Visiting Proximity Makes the Difference

I took Bob Weathers and Frank Leach out for lunch the other day to personally thank them for their interim work at University UMC in Fort Worth.  They did a fantastic job.              In the course of the conversation, Bob (who can’t help himself) shared the story of a soldier who was being shipped overseas. It goes something like this:             A soldier received his orders that he was to serve overseas for a year. In parting, he hugged and kissed his girlfriend – quite a serious relationship – and promised to write every day. Each day while he was overseas, he wrote to her. He didn’t miss a day. This was a committed relationship. Finally the day arrived when he got his orders that he would be going home! He wrote his girlfriend with the good news. Her reply came. The note said that she was glad he was coming home; glad he was safe and would be arriving soon. But their relationship needed to end. She was going to marry the mailman!  It seems visiting proximity made all the difference. The historic examination for admission into full connection contains the phrase, “Will you visit from house to house?” (¶329, 1.d.17 and ¶336.15)  Frank and Bob emphasized the importance of visiting as a vital part of pastoral ministry.  They commented that they were concerned that too many clergy see themselves as CEOs rather than as pastors.  While I understand the need to move beyond a stultified Christendom version of the pastor just taking care of the already converted (i.e. we need to visit the non- or nominal Christian, those in prison or hungry or in some other situation of hunger and hurt), visiting the flock to which we are assigned is crucial.  The mailman got the bride! In many churches, especially those under 500 or so in membership, I cannot understand why a pastor hasn’t visited in every house at least once a year.  If I can do the whole conference (300+ churches plus foundations and other institutions) in eight months, a church membership of 500 (with about 60 members living outside the community – hence really just 440 members) with the average family size being 2 requires about 250 visits a year.  So, let’s be generous.  Take two years (even three if you like) to visit them all.  Use the visit as a time for not only pastoral care but also spiritual growth and development.  (How is it with your soul?) Add to pastoral visitation, trained lay visitation.  Combine it with a revived small group ministry (every pastor ought to be teaching a Bible study or spiritual formation group or theological development class! Hold to this focused center – Christ!). And low-&-behold!, we are on the road to recovering the class meeting.  The gain for the kingdom of God would be immense! Take it one step further; wed it to extravagant generosity, risk-taking mission & service, passionate worship and radical hospitality and presto-change-o – we might even become a movement for Christ again.