Richard Baxter‘s book The Reformed Pastor was on the “must read” list of many English clergy in the 18th century, including John Wesley. The Puritan Baxter offered argument and advice to get parish pastors meeting, visiting, and teaching the members of their parishes.
His contention was that a pastor could not help Christians to advance in their faith if he did not know them and never saw them face-to-face in their houses.
His advice and argument make as much sense today as they did then – or at least they do in the world of small churches. Large and mega-churches tend to farm out this kind of ministry work to staff pastors whose ministry is “congregational care.”
If we do not speak with and visit the people, how will we ever learn the state of their spirit or what they need to go on toward perfection? And yet, this is not easy work.
For one, people are not eager to be visited by a pastor who is coming to take their spiritual temperature. Lest we think this is a post-modern thing, Baxter mentions the same complaint in the 17th century.
Such visits can also be daunting for a pastor who understands his or her role as supporter and nurturing presence more than spiritual doctor.
Such visits also take a lot of time.
And yet, if we are interested in accountability and actually making disciples, it seems to me that pastors need to know their people – not just well enough to shake hands on the way out the door on Sunday morning either.
I don’t know how we do this better. I don’t know how I would do it. But I cannot escape the belief that I should do it and do it better.