Pastoral visitation is perhaps one of the lesser-appreciated and practiced ministry responsibilities. Pastors don’t realize how important it is to visit with members of their congregations to encourage, get to know, and shepherd them. People in the church often think that such visits, if they occur, are an intrusion. “Why is the minister coming over? What wrong have we done?” In a word, pastors and elders must shepherd the flock—pastoral visits are indispensible. But one group of people that often gets overlooked is single women, even where churches practice pastoral visitation.
I recently received e-mail from a young woman who has been in Reformed churches her whole life, 28 years. Yet, she told me the following:
- Since she first heard of pastoral visits four years ago, she has never had a formal house visit from a pastor or elder, ever.
- With one small group gathering, the assigned elder for her shepherding group took all of the men into one room and left her and the rest of the women in another room. There was no interaction between the women and the elder.
- When she was a member of a Reformed church for a year, while she was in school, she had an elder assigned to her, but he never spoke to her.
- One of her friends was a member of a Reformed church for five years before she received her first home visit from an elder.
There are undoubtedly a number of factors that foster this type of pattern. Some churches probably don’t practice home visits very consistently, if at all. Others are probably concerned about the possibility of impropriety of some sort—i.e., should a lone man visit the home of a single woman? Another likely factor goes beyond church and extends into our cultural habits—men and women tend to congregate. There are likely other reasons that contribute to the pattern.
Nevertheless, regardless of the reasons, all of God’s people deserve and have right to pastoral care, especially single women. In the e-mail I received from this young woman, she offers some helpful suggestions and ways to carry out pastoral oversight to single women in the church:
- Host single women for dinner. A dinner conversation in the presence of a spouse and perhaps an elder and his spouse can afford you as the pastor an excellent opportunity to get to know and shepherd a young woman.
- Make a point to talk to the single women in your church. Ask them how their week has been. Do you know these young women by name? In other words, show genuine concern for their spiritual well being.
- If you’re worried about the appearance of impropriety when visiting a single woman, take a ruling elder or deacon along with you. I would suggest always taking an elder on a visit regardless of who you’re visiting. Or if necessary, conduct the visit in a public venue, such as a coffee shop.
- As common as it is for women to lead the women’s Bible study at church, offer to lead it for a period of time so you can get to know the women in your church.
Pastoral visits are important. Yes, preaching must and should take the chief role in the spiritual nourishment of the church. But if Jesus knows and calls us by name, then it behooves pastors, shepherds, to know and call Christ’s sheep by their names. Far too often people in the church encounter problems and deal with spiritual challenges and the pastor and elders only find out about the situation once it’s too late.
Shepherd God’s people—get to know them—all of them, including the single women in your churches.