Let's Talk About Visitation
The suggestion that we "talk about visitation" does not involve itself with a particular method, such as group, zoned or whatever. It is the individual obligation to "save himself and then them that hear thee" (1 Tim. 4:16), to which we direct your attention. Whatever the reasons be, there are too few doing this type of work. It does not take much of a Christian (i.e., a proficient person) to do this work, but it does take all that a person is. As we look at the scarcity of laborers in this field we are confronted with the reality of those who live with a failure to learn and are, therefore, failures in the practice of pure religion. Christianity is a learning and growing process (2 Pet. 1:5). The art of visitation can and must be learned. The only way to learn it is to get out and do it.
Importance of Visitation
One cannot cross over Jordan into the eternal bliss without "pure and undefiled religion" (Jas. 1:27). Visitation is part of that practice. Whether it is an unfaithful member, a weak member, a prospect, or whatever in need of some physical or spiritual need, visiting is essential. The word "visit" in the text of James 1:27 shows clearly the individual obligation, the fact that it cannot be done by proxy. Visit has a purpose. The lexicons tell us that the word means "to look up, care for" and "to look out certain men for a purpose." In other words, to "visit" with a view to helping, whatever the need be. The tragedy here is that so few have ambition for this type of thing. Many of those who have a desire lack ability. They have tried and failed (so they think); they give up, and we have a stalemate. The task goes unfulfilled. That which we do not possess we underrate and continue to excuse ourselves with "I can't do it." Talk of visitation falls on deaf ears.
Unless we believe in the "pastor system" (where the preacher is forced to do many unrelated tasks to his function of "preaching the Word" and by which control usually exists), then we have to admit that all of us are ministers (Eph. 6:21; Col. 4:7). Even our speech is to minister grace (Eph. 4:29). Take the time right now to read such passages as 1 Pet. 4:8-11, observing the importance of "minister the same one to another." Listen, dear reader, "you gave me no drink" (Matt. 25:42) or "you never mentioned him to me" (Ezek. 33:7-16) are charges that will be made against us in the day of judgment (2 Cor. 5:10-11). At the risk of being redundant let me say again, to practice pure religion is to minister. This is one area where service has priority. While there is joy in this type of work, personal glory or aggrandizement takes a back seat. Here you can really be great by serving (Matt. 23:12). Your greatness will be seen in the number of people you serve. Your roots of true happiness will run deep. Yes, happiness is home-brewed.
Appeal is made to the preachers, elders, deacons, Bible class teachers and all others interested in promoting this work. You must stimulate people to work the work of God. Begging is frustrating and will not get the job done. Brethren get off your couches of ease and stimulate yourselves by motivating others (Rom. 2:21). You don't have to worry about competition in the "advisory capacity" because you simply do not see many consultants. In other areas some serve God only as consultants, but here they do not even serve lad, is it not? I have learned too that it is not always the talented person who serves best, but the consecrated one. Give me a Dorcas with a needle or a Priscilla and Aquila with tent tools who will give one night a week extra service, and with them I'll demonstrate what it really means to save "them that hear thee."
The Christian's time is valuable and God expects him to use it wisely (Eph. 5:16). Every hour we waste in unproductive visitation, or in no visitation at all might be the cause of a person's being left out of the kingdom of God, a depressed person finding no relief when all that is needed is someone to talk to (Gal. 6:2), a sick person in a hospital without comforting prayer or the elimination of worry about our kids who are away at college.
There are three areas where a great deal of visitation is required: Hospitals and Shut-ins, Edification and Evangelism. To some degree all three overlap. Some of my conversions have come from teaching after visiting a person in the hospital or in talking to saints who have fallen away. Let's look at the three areas separately:
(1) Visiting In The Hospital. This is a must for Christians, not just the preacher or elders. People are in the hospital because in one form or another they are sick. We are hot doctors and nurses, but we are Christians and "the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much" (Jas. 5:16, NASV). We are to support, encourage and strength those who are afflicted. Always be positive. Tell the patient or shut-in positive things, things that are good about the church and the community. Don't complain to them and be patient when they complain to you. Don't talk about sickness in your family, or your dad's heart attack. Center your attention on the needs of the one you are visiting. One other very important thing: Do no wear out your welcome. Remember, others are coming and going too. Ten or fifteen minutes is long enough. Be cheerful and don't forget a prayer before you leave. The reading of a Scripture like Romans 8:31-39 would be good.
