This article argues that home visits should only have one theme, which is the members of the congregation. By this the author means that the priority is knowing how members are doing in their life with the Lord.

Source: Diakonia, 1999. 3 pages.

There Is Only One Good Theme for House Visits

Thrown into the Deep End🔗

At the moment many consistories are prepar­ing themselves for the coming season. Some brothers, having completed their terms, are no longer present and newly elected brothers have taken their place. For them it is time to acquaint themselves with the people in their district before the actual work gets under way. Among the new office bearers, particularly those who hold their office for the first time, you often discern a feeling of uncertainty, of unease. They feel as if they have been thrown into the deep end of the pool while the swim instructor is absent.

Fortunately, there is plenty of instruction material available books and articles are available that can help both novice and experi­enced office bearers. The fact, however, re­mains that much of what they need to learn, they will have to learn "on the job." It is certainly no luxury when they get some extra guidance particularly at the beginning of their term.


Consistories should provide this guidance when needed. One person may soon get the hang of it but another may require more time. Much can be accomplished when an inexperi­enced office bearer is teamed with one who has experience when the district lists are compiled. Still more can be accomplished when an experienced office bearer is assigned to a novice office bearer as mentor. Then you have clearly established a link:

"New elder or deacon you can ask your mentor." "Mentor, keep an eye on this new office bearer. You are responsible for him. Ask him about the difficulties he has and assist him whenever and wherever possible."

Besides these possibilities one can think of an orientation evening shortly after the ordination service. That worked well in my congregation. In four, forty-five minutes segments, each introduced by an experienced elder, new office bearers became acquainted with the way we do things. Among others, we talked about our consultation process, consistory's procedures, discussions rules, mutual coaching and about dividing your attention between your district and your own family. At the end of the evening we paid special attention to one's own spiritual training and growth. How do you give content to those important words in the form for ordination: "...the elder must train himself in godliness and diligently search the Scriptures" (and why should that not apply to deacons as well?). We also talked about family and single visits and the theme for them.

From House Visit Themes to Annual Themes🔗

No doubt, many consistories have already given some thought to the visitation theme for the coming season. One consistory may have chosen "Prayer," another "The communion of saints," and a third "God's house — an open house." For some years now using themes has practically become a common good. Some­times the theme is even part of an overall plan to be implemented over a number of years. In that case future themes have already been set.

The significance of using themes appears to be growing. That is because the theme is often expanded to an annual theme. This means that it receives attention in other congregational contexts as well. The minister preaches a series of sermons on the theme. The elders before­hand send a circular explaining it to the members to be visited. At study societies, bible circles and congregational meetings attention is given to it as well. The advantage of this is that there is more coherence in the various activities and hopefully more depth.

In the midst of much transience and haste people together should take the time to think about a subject in a variety of ways and from different perspectives. Fixed themes can be an attractive means to put a matter on the agenda of the congregation in a rather thorough way.

Self-examination or Theme examination?🔗

Yet, we should take care that the importance assigned to the visitation theme — often made more weightier as annual theme — is not imposed on the house visit as an annoying burden! I have the impression that at times things go wrong in this respect. For example, before their visits the elders send the members to be visited a brief outline of the theme. It can then happen that during the visit the elder has to deal with comments that are critical about its contents, such as: "In your introduction I missed a number of proof texts" or "I find your approach to the subject rather one-sided" No doubt, such comments can lead to a fasci­nating discussion about the theme in which the brother and sister are completely in the pic­ture, but nevertheless disappear behind the theme. When we did not work with themes, there was sometimes the tendency to switch to a discussion about current ecclesiastical issues. That could create the impression that there was mutual understanding without the need for becoming personal. This tendency can be easily stimulated by the use of themes for house visits.

There is not always sufficient awareness with both parties that a theme is something totally different from a topic at a study society or bible circle. That is understandable. We have become accustomed to prepare ourselves for a discus­sion of a certain topic of a study society with the aid of a number of theses or an outline. In the same way we now prepare ourselves for a family visit as well. We are ready to discuss the theme.

