Is pastoral visitation obsolete? Is it a relic of a day when people were at home more and our grandmothers were pleased to serve the minister a cup of tea in the parlor? Today’s pastors may be unsure of the purpose of the pastoral call, and those they call upon may be even more unsure.

Yet there is still a widespread feeling that calling is important. The Bible is a reaching-out book, and calling is consistent with this emphasis. Jesus sent out the twelve disciples, he sent out the seventy-two, and he called upon his followers to go and to make disciples. He himself visited in the homes of Martha, Zacchaeus, Peter, and others. Paul traveled for the Gospel, characteristically writing the Romans, “I have been longing for many years to visit you.”

The main difficulty with calling today is not with the theoretical side (should it be done?) but with the practical side (how should it be done?).

The physician once spent most of his time making house calls; now he rarely makes house calls but sees patients in his office. The pastor’s work has similarly changed. Often he counsels people in his study. Many conversations that might previously have taken place during a pastoral call now occur in the study. And no longer is the pastor the only counselor available; the troubled person can now choose from a wide array of counseling services. Also, visits to the sick and dying are now much more likely to take place in hospitals than in homes.

There has also been a change in visiting the needy. A new professional is at work here: the social worker. The neighbors who once called the pastor to report someone in need may now call the welfare office. The burden of the poor has shifted from the church to the state.

Once the pastor was a kind of supervising ...

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