What is your first thought when a Living Church of God minister contacts you and wants to come by for a visit? Are you happy that he has found time to stop by? Are you apprehensive, wondering if he thinks you’ve done something wrong?
Throughout the history of the Church, we have encouraged ministers to visit the brethren—not to preach at you, not to correct you, but to get to know you better and let you know our loving concern for you. This should be our way of life throughout the Church of God but, for a variety of reasons, this is not the case everywhere. Some of our ministers are not employed by the Church and have full-time jobs, limiting their available time to visit scattered brethren. Other ministers are elderly and not able to get around as much as they could when they were younger. Driving at night may be a problem for them.
Sociological changes that have taken place in our Western countries are also a factor. Over the last 50 years, there has been a major transformation in the role of women in our world. Fewer women are now stay-at-home wives and mothers. Those who work outside the home have far less time and energy to keep the home and do all the chores women have traditionally done, much less entertain guests. And under this modern regimen where evenings and weekends are needed to do the essentials, taking a couple of hours out of the week to host a minister and his wife or assistant isn’t always convenient.
Let us also not forget that a visit from your minister may stack up as less interesting than the Sunday afternoon football game, or America’s Got Talent or Britain’s Got Talent—or whatever equivalent entertainment you might have in the country you live in. Then there is keeping up with social media. How can a minister compete with all this?
However, it is important that ministers and members have face-to-face time outside of the crowded fellowship of Sabbath services. It is important that we truly get to know one another as we go forward into the difficult times that will soon rock our world. It is important that you know the ministers who personally serve you, beyond hearing them speak on the Sabbath.
A Hallmark of Jesus’ Ministry
We must not allow the world and the things of the world to control our priorities—and this is just as true of us in the ministry. As ministers, we need to control the use of our time and make time to visit God’s people. When personal computers became available, I saw a definite shift in the way ministers used their time. I saw it in my own life and schedule, and I did not—and still do not—like it. How easy it is to literally “twitter” away the day. One can spend hours writing and answering e-mails, and end the day with little to show for it. How ironic that we have an app known as Facebook that actually takes away from face time. Our world has changed, and it has changed us, whether we want to admit it or not.
Is visiting with each other a biblical priority? What about showing hospitality?
Jesus explained that the ones who will be in His Kingdom are those who take the time to treat one another as they would treat Him if He were here in person (Matthew 25:31–40). Would Jesus take time to visit His spiritual brothers and sisters? Conversely, would He carve out time for those who wanted to visit with Him? The answer to both questions is an emphatic yes! The record shows that He made Himself available to heal many who came to Him in the evening after the Sabbath (Mark 1:29–34). He was often a guest in the homes of both the respected and the disrespected (Luke 14:1; 19:1–7).
There were times when He had to get away from the crowds, but the record shows that He was a “people person” who loved to spend time with individuals of all ages and levels of society. He took time to bless small children (Luke 18:15–17), showing concern for them as well as their parents. He cared for and took time for the sick, the lame, the blind, and the deaf. This was a hallmark of His ministry. How tiring it must have been, being besieged by multitudes everywhere He traveled. But His life demonstrated His values and priorities.
For All of Us
James, the brother of Christ, reminds us that “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). This refers to a calling all of us share, ministers and members: to care for the most vulnerable among us. Jesus instructed a Pharisee who invited Him to dinner, “When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors.… But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind” (Luke 14:12–13). Notice the word “when” at the beginning of this directive. There is an assumption in that word.
Hospitality was an essential element of first-century Christianity, and it ought to be so for us as well. We are told that the early Church broke bread from house to house. This was not the “Lord’s supper,” as mainstream Christianity often claims, but the sharing of meals together. “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart” (Acts 2:46).
One of the characteristics we are to look for as we appoint ministers is that of hospitality. “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2; see also Titus 1:7–8).
But hospitality, which is an expression of love, is not limited to the ministry. Paul instructs us: “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love… distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality” (Romans 12:10, 13). And Peter says it should be done with a right attitude: “Be hospitable to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9).
Not all members are able to invite a minister into their homes. Some have unbelieving mates who would oppose this. However, I have personally found that when an unbelieving mate—say, a husband—allows a visit, even if reluctantly, he may find that his wife’s minister likes to hunt, fish, or play golf, or shares some other interest. Ministers don’t usually whip out their Bibles and begin preaching. I treasure visits with unbelieving mates.
Many years ago, there were several ladies in the Church whose non-believing husbands were “fishing buddies.” After a number of visits in which we got to know one another, one of them invited me to go fishing with the group. It was an enjoyable experience, and I must believe that it didn’t hurt the situations on the “home front.”
Others in the congregation, due to age and diminished energy, may not be disposed to serve a meal—and, indeed, this is totally unnecessary! Frankly, our waistlines would suffer if everyone served food! Many older members, and younger as well, offer a glass of water, a cup of coffee or tea, and perhaps a cookie (or biscuit, as our British brethren would say). Of course, food and drink are never necessary, but some small token in this direction seems to be a universal form of hospitality.
The point is that your minister may be calling you in the future. I hope he will, and if he does, make the time to visit with him. It will be good for you and good for him, and it will please our Lord and Savior.