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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

Should a pastor visit every member of his church who is hospitalized?

That question is impossible to answer in the abstract, so here are some principles to help a pastor think through what kind of a priority he should give to visiting hospitalized church members.

  1. Pastors are called to shepherd God’s flock (1 Pet. 5:2). With Christ himself as our chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4), God’s care for his people as their Shepherd should set the standard for our shepherding. And how does God care for weak or sick sheep? He carries them in his arms (Isa. 40:11). So in order to pastor the flock the way God pastors his flock, pastors should give special care to sick sheep.
  2. Elders are called to pray over the sick. Scripture specifically charges church members with calling upon elders to pray over them when sick (James 5:14).
  3. Physical sickness is a spiritually trying time. When Christians suffer physically, they may need extra counsel, care, and encouragement. Pastors should be eager to spiritually nourish those who are physically suffering.
  4. Physical sickness can be a time of spiritual opportunity. Physical suffering can sensitize a previously hard heart as a person reflects on their weakness and dependence upon God. Pastors should be eager to make the most of this valuable time.
  5. Don’t allow visitation—or anything else—to eclipse sermon preparation. No activity or combination of activities should crowd out a pastor’s ability to adequately study the Word in order to preach a faithful, spiritually rich sermon each Sunday.
  6. A plurality of elders help shoulder the load. There is no explicit biblical command for every elder to visit every sick member. Having a plurality of elders means that there are more brothers available to take advantage of the spiritual opportunities to care for the sheep.

(Some of this material has been adapted from Steven Farish’s article, “Should the pastor visit every hospitalized member?”)