Thursday, January 17, 2013

Lay visitation as post-Christendom ministry

From Toledo, IA, USA
Ty Grigg, a co-pastor of Life on the Vine in suburban Chicago, has a great post up at David Fitch's blog. He asks: Do We Still Need "Home Visitations" in Post-Christendom?

He lists the following challenges to the tried and true pastoral ministry practice:
  • The “parish” is more geographically unbounded
  • Home is a private space
  • The pastor has lost privilege of access
  • In a co-pastor model, who visits who?
  • We are busy
  • People are shepherded through house groups and by caregivers in the church
  • We pastor through Facebook
Some of these challenges are unique to their own congregation and their suburban locale, but others (busy-ness) are more generally true for Christians in the U.S., even here in rural Iowa where the pace is a bit slower and the parish is still fairly geographically bounded.

Ty says that despite these challenges, home visitations can still be a vital ministry in a post-Christendom context, and I agree. He says that a house visit...
  • Is vital for paying attention to people’s lives (Acts 20:28)
  • Is vital for the work of prayer
  • Is vital for the work of preaching
  • Is vital for leading a community
  • Lays the relational groundwork helpful for future crises and celebrations
  • Is vital for blessing lives in their everyday context
  • Is vital for caring for lost and straying sheep
Ty's piece is very timely in my context at Christ United Methodist Church here in Toledo. This month we have started training and planning for a lay visitation team. Our pastor is in charge of three local congregations (in three different towns) and in no way has the kind of time required to do the level of visitations that congregants still expect. So he's starting a process by which active members of the congregation are empowered and organized to do regular home visitations, with the pastor filling in for crisis situations and other more serious kinds of visits.

I'm looking forward to being a part of this ministry, and it strikes me as interesting in a few ways. Perhaps unlike suburban Chicago, where LotV is rooted, the rural Iowa farm towns I've known still have a decent amount of Christendom assumptions at play. So despite the fact that most established congregations out here (especially Mainline Protestant ones) are in sharp decline (and have been for years), folks who remain in those congregations have Christendom-like expectations like "one (usually male) pastor takes care of everything." But those assumptions and expectations are becoming increasingly problematic (to say nothing about the assumptions themselves, which - from my neo-Anabaptist view - should certainly be questioned.)

So this ministry strikes me as a right and good, contextually appropriate response to ministerial need in the community. My hope is that it shows folks in the congregation and folks in the community how the body of Christ can collectively show care and compassion. Since visitations won't necessarily be limited to people in the congregation, there is also a missional dimension to this ministry that I hope begins to bear fruit in showing the gospel and its glimpses of God's kingdom come.

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