What do the elders and consistory do when a church member is not willing to receive home visits or pastoral care? This article studies the reasons for this situation, and what the elders and consistory can do about it.

Source: Ambtelijk Contact, 2004. 3 pages. Translated by Bram Vegter.

"I Do Not Want a Home Visit" The refusal to receive pastoral care by the pastor or elders

Once in a while it happens, when home visits are reported on in a council meeting, that one brother mentions that at a certain address he was unable to make a home visit, as the people were unwilling to set a time for a home visit. First “it was not the right time” on the proposed date, and also another date did not work for them. After a few weeks, the elder tried again, and then they finally said it: “I do not want a home visit.” Another brother was dealing with a brother who was a little more aggressive; even before he could plan a visit and make a call to arrange it, he was told on the church square that he did not have to call about a home visit. They did not want it. What to do next?

Damage From The Past🔗

If one looks at the reasons for refusing to have a home visit, then one will discover that the reasons are quite diverse. I know from my first congregation of a woman who was determined not to have a home visit. It was fine if the elder would “drop by for a cup of coffee”. This elder, a wise person, right away accepted this offer. Unannounced (!) he rang the doorbell, received a cup of coffee and a cordial and at times in-depth conversation took place. At the end of the coffee-time he said: “Shall we just jot this down as a home visit?” And, somewhat flustered, this sister of the congregation had discovered that that was indeed what had just taken place: a home visit in the good sense of the word: a heart-to-heart meeting. I purposely write this, for this lady had such bad memories of a past home visit she had had to endure (this verb I use for a reason), that she had vowed that this would never again take place in her home (where the elder is the guest!)

Therefore, when someone indicates that they would rather not have a home visit, it is worthwhile to check if there are certain obstacles lingering from the past. With wisdom they can perhaps be removed and overcome. Such a visit after all does not need to have a “preaching character”, or come across as a visit “from above” (even though elders come in the name of the highest God), but it is to be a conversation where those being visited get the opportunity to open their hearts as adult confessing member(s). Then the visit does not turn into a trial.

As part of the damage from the past I also count the fact that there can be (mostly female) members of the congregation, who have dealt with abuse during the pastoral visits (who due to what happened, do not deserve this nomenclature). The damage that this has caused, is reason for obstacles to be present. This blockade can only be overcome with good consultation and with presented opportunities by church council and ward elder. Can the ward elder perhaps visit together with his wife? Or, in this instance, can a female pastoral worker build up and maintain the contact(s)?

Poor Rapport🔗

In another instance the door to the home visit is kept closed, because the congregation member and the elder are not on the same wavelength. It does not “click” between the two (or between the elder and the couple/family). Everyone knows that for a conversation during the home visit a certain measure of confidentiality is needed. One must be willing, as I wrote above, to open one’s heart. To show something of the work of the Lord, the work of the Holy Spirit, in their life. That is something tender and it also demands a certain accommodation. This does not always pan out, and sometimes that is because the person being visited and the visitor, do not quite understand each other. The field of language may differ completely, or the questions are posed too directly or in an awkward way; they simply do not get along. Now, a consistory should not give up too quickly, but if it becomes evident that there are obstacles which prevent having a fine conversation, it is worthy to consider asking another elder to “take over” this address. After all, we benefit more by having a good conversation than by being able to just check off the list as “home visit was made”.

The Integral Refusal🔗

What remains is the possibility of a truly complete refusal of a home visit, done by whomever. Council is not able to contact these people at all, trying as they are, wise as serpents or innocent as doves (Matt. 10:16, without intending to typify the elders as sheep and congregation members as wolves). Now it is important to gauge correctly; what triggers such a stand (by a member of the congregation)? On and off I have experienced a situation of people being uncomfortable to be with other people. The congregation member is introverted and is really quick to withdraw and keep to himself. Often this goes together with great struggles to attend the Sunday worship services of the congregation. One understands: in such a situation, grotesque measures do not fit. They would all too easily exacerbate the situation and not help at all. Here we are dealing with an illness, a phobia, or however you want to call it. There is little one can do, but to respect the claimed distance, and to keep your eyes and ears open for an upcoming opportunity to contact. That can be a sudden chat in the street when you meet each other. It can for e.g., be a card or a letter from the ward elder at the time of a birthday, by which the elder shows that also this member of the congregation, is loved. If you cannot enter the home physically, you may be able to enter with words which have been entrusted to paper. Things do not always go the way we would like to see them go, and it can not always be solved.

Not Being Interested🔗

Finally, I want to say something about a category which in my thinking is the trickiest to deal with, namely that of a congregation member who simply is “not interested” in home visits. The elder can save himself the effort, there are others who appreciate home visits, why not spend your time on them, as the answer goes to the question if a home visit can be arranged. As far as I know, such situations (where there obviously is not a clear reason for the refusal) are scarce, but they do happen once in a while.

They are not easy to measure for council members. For it is the elder’s duty to make home visits to everyone in his ward. It is clearly described in the Church Order; article 22 (Book of Praise): “and faithfully to visit the members of the congregation in their homes…”. But it is not mandatory to receive those who make a home visit, and it would be difficult to force it on people. At the most, you may want to think of the form which is read when elders and deacons are being ordained, of the part where the congregation is addressed: “Beloved brothers and sisters, receive these men as servants of God” (Book of Praise, page 627). But when you analyze that, it appears to mean that members must place themselves under their oversight and supervision, and that does not necessarily mean (when nothing untoward is happening) that you must receive an elder for a home visit every year. And everyone knows that when something does happen that is not right, it often becomes very difficult to speak about it during a home visit, despite many home visits you may have had there before. Everything is relative.

Of course, there is much to gain to express the value of the yearly home visit and to explain the benefits of these visits. A tradition (at least at the root) which started at the time of the Reformation and which has proven to be of great value, and still has value, when it is properly performed. And one may try to convince each member of the congregation to enjoy this age-old tradition. Of course, one may ask what a membership of the congregation includes, when dealing with a refusal to speak together about the things which really matter in life: the relationship which the living God yearns to have with us. On the other hand, after many home visits it should not be reported on that there was much discussed, but not that…Which is to say that church council has little to “force” these visits upon the members. And even if that were so, one should be concerned that the content of the home visit would be tainted by that. In Zechariah 4:6 we read: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit”. Pressure methods to enter the home against the wishes of the people will prove to be in most cases counterproductive. Sometimes one has to let something rest for a while, to let things settle. But never to let them disappear from the heart. A ward elder must always be involved with all members of the ward who are entrusted to his care. And at some point, sometimes in a crisis of life, (with those for whom the elder had prayed fervently before), an elder can suddenly speak with them about the Lord.

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