Jesus was an excellent pastor of people who didn’t gather in Church.
It's somewhat surprising therefore that as those who claim to pattern their life according to the ministry of Jesus (as outlined in the gospels) we have largely come to understand our pastoral role as operating within the church rather than outside, among the people. All the more so when we consider that Jesus' parables, teaching, and kingdom emphasis (not to mention commissioning) revolved around those not yet gathered. Jesus' approach to pastoral care invites us to journey beyond pastoral visits and have a pastoral vision for the whole community.
It's not that pastoral visitation is wrong.
The roots of pastoral visitation flourished as a missional mindset among Puritan pastors to help them reach their community for Christ. They would often visit those in their community investigating the claims of Christ. These pastors would show up among the people and begin the process of leading them towards life change. They would do this throughout the entire village or community. Gradually the village would become saturated with a Gospel awareness.
Through the years we continued their practice while missing the ethos.
The missional element became reduced and diluted.
Pastoral visitation replaced pastoral vision.
We continued showing up in homes...but increasingly it became the homes of the churched. Somehow, accidentally, inadvertently we introduced and cultivated the false expectation that the minister should focus on the found and should spend their time as a minister of the church rather than a minister to the city. And yet...
pastoring the city is what the Puritans did...
pastoring the city is what Jesus did...
and pastoring the city is what the church does among the people.
Since the city is so large, it's impossible for one individual to personally attend to everyone. So we must courageously and intentionally distance ourselves from pseudo-community where the minister visits everyone, counsels everyone, prays for everyone, cares for everyone. Instead, in the words of Rick Warren, we nurture and create authentic community where everyone cares, everyone counsels, everyone prays and everyone visits. We must unleash the power of everyone.
Everyone is called to bear one another’s burdens, submit to one another, love one another, serve one another, pray for one another. Fifty-Eight times the ancient Scriptures invite us into a movement beyond ourselves (and our needs) and into the lives of others through these 'one another' statements.
The broken are not excluded from this responsibility, neither are the bereaved; neither are the destitute nor disadvantaged. Everyone has something to give and the community comes alive as this model (of pastoral share) permeates. As we reclaim a biblical understanding of pastoral care we cease viewing others as pastoral projects (people who need what we have) and begin to see them as pastoral partners (people with the capacity to lead the city into life, often particularly when wrestling with personal difficulty or tragedy).
This enables us to live with the dreams of the city and the community on our hearts, not simply the needs of the church. Perhaps it is time to move from pastoral visitation to a pastoral vision for the whole city.