A great piece of advice I doubt I’ll never forget in the context of biblical counselling is to listen thoroughly without interruption the first time, but avoid going over the same ground repeatedly! The next time round you can think constructively how to apply the principles of God’s word either to help or encourage that person. That way you help them become part of the solution rather than the problem.
At other times, people are lonely and are grateful to have a listening ear and a solution is not required for every trial we face. Sometimes empathy, understanding and allowing someone to vocalise their concerns is enough. Most people respond positively if you ask them about their interests. Loneliness is a massive issue being brought to the forefront in our society. That might be partly due to an increasing obsession with individualism, consumerism and overdependence on technology to meet our every need. Uninterrupted time is a great gift and so is fellowship.
Pastoral visits are an important part of our service, though they need not be administered by the Pastor alone, though it is really helpful to keep them updated when you do so, to enable them to coordinate visits and to care for their flock. When the time for preparing sermons and meetings are other matters is completed, it is not realistic to expect regular pastoral visits from a Pastor for a sizeable cross section of the church unless the membership is small.
If you have time constraints, then you can either visit someone so you can leave when you need to, or agree in advance and explain how long you have before you meet. Sometimes brief pastoral visits can be carried out during a lunchbreak or when you are in that vicinity.
When visiting those greatly advanced in years, half an hour is often adequate and less is more. If someone is older and spiritually mature, ask their counsel on spiritual matters. This can be a great mutual blessing enabling them to exercise godly wisdom and experience acquired over decades and for you to be the grateful recipient. Remember iron sharpens iron and so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend (Proverbs 27:17). If you have the opportunity to visit an ageing man, previously a godly Pastor, do so. Think of constructive questions such as what to do in certain situations, what they have read and what to avoid. Take notes. You will learn a lot of valuable lessons very quickly!
When I was working in the community, I soon learnt to be organised and to cluster my visits to nearby areas to avoid travelling constantly around everywhere and to maximise the time with people. Keeping a spreadsheet is really helpful since it means you can quickly check on when you last saw someone, what you discussed and when you intend to meet next. It also helps to avoid for whatever reason, visits slipping through the net. Additionally, it helps you to pray regularly for that person and especially before you meet.
An excellent way to close a visit is to offer to pray for that person. We should pray at all times and in all circumstances. That way you are committing everything to the Lord and bringing the focus from our earthly situation and looking to the Lord and bringing a matter before the throne of grace. Where possible, it would be a wise decision to end every pastoral visit with a time of prayer. Lastly, agree a time when to meet next. If they ask you what they can do for you, ask them to remember you in prayer and remind them of its importance.
It is definitely worth taking a Bible and before you go, think of a Psalm or a piece of Scripture that will either encourage or be particularly applicable to that person’s circumstances or need. The Psalms are so useful since David and the other psalm writers recall a vast amount of human experiences, joys and tribulations yet they almost always close with a concerted decision to give the matter to the Lord and trust Him with the outcome.
Not everyone has the internet, and some aren’t able to get to services because of health, old age or other circumstances, so it can be helpful to bring them sermons. This will expose them to the systematic study of God’s Word and also help them in a small way to keep connected with their fellowship. You can also bring them newsletters or update them on developments in the church. That way they will be able to pray effectively and insightfully for the people and the work of the congregation. This enables a mutual blessing and edification for the whole body.
Finally, you will inevitably visit some people who aren’t saved. They may have been to more services than you’ve had cooked dinners though some are still not clear on the gospel. Don’t be embarrassed but graciously explain their need of saving grace simply and clearly. Do ask them if they have assurance of salvation and point them to trusting in the Lord and His grace and show them from Scripture. Think ahead of relevant Bible passages or a book or sermon you can leave with them. Be ready to share your testimony, either briefly or at length. Pray that God will prepare their hearts to receive the word gladly and to know the Lord as their Saviour.