did not think it would be appropriate for us to try to enter peoples’ homes and potentially spread the virus, and so sadly we have not been able to carry out this important ministry of Zion in the same way for the last year.
But thanks be to God, circumstances have changed! At this point, every adult who wants to receive a vaccine can do so. Most people in our community and our church have felt comfortable gathering. On top of that, we are entering the summer where it is easier to visit on the front porch if that is more comfortable.
But to begin visiting again, we need your help! We would like to match the number of visits we were doing before the pandemic. At that time, we were having a few people commit to setting aside time on an evening every single week. Many were finding that difficult to commit to or were understandably getting burnt out.
Going forward, we are going to have a planned time of outreach once per month, on the 2nd Sunday of the month, at 3:30pm. We will gather in the Noah’s Ark room, take about 15 minutes to assign the visits and pray, and then we will break up into teams of two and visit one or two families each. That’s it! The total commitment should only be about 1-1.5 hours a month, maximum. To keep having the same number of visits, we need and would like to have more members of Zion help with this ministry. And if you cannot make it every month, that’s okay too. Come when you can!
Maybe you think this is not something you can do. I assure you that it is much easier than it sounds. We always go out in groups of two, so you will not be alone. We also provide “on the job training.” When someone is new to outreach, we send them with a more experienced member so they can mostly just watch and listen the first few times and get the hang of how to do a visit. If you can ask “How are you doing?” you can visit! The purpose of the visit is not to pry into anyone’s personal life, or to make them feel bad if they have not been in church, but to express care and support. We all can do that!
I can also assure you that you will be blessed to be a part of this ministry. You will experience the joy of getting to know your brothers and sisters in Christ better, and in sharing in the comfort and joy of Christ with them. It might even become one of the highlights of your month!