I have written before about my view of mentoring. If you can’t be bothered to read that, my view is that I don’t think a great deal about it. I can’t see anything to be gained from a mentoring relationship that can’t be gained just by being friends. It always felt to me like somebody trying to formalise a relationship – making one party superior and the other the student receiving their patronage – in ways that were totally unnecessary. You’ll have to read the whole thing to see my full case, but in the end, I can’t see what is wrong with just being mates, equals, and gaining all those things that way.
I, frankly, have similar thoughts about pastoral visits. By and large, I don’t think people massively need me to visit “as the pastor” to receive my pastoral insight. They don’t need a special pastoral visit to get pastoral counsel. They can gain all those things as we effectively hang out as mates.
I don’t think there are no reasons to visit in a more formal capacity. I can see there are times when a bit of seriousness might be appropriate. Whether that is helping to arrange someone’s funeral or helping someone take their first steps on the road to becoming a preacher. But I still don’t see why that can’t be done in the capacity as someone’s friend. I can deal with serious matters, I can help people learn skills, who are nevertheless my friends and do it as their friend. I don’t see what is to be gained by making a big deal of “the pastor” doing it.
But this seems all the more true when it comes to the ordinary run of things. I don’t need to think of dealing with church members in terms of “pastoral visits”. Can’t I just visit my friends? Can’t I share biblical insight with my friends? Can’t I laugh and lament, encourage and exhort, challenge and chide my friends? Isn’t there something to be said that these things might be better received when it is not coming formally in a pastoral visit so to speak, even though it is happening in a visit from your pastor, but is coming from a friend who happens to be your pastor who just wants to spend time with you because you are friends?
I had a friend over to my home last night. He happens to be a member of my church. But he is my friend. Did we discuss anything pastoral? Yes. Did we talk about church matters? A bit, yes. But ultimately, I invited him over because he was my friend and he came, I like to think, because he is my friend. There seems little to be gained from making a formal deal out of it being a pastoral visit, even though in a sense it kind of was. I care very much about him, and his situation, and inevitably want to give him pastoral advice. But I would hope any godly believer would feel the same about anyone they are friends with too. The visit had all the hallmarks of a pastoral meeting, except it wasn’t for any specific pastoral reason other than hanging out with my friend who I hadn’t seen for a bit.
It seems to me there is no reason not to just consider much of our pastoral ministry as the privilege of hanging out with our friends. Sometimes for serious and important reasons, sometimes just for the usual reasons you might ever want to keep up with a friend, and sometimes just for the sake of hanging out casually with people because they’re your friends. As a believer who loves the Lord Jesus, of course I want to talk about Jesus with my friends. As a pastor who believes and teaches the Bible, of course I want to bring biblical counsel to boot in discussions about stuff in front of us. Of course I want my friends to know about Jesus, to grow up in the Lord and to be effective church members for his glory. This is the stuff of being friends.
So, my call is to view pastoral ministry less in terms of formal pastoring and more in terms of doing what I would hope any godly believer would do in relation to their friends. We are in the business of hanging out with our friends, chatting about the Bible with our friends and giving biblical counsel to our friends. We pastors are simply privileged to be paid so we can do more of it than others. We are in the business of hanging out with our mates.