As for the shut-ins, they are usually those who have helped in the building of the church building and have done much to build its strength. Because of age, bad health or sickness, they cannot attend. They should not be forgotten! Budget your time to include them, but be careful not to spend too much time here to the neglect of other areas ? f visitation. Realize that shut-ins are lonely and they enjoy having you come by to see them. They will want to have you stay an hour or so and we simply do not have this much time if we are involved with others. Know how much time you can give before such visitation and be rigid in your determination. Before leaving start your departure with something like, "I have enjoyed visiting you, brother Bill. It is good to see you looking so good. I wonder if we could have prayer before I leave?" Cheerfulness is the key. Remember the tea kettle. Though we are up to our necks in hot water, we too can continue to sing!
(2) Visiting To Edify And Strengthen. Besides the general instruction the New Testament gives us, we have specific matters that have to be taken care of. We must plan ahead for effectiveness. A nonchalant member needs to be impressed with the dangers of falling away, their personal obligations and responsibilities to the Lord. Reading such passages as I Peter 2:9-12; 3: 10-11; 2 Peter 2:20-23 will surely impress them. Make an impact, but don't overpower them. Before leaving make an appointment for more extended study and have prayer for them. Brethren, this area is the most neglected. When brethren talk about this class of Christians, it involves statements like, "I'm convinced that we are not doing enough for those who are weak," etc. But, are we just talking? How seriously do you take Galatians 6:1-2?
(3) Evangelistic, Or With A View To Converting. How necessary this is can be seen in the fact that where there is no visiting the prospects, there is no growth! This is the hardest task of all because it has to be done, for the most part, at night. It also requires repeat visits requiring sacrifices on the part of those who catch the vision of duty to others. Hard? Yes, but most important! The local church should maintain at all times some form of group visitation and home study arrangement. This area requires a great deal of effort, attention and constant planning. Adjustments from time to time are necessary. Motivation is a must.
The actual visit should include, first of all, a period of getting to know one another, a statement of purpose for the visit and an effort to commit them to another visit to services or a home study. To develop a congenial atmosphere, look around for an object to identify with, such as a painting, stuffed animal, pets or even children. Start talking about this and move into your purpose for the visit slowly. You need to find out all you can about the person in order to determine the needs and relation to the Lord. In leaving always thank the person for letting you visit them, and be nice, whatever the reaction you get. Keep records of your visits and make notes. Later, you will be glad you did.
Learn the moral of the following story: "One of you, my three sons, will rule this land when I am gone," said the king. "But I would have the wisest of you rule. Here, then, is a gold coin for each of you. Go out into the world, shop wisely, and determine what you can buy that will best fill your individual bedrooms. There are but two rules: One is that you cannot use any other money than the gold coin I provided, and the other is that you return within three days."
After the first day, the youngest son returned with a cart of hay that filled a good half of his room. "A wise purchase, my son," said the king. At the end of the second day, the middle son returned with a bucket of paint which he brushed over his entire room and still had paint left over. "A very wise purchase, my son," said the king.
At the last minute on the third day, the oldest son returned with nothing but a candle. He lit it and flooded his room with light. Then he returned to his father and said, "This cost only a penny."
"What did you do with the rest of the money?" asked the king.
"I gave it to a widow with two children. She bought some lumber, and I helped her build a stall in the marketplace where she can sell fresh vegetables. Thus she will be able to support herself and her children."
"That candle was the wisest purchase of all, my son. Our land will be in good hands. You shall be the next With regard to the charting of all Christianity as appeal king."
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 18, pp. 545, 558-559