At the beginning of the meeting the topic is again briefly introduced by the district elder and the "study society" on a smaller scale can begin. Questions are asked and answered but in the meantime the self-examination aspect of the house visit disappears and makes way for an examination of the theme.

THE Theme for House Visits🔗

O.K., that is somewhat of a caricature. But I truly believe that the danger is not just imagi­nary. A special theme can detract from the family/single visit theme, a theme that must be discussed year after year. "How is it with you and your life with the Lord?" It is a question that can be formulated in a variety of ways. It, however, always comes down to the same thing: "Dear brother, sister where is your heart's desire?" You could also say it in the old-fashioned way: "How is it with your soul?" But then 'soul' in the broad biblical sense: man as a 'living soul', man living in this world before God's face. The Letter to the Hebrews identifies elders as "those who keep watch over the souls" (Hebrews 13: 17).

To put it another way: the theme for family/ single visits is the members of the congregation themselves. Not the topic but the members of the congregation as children of the Lord stand central in these visits. They are heard and encouraged. They receive sympathy and are prayed with and for. Sometimes pastoral advice is called for. Sometimes listening is all that is required. Sometimes there is a need for admonishment but then in all charity. Some­times it is better to forget the whole theme, because other matters must take priority. No matter what, make sure that the visits do not get bogged down in a discussion of the theme without paying attention to the real life with the Lord.

Office bearers may speak in the spirit of Colossians 2: 6-8:

Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankful­ness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy.

A Few Aids🔗

Rev. C. van der Leest correctly writes that it is nearly impossible to capture the aim of these visits in a few words, for it concerns speaking and listening, understanding and spreading the message, the search for the fruits of faith and the watering of arid soil as well. He gives the following concise description of the aim of family / single visits:

By means of house visits the office bearers assist the mem­bers of the congregation to take up their position as obedient and relaxed children of God.1

When the elders succeed in providing that kind of assistance, you may speak of good visit.

When the customary theme does not function as a restraint but as a help line, it can be very useful and helpful. As a peg it can be a con­venient place 'to hang up' a good conversa­tion. At times you will realize that it may be better to use another 'peg.'

In view of the character of the visit, themes that are close to us as Christians ought to receive special consideration. With the theme "Prayer" — better yet "My/our prayer" — you can usually get to the heart of the matter without much difficulty. In a conversation in which "The communion of saints" is the starting point more time is needed to get there. And there may be room to put into words the pain caused by its defective functioning. But also in this theme the question is: Do you live together with Christ? And do you keep his gifts for yourself or do you share it with other members? (Heidelberg Catechism, L. D. 21)


During the above mentioned orientation evening, I heard a number of sensible remarks about house visit experiences that I would like to share. It may be assumed that office bearers and the persons to be visited have beforehand asked for God's blessing. That is why it is not always necessary to begin a visit with prayer and bible reading. Some elders make it a rule not to interrupt the conversation once it gets under way. This often appears to work well. It is somewhat unnatural to stop the conversa­tion after fifteen minutes and then start again but now 'officially.' Do not underestimate the significance of the intercession at the end of the visit. Even when a good conversation did not come about, the closing prayer can mean a lot. It does not happen too often that an office bearer prays especially for you.

That is also important for young people. Some youngsters prefer to participate in house visits in a family setting. That is, of course, to be respected. However, the necessity for paying personal attention to younger members of the church appears to be growing. A church that is husbands its future will pay careful attention to her young people. Give young people of sixteen years and older the opportunity to receive a separate house visit.

A Good Visit🔗

Was it a good visit? On consistory meetings the visit is often briefly reported as being a good visit and acknowledged with thankful­ness. But did the participants themselves experience it as such? Why not close the visit by asking them? The answers could help the office bearers when they next visit the same address. Such a closing, in my opinion, is to be preferred over the obligatory question whether the brother or sister would like to bring some­thing to the attention of the consistory. Elders are not letter carriers who deliver messages from church members. When you, nonetheless, wish to ask that question save it for an in-between visit so that the house visit does not become burdened by it.


  1. ^ C. van der Leest, Dienstvaardig I. De opdracht van ouderlingen and diakenen (Barneveld, 1987), pp. 28-30.

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