Book Review: Pastoral Visitation, by Tyler C. Arnold


Tyler C. Arnold, Pastoral Visitation: For the Care of Souls. Lexham Press, 2023. 200 pages.


Anyone who really knows me is aware of my deep affection and enthusiasm for pastoral visits.

I suppose it’s a reason I was invited to review Tyler Arnold’s new book, Pastoral Visitation. As someone who delights in both doing pastoral visits and encouraging pastors to do them, I’m always looking for good resources to refine my own thinking on the subject and to stir others to embrace visitations within their pastoral habit. It’s interesting how little writing exists on a subject that historically seemed to be a vital part of a pastor’s office. All this to say, I was initially excited to dive into the book.

After diving in, however, this isn’t a book I would recommend.

I do want to be clear: this conclusion is not owed to any discerned character deficiency in the author. On the contrary, the pastor who wrote this book seems like a gentle and gracious man, and his tenderness shines clearly in his tone. In fact, I think that’s the highest quality of this book! While I often found myself confused about his meaning, or in disagreement with his assertions, I always found myself appreciative of his manner of speaking.

The reasons I wouldn’t recommend the book are theological and philosophical.


This book is so entrenched in the author’s Lutheranism that in order to engage with the writer’s thoughts on pastoral visitation, you have to engage with his Lutheranism. The combination of a kind of mysticism and Lutheran customs (altars, Divine Service, esoteric usages of “presence,” etc.) together brought an unpleasant strangeness to the topic. This is not only owed to differing lexicons for Christian ministry, but also differing theology undergirding the conversation.

An example of this is how the author understands the Word and sacraments to be administered in visitations (an example of which is on pages 46–49 titled “The Liturgical Function of Visitation”).

The author recounts bringing the liturgy (including communion) to a homebound woman, which was the means of her being brought among the people of God. He writes, “Though she was unable to attend church with her fellow worshippers, [she] was carried by God into the community of the faithful” (46). Leading up to the liturgy happening, he writes, “Worship was about to begin, and this was her blessed opportunity to stand in the presence of God. God, breaking forth into her world. . .” (46).

Not only are these statements inaccurate, but I find them sad. That’s not what’s happening at a visit. To bestow more honor on a pastoral visit, I fear the author has unlawfully taken honor from the places it’s reserved for. I believe this approach diminishes the work of Christ, truncates the abiding presence of God through his Spirit, misunderstands the nature of the local church, and overstuffs the means of grace beyond their given purposes and function.

Christ has already broken into our world so that we stay seated in the presence of God abidingly (Eph. 2:6, Heb. 12:22-24). Therefore, pastoral visitations are not a way for people to be brought into the presence of God, but rather a context to grow their understanding of being in Christ; “for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3).

These theological differences inevitably produce differing philosophical approaches to pastoral visitations. There are many moments in the book where the author makes good points, only to then snap them by overstretching.

An example of this is his astute observation about the imagery of one pastoral title: overseer. He writes that the verb form in Greek means “to visit” (25). And while this is a good thing to meditate on, I fear he overstates the result it requires. He says, “The pastoral office, in essence, embodies the activity of visitation. They are one and the same in function and essence” (25). Again, what he brings up seems worthy of examining, but unhelpfully concluded.

Another section that began well but then turned direction is his section on listening (54–62). He had some wonderful exhortations about a pastor’s need to listen well in order to understand those he ministers to; we can better learn the state of people’s souls through “active and intentional listening” (59).

However, after this helpful point, he then moves on to the “essential” role of the liturgy of “Divine Service,” related to confessed sin and receiving God’s absolution. And we are forced into another Lutheran vignette. He brings us into the moment of “absolution” and provides us an example of suggested wording, saying, “In the stead and by command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (61).

This kind of mediatorial “ministering” feels Roman Catholic and should be avoided. Rather than pointing to Christ and the way he’s opened for us to come to God ourselves for forgiveness, he speaks of the penitent receiving “God’s forgiveness through the words of the pastor” (61). This is not the kind of pastoral visits we need more of.

Again, the author has made his Lutheranism abundantly unavoidable, and that’s a big downside to the book. It’s not really a book about pastoral visits, but rather a book about Lutheran pastoral visits. And those are not the same visits I’m seeking to conduct or advocate for.


Regardless of my critiques, there are some helpful sections and praiseworthy things.

First, the man who wrote this book clearly cares about people, especially those suffering. Much of this book reveals the compassionate heart of its author compellingly on display. I was encouraged and stirred by that. The “how to” parts were another highlight and the most widely appealing aspect of the book (69–170). The author covers basic logistical subjects like developing a plan and making a visitation list/schedule. He considers different ways of communicating and encourages a personal and persistent graciousness in pursuing visiting people. Though this section was pretty disconnected from Scripture, it did lay out some basic help in taking up visitations.

I thought the best parts of the book were near the end, his sections on “Visitation Amid Tragedy” (minus his commendation on taking communion privately in homes—please don’t ever do that!) and “Words of Encouragement.” Both were filled with compassionate perspectives that every minister should appreciate.


You’ve heard the phrase: chew the meat and spit out the bones. As it relates to Pastoral Visitation, I fear this book has very little meat and quite a lot of bones.

For a more biblical consideration of pastoral visitations, I’d direct you to Richard Baxter’s classic The Reformed Pastor. I think that’d be a more biblically rich study of the topic to wrestle with, and you would avoid having to swim through an abundant amount of Lutheranism to benefit.

Brian Davis

Brian was born and mostly raised in Detroit. Before moving to Minnesota, he spent 15 years in Philly where he met and married his lovely wife, Sonia, and went on to have three beautiful children: Spurgeon, Sibbes and Noelle.

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