The Art of the Pastoral Visit: Get in, Get down, Get up, and Get out!

Get in, Get down, Get up, and Get out!
The Art of the Pastoral Visit

When I was in CPE, my supervisor gave us a simple formula for visiting someone in a hospital setting. I find that it is a wonderful formula no matter what the setting. Everyone has experienced, unfortunately, the pastor or chaplain who has no situational awareness when it comes to having any kind of “leaving sense.” He or she is usually focused on “self” or is over compensating for his or her own insecurities.

With this simple outline, even the worst offenders of the sensible pastoral visit can avoid being a bane and become a blessing to those in need or those who are at their work station.

For the purpose of this article I will use the industrial setting of the Air Force unit. Let’s suppose we are going to visit the “Load Barn” in the Maintenance Group.

Get in:

Assuming you already have your Line Badge, I drop in at the Senior NCOs office. If the door is open, and the MSgt is not on the phone or talking to someone else, I’ll knock on the door frame.

“MSgt Snuffy, How’s life?”

“Hey Chaplain, what’s going on? Hey there’s not any bomb loading going one today, but I did have a question for you.”

“OK, shoot.”  At this point I may take a relaxed posture or if he is standing, I ask if we can sit.

Get down:

  1. He tells me what’s on his heart
  2. I listen and I mean listen. Shut up and let him talk. If he asks questions, answer them honestly, but lead him toward a place where further discussion can take place either here or at a more appropriate setting.
  3. Because we are in an industrial setting, after listening to his issues and depending on the severity, I suggest the best next step. It could be to pray for him if he is in my covenant community, or to set up an appointment to talk in a more conducive environment. My goal at this point is not to get out. It’s to move toward getting up. I’m not offering solutions or digging deeper. This is like a recon mission. I’m gathering information and allowing him to drive the ministry that he needs.

Get Up:

If you have any discernment at all (for some this will take practice) you will see when the person begins to climb up from their contemplative moment with you. I had an old wing chaplain who said he “waits for the third heavy sigh.” This is when you can move with your body language and words not toward an end to the conversation but toward the continuation, either on your next visit or a planned session.

Get Out:
Once you have found that they have reached an end to their need to share (note this is not a need that you have to make everything better, but that the person has shared what is on their heart), it’s time to get out. Not because you are uncomfortable, but you both need to process what just took place. This is Holy Ground on which you stand and you need not desecrate it with small talk or lingering around. This then, is a good time to continue on with your visitation in the unit or to return to your office to pray as the counseling could have been draining and you need to properly process what just took place.

“MSgt Snuffy, I’ll see you on Wednesday. If it’s alright, I’m going to check on your folks.”

“Sure, Chap, I think they're all back in the support shop doing inventory.”


Rebekah.Woods - The Taming of a Pastor's Wife said...
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hockjos said...

I am a Chaplain Candidate in the AFReserve. I have come across your site before and even emailed you once a couple years ago. I am toward the latter end of the candidate program and I have loved it! My hope is to come on active duty after a couple years in the Reserve as an IMA. I particularly like this post you have made here. Visitation is one of my favorite things to do in ministry and I suppose my tendency is to stay a little longer than I should, just because I like being with people in a one on one. This formula helps give me guidelines. Question: Where did you get your CPE? I have been considering doing this recently, I know it would help me with an active duty application in the future, not to mention the benefits it can have for any ministry setting. Would you recommend an intensive one year program or could I get units piece by piece so that I don't have to quit my current ministry? Thanks, 2LT Joshua Woods,


Good to hear from you again and glad it is going well. Any CPE is good. I would start with a shorter program if you want to stay in your current ministry. It's like anything else. Eat the fish, spit out the bones. Congrats on nearing the beginning of things:) I got my CPE in the AF. Make sure the program is ACPE certified. Thanks for the feedback!