A Call to Visitation Ministry

Joonas Laajanen

Visiting the sick, the needy, and the shut-ins is part and parcel of pastoral vocation but also an office of kindness to which all Christians are called. There is a special obligation to engage in visitation when the subject is a brother or a sister. Open doors to visit unbelievers are also to be taken as evangelistic opportunities. Like earthly doctors offer medicine for the body, so Christians are to offer the medicine of the soul to those about to face eternity.

A Test of True Religion

True religion can be tested in many ways. James highlights visitation ministry as a prime example:

“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27 NKJV)

No one questions we are called by God to be invested in the truth (doctrine), and be on the watch in our walk so that it would be above reproach. But more is needed from us. Focusing on doctrine and a scandal-free life can be done without the love of Christ, who came and tabernacled among despised sinners. If we do not engage in a true ministry of mercy, we will soon find ourselves being cynical, cold-hearted, and suppressing a bad conscience that knows something is lacking.

In historical context, to visit orphans and widows is to visit those who need it. Elsewhere this command includes prisoners (Hebrews 13:3) and the sick (James 5:14). This wide category of people highlights the need for all Christians to engage in visitation. There are doors wide open, easily seen if we care to look around. Even unbelieving shut-ins are generally delighted to have a Christian come and read the Scriptures to them.

Jesus spoke the most plain words about visiting lonely believers who can’t come to church. His words make it clear that He cares about them deeply, and gives special attention to them. They are His sheep and they need to be fed. Jesus says:

“Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’” (Matthew 25:34–36 NKJV)

Visitation ministry is not the gospel. But it also isn’t opposed to God’s gospel, either. At a minimum, sincere visitation of the sick and the shut-ins is characteristic of true believers in opposition to the cold-hearted goats within the visible church and the world (Matthew 25:41–46). This should trouble those who can not remember the last time they made selfless and unseen sacrifices for the “least of these.”

The Personal Blessing of Visitation

Visitation ministry is practical, root-level Christianity. When I visit an elderly shut-in, I am talking to a person who may not be here tomorrow. All the deep learning and conversations over a beer with other ministers usually have no place here (especially with unbelievers).

Every time my aim is the same: I want this person to face God in a state of peace, not in a state of enmity. And yet I can not preach to them, get angry, or show frustration. Trusting in God’s sovereignty, I try to go through the basics: I read the Psalms, evangelistic words and promises of Jesus, make use of Heidelberg Catechism, and seek to pray for them in a way that will communicate my love (and God’s love) for them. What do I gain from this? Through visitation, we can personally experience the truthfulness of the words: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Visiting takes time, is not paid for, and is usually a private matter not to be discussed with outsiders.

The Ecclesiological Reward for Visitation

God rewards faithful congregations in this time. He receives our works done in Christ, through the Holy Spirit. In Isaiah 58 God gave a conditional promise to bless the Church especially, if they remembered to do visitation ministry. This promise stands in the New Covenant for individual congregations.

To keep the Sabbath holy included having sincere love towards men for whom the Sabbath was made. Keeping the Lord’s Day is vital in the New Covenant (Hebrews 10:25), but there is a danger of forgetting what the Jews neglected as well. To do the invisible work of visitation would however contribute to the blessedness of the visible congregation:

“Then your light shall break forth like the morning, Your healing shall spring forth speedily, And your righteousness shall go before you; The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ “If you take away the yoke from your midst, The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, If you extend your soul to the hungry And satisfy the afflicted soul, Then your light shall dawn in the darkness, And your darkness shall be as the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, And satisfy your soul in drought, And strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” (Isaiah 58:8–11 NKJV)

What marvelous promises! God owes the church nothing. Yet, He promises longevity and fruitfulness to churches whose faith works through love. Let us take hold of these promises by humble faith as we seek to fulfill the task of visitation among other blessed duties.

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