Some disturbing events occurred in my ministry this past year — in the form of compliments.
There was the man who told me as I visited with him and his wife in the den of their home, "I'm 67 years old and have been a church member all my life. You're the first pastor who has ever been in my home."
This comment might not have been so bad except for one fact: I had already heard half a dozen similar statements during the year. I began to ask myself if I should feel elated or worried. Are house calls really a relic of the past?
My anxieties were somewhat alleviated when I reflected on an experience in my early ministry. My wife and I visited her home church. We went to the early service and found the pews nearly full. Then my mother-in-law said, "We always go to the early service because it isn't so crowded."
I thought I was in for a treat and about to hear a dynamic preacher. After all, what else could explain such fantastic attendance? What I heard was a 30-minute systematic theology lecture which, although centered on the gospel, was something I regarded as strictly dull.
The real explanation for the attendance would be revealed over the next couple of years when I discovered that the pastor had a secret. He made calls ... and calls ... and calls.
If a visitor came to a service, he was on their doorstep within a week. If a member missed a couple of Sundays for which he did not know the reason, he visited them. And when members lost loved ones, he placed the dates on his next-year's calendar and made a call on the anniversaries of the deaths, knowing it would be foremost in their minds.
With that kind of ministry he probably could have read them yesterday's ball scores and still filled the pews.
If my recent experience of listening to these people is in any way indicative of what is happening nationally, the church is in danger of losing one of its valuable assets. In no other profession of which I am aware does a person have access to people's homes as does the pastor.
When an athletic team fails to show for a contest, they forfeit the game. When pastors do not show up in the homes of their people, they forfeit the opportunity to minister.
© 2016 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers