How to visit and pray:

You Came Unto Me

Part 4: A Guidebook in Pastoral Calling

for Ministers and Laymen [and Women]
by Russell L. Dicks, 1951
Department of Pastoral Care, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina


I have always emphasized the importance of asking questions as a way of expressing one's interest in another person. The problem here is to avoid being "nosey" and asking very personal questions, especially before there is a desire to talk about a given subject on the part of the person we are talking with. We describe the tendency to move too rapidly on the part of the caller as aggression. The art of asking questions is to express one's interest without appearing to be aggressive. "Direct questioning", says Harry Stack Sullivan, "will never get at the basis of a major problem." Neither, I might add, will it build up a good relationship; and to repeat again the building of friendship is what our work is all about, for through friendship problems are solved, purpose given to life, and hidden resources for creative living are released. In another day all of this would have been described as redemption or salvation. Call it what you will, so long as your goals for living are determined in relation to and through the influence of the Central Figure of the Christian religion you will not go far astray.

In the summer of 1949, while working in the Denver General Hospital with a group of students from the Iliff School of Theology, I came to a near understanding of the use of questions in developing the interpersonal relationship. A very pleasant, attractive, mature young minister was in our group. When his reports came in they were dull and uninteresting. He never seemed to get at anything that was very significant. While another fellow, big and ugly and easy-going, was winning the confidence of his patients and dealing with the most intimate of information. As I studied the reports of these two men I began to realize that the first asked only one type of question, what I came to call the information type, while the second asked a variety of questions. This put us upon the study of types of questions. Since that time the effectiveness of our work has increased steadily.


The layman and average minister need not be concerned about any except the first three of the following questions, with an occasional use of the fourth. They will carry you into any situation and if properly used will develop an adequate relationship providing there is the need for one. I list these other types of questions, and there may be still others, just to give the full picture.

1. General Non-personal. The first type of question which we use is the general non-personal. It could also be called the non-threatening since it deals with subjects that are not related to the person with whom you are talking. It is important in the early contact with the person while you are getting acquainted. "It's a nice day, isn't it?" "Do you think it will rain?" "How is the road past your home?" "How is the peach or wheat crop?" Obviously such questions may be very personal and very meaningful. If a farmer has wanted rain, if the person to whom you are talking is a wheat dealer, if the bad road means a long detour, these subjects may be both personal and threatening.

2. The Information Question. This has to do with factual information and may lead at any time into significant emotional material, but it need not as there is no necessity to give more than the answer. This type of question supplies background information at the same time it expresses the interest of the caller in the person with whom he is talking. "How long have you lived in Blankville?" "Where did you live previously?" "What is your work?" "How did you get into that kind of work?" (This last question may be quite personal). "Do you have a family?" "Is your daughter married?" "Do you get to see her often?" "Does she have any children?" (Again, this question could easily open up a vast area of emotional material) "How long have you been sick?" "Did you rest well last night?" "When did your husband die?"

3. The Dynamic Question. This question deals with feeling, or emotional material, and is, in my opinion, the heart of the matter. In that respect it must be used with care and only as the relationship has reached the point where both persons are quite comfortable talking together. It is saying to a person who has told you about a problem he is facing or an experience he has had, "How do you feel about it?" "What does this mean to you?" "What's going on inside you?" "Why do you think you act that way?" "Do you think God sends suffering?" "Have you thought about what you will do?" These latter two border on the information type but in a given situation of hostility or grief they would inevitably deal with feelings.

4. The Reflective Question. This is the question which reflects back the thought that has been expressed. It may use the same words which originally were used or be expressed in different words. A person says, "I seem to worry all the time." Your response is, "You worry?" or, "Your mind goes around and around?" In the use of reflection you respond and encourage the one who is talking but you do not change his line of thinking nor do you guide his thinking, and you do not introduce new ideas into the conversation.

This method was popularized by Professor Carl Rogers of the University of Chicago. I think that its use is limited but I recognize that in some situations it is quite helpful. Our students often say, "When in doubt, reflect." Some of them are in doubt a great deal of the time.

5. The Eductive Question. Eductive means to draw out. Seward Hiltner in his book, PASTORAL COUNSELING, suggested this type of question; in fact he based his entire methodology upon it. It means drawing the answer from the person one is talking with. It is saying to a person, "Do you think your feeling toward your father is responsible for your illness?" "What has that love affair to do with your failure in school?" In my opinion this method calls for a tremendous amount of understanding and skill on the part of the caller and is not apt to be effective in building the interpersonal relationship.

6. The Interpretative Question. Close to the above is the interpretative question, one in which new ideas are gotten across. It is different from the eductive type question in that the latter draws from the person, or draws to the center of his attention, answers which he is already conscious of; in the interpretative question definitely new answers may be suggested.

The interpretative question is asking, "As you grow older do you find yourself getting more interested in church?" "Will you be able to help your daughter financially while her husband is still in school?" "Don't you think it would be better for you to be in the same church with your wife?" The use of this question is both doubtful and limited.

7. The Suppressive Question. This question may also be called authoritative and judgmental. It drives a subject back into the mind of the person with whom you are talking and threatens the relationship, and it is doubtful if it influences his behavior or his decision. It gives the impression that you are not sympathetic. I know of few places that it can be used helpfully, but you may desire to express your opinion and may not want to state it as such. It is saying to a person, "Of course you could not take a job like that, could you?" "Do you believe in that kind of thinking?" "You wouldn't want to be that kind of person, would you?" "Would you want your daughter married to him?"

8. The Demand Question. This is not so much a question as it is a statement with a question mark in your voice. It is saying, "Would you like to talk with me about it?" "Tell me all about yourself." "How can I be of help to you?" "If you want to talk about it come and see me."

A few years ago a play called "Harvey" attracted attention on Broadway and across the country [now more famous as a Jimmy Stewart movie]. It was the story of a delightfully lovable alcoholic who had as a companion an imaginative rabbit named "Harvey". People were always trying to help the alcoholic. They would say to him, "How can I help you?" and "Come and see me if I can be of help to you." "I'd like to talk with you sometime about yourself". The alcoholic had a stock answer to all these statements and questions: "Just what did you have in mind?" This is an excellent answer to the caller who is not able to formulate his questions more specifically than "How can I be of help to you?" or, "If I can be of help to you, call me", which is like a doctor saying to a patient, "Just how do you think I can be of help to you?" The doctor knows how to go about his work of finding out how he can be of help. So should we.


A constant criticism of ministers is that they are judgmental of people and shocked by their behavior. This is probably as far from the truth as any conception of the average minister that has ever been thought up. When people talk to a minister, and do not express a strong attitude of pride and egotism, for the minister, like others, is intolerant of pride, he is one of the most understanding and sympathetic persons there is. In fact he is so sympathetic and anxious to be of help that he is "taken in" constantly.

It is true, however, that the minister like many others has difficulty in making himself listen. I am sometimes asked, "Do you think you can teach women to listen?" I answer, "If I can teach ministers to listen, I can teach women to listen." The minister's major discipline is "preaching"; in the past about the only instruction he received in the practical ministry was in preaching, and he has thought of himself as "called to preach". Listening is the opposite of preaching and it calls for a high degree of discipline on the part of the listener, for the asking of questions assumes that the one of whom they are asked will have the opportunity to answer them.

Argument is not conversation and so far as I know no one has suggested that there is a sacramental value in argument even among lawyers who are proficient in the art of verbal combat.

Anything that remotely smacks of argument and difference of opinion seems to be "rejection" by the person who has expressed the contrary view. It is often pointed out that Jesus condemned the sin, but not the sinner. I would claim that this is an artificial distinction and has no meaning to the one who has sinned, particularly at the time he is feeling guilty about his act.

As I get to know you, and as our relationship builds up, I will be able to tell you anything I think or feel if the need arises. In fact, it is doubtful if much of a relationship will be established unless a good deal of permissiveness does exist on your part. If you are rigid, if certain ideas and certain behavior disturbs you, you will not be a helpful church caller, nor an effective minister. Actually you need help yourself from a counselor.

Permissiveness is your ability to permit another to express any opinion, feeling, disappointment, failure, desire, and yet feel that you respect him and are still interested in him. The person who is an alcoholic needs this kind of treatment more than anyone else, although everyone needs it sooner or later.

When you have finished a conversation go home and write it down. Write down what you said and what the person you talked with said. Thus you will be able to discover whether you have actually been permissive or not; also, you will discover the kinds of questions you asked.

The sacrament of conversation is not limited to the asking of questions but the use of questions serves as the spearhead in establishing and developing the relationship. Once it has become a strong relationship you need little further instruction in handling it so far as conversation is concerned. However, do not over-estimate it. One constantly meets persons who upon first impression are attractive and interesting, and yet, as you get to know them you find that they have many acquaintances but few friends; their relationships are extremely superficial. Why? Because they talk too much, are self-centered, know all the answers, are constantly on the move, spinning their wheels, because they feel extremely insecure emotionally.

Conversation may be a sacrament because through it and the feelings it sets into play the Grace of God flows through you into another.


Prayer is one of the minister's ways of helping other people as it is one of the ways we have of helping ourselves and each other. There are two problems as far as prayer is concerned in pastoral callings when to pray and what to pray. The minister will pray often, the employed church caller not so often but frequently, the lay volunteer seldom. For a more complete discussion of when to pray I refer you to my discussion of the subject in PASTORAL WORK AND PERSONAL COUNSELING, Rev. Ed., 1949.

If a minister is calling upon a person who is facing a great crisis such as illness, death, grief, the layman may assume that the minister will pray with the suffering person unless he decides not to for some good reason. If there is no minister calling, you should try to find out whys if the person talks about God, prayer, the church, in a friendly and appreciative way then you may, if you feel comfortable doing it, offer to have prayer. Prayer may be introduced in various ways but the easiest way is to say, as you come to the end of your call, "Would you like us to have a prayer before I go?" Seldom is the offer refused if you have read your signs correctly. That is, if the person you are calling upon, parishioner or non-parishioner, welcomes you and shows appreciation for your coming through what he says and the tone of his voice, and secondly, if he refers to the church or religion in any way such as asking you for your prayers. One man said, "Remember me tomorrow morning. I'm going to be operated upon". That was his way of asking for prayer then.

Elderly people appreciate the offer of prayer both by minister and layman; this is especially true of elderly women who have been active in the church. Such persons also like to have the Scripture read to them. In my little book, COMFORT YE MY PEOPLE, 1947, I have selected Scriptural passages which are peculiarly adapted for the aged, sick, dying, and bereaved, together with prayers for persons in these situations. These are to be read by the caller, not left for them to read after you have left. Other books and pamphlets have been prepared for that purpose. The leaving of a book or pamphlet, or if the suffering person cannot read at the time, reading it for him or her, is appreciated. Again this is especially true of elderly people.

The employed lay volunteer, of which I visualize an increasing number as they become available for the churches of above eight hundred memberships, are much closer to the minister in what they can and should do so far as praying is concerned when they call. Most of these persons are women. As employed workers they symbolize the church and religion very much as the minister does. In this position the worker will and should follow about the same procedure as the minister does. That is, sick parishioners who are facing an operation, persons facing life with a handicap and having difficulty accepting it, those going through long convalescence, and those facing death, which are the major spiritual crises in illness, will welcome and be helped by prayer if they have any background of religion. These situations, however, will not indicate to the volunteer layman caller that he should offer prayer if the patient has other pastoral attention. If not, you may, just as the nurse must upon occasion, give spiritual care to the suffering person.

The question of what to pray is somewhat easier to answer for we have collected examples of prayers that have been helpful. These are taken from my book, COMFORT YE MY PEOPLE.


Eternal God, Father of us all,
We come to Thee in quietness and confidence,
Thanking Thee for the gift of life and the strength of faith;
Faith which bears us up at all times,
Faith that sustains us in the strength of the Everlasting Arms.
Bless this one through these days and make him whole again,
Bless all those who serve Thee through the healing ministries,
Doctors and nurses and all who serve the healing forces,
Bless his loved ones and strengthen them through faith.
In Jesus' Name, we pray. Amen.


Almighty and Ever Present God,
Thou Who are near unto us at all times,
Make us to be quiet that we may know Thee.
Thou hast a will and a way for us,
Give us the courage to seek it.
Speak to us through the quietness,
That we may commune with Thee and be whole again.
Bless this Thy loved one,
May we know Thee through those that serve him:
Through the hand of the nurse, the skill of the physician
Through the love and affection of those near and dear to him,
And through the healing forces within him.
Give him hope and confidence for the days before him,
Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.


I am the resurrection and the life,
He that believeth in me shall never die
But shall have everlasting life.
Eternal Father, we lift up our hearts unto Thee in the quiet of the evening.
As the birds seek their nests and children the shelter of home at eventide,
So we come unto Thee and are comforted,
Knowing that underneath are the Everlasting Arms.
Give us rest in the night and in sleep envelop us,
And finally bring us unto eternal life.
Now may the Lord Jesus be and abide with you,
The Lord graciously with His Favor look upon you and give you peace.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Almighty and Ever Present God,
Thou in Whom we live and move and have our being,
Draw near unto us, that we may know the support of Thy affection;
Bless this one (these persons) through these days and renew him (them) in faith.
May the affection he has known bear him up through the days ahead.
May his loneliness give way to fellowship,
And may his regrets give way to hope;
Overshadow his despair with a Divine peace.
Enable him to know that we commune with our loved ones
Who are gone before as we commune with Thee.
May we know that dying is a moving toward a fuller life with Thee.
May we not look longingly back at our yesterdays,
But move forward eagerly toward our tomorrows,
In faith and hope and confidence
Through the Grace and Love we know in Christ Jesus. Amen.


Eternal God, Creator of life, Author of hope,
Giver of spiritual peace and the life everlasting;
Thou bast blessed us and renewed our confidence;
Through the years Thou bast strengthened us for the day's task,
Comfort this dear one is the days of later maturity.
May the lessons of life bear him up
And may the fullness of faith strengthen him.
With the passing years he has gained wisdom,
Now may communion with Thee guide him in the evening hour.
Reward him through Divine affection
And make him to know a deeper love in Thee.
Give him a vision of the eternity before him;
Support him with the affection of the church invisible
And give him high hope through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.


We thank Thee, O God, for this Thy servant; patient in tribulation, rejoicing in hope; continuing instant in prayer; not slothful in business; given to hospitality. Having fought the good fight, and kept the faith grant to him the crown of life that fadeth not away.

Put far from us, O God, all worry and misgiving; that having done our best while it was day, we may, when the night cometh, commit ourselves, our tasks, and those we love, into Thy Holy keeping and accept of Thee the gift of sleep. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Eternal God our Heavenly Father, Who bath bidden us through Christ to be Thy disciples, we praise and bless Thee for this Thy servant who has accepted Thy call.
Make him (her) to be a loyal and faithful member of Thy Church which is set amid a changing order and face to face with a great to task.

Grant us strength and courage for the facing of our labors, that we may be used of Thee for the Advancement of Thy Kingdom on earth.

Bless this home and all for whom it cares. Unite together its members by a bond of love which earth cannot destroy.

And, we beseech Thee, when our life is finished here, leave us not nor forsake us, but guide us into the Eternal City of God, where with Thy Saints and with Thee we may have fellowship forevermore. Amen.


O Eternal God, Creator and Father of us all,
Thou Who are our Protector and Support;
We thank Thee for a life preserved and a life given.
We rejoice in this hour and pray for Thy continued care.
We thank Thee for physicians and nurses and all who serve Thee in the drama of creation.
We thank Thee for the safety of [woman] and for the child that has been born to these Thy servants. May their lives over flaw into its life and may they nurture it in a love for Thee.
Blear this baby with a strong body and a noble spirit. May it bring boy and happiness to the home into which it has come and may it grow to do thy will, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Lord, support me all day long of this troublous life, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and my work is done. Then in Thy Mercy grant me a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last. Amen, Lord, Jesus, Amen.

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