The pulpit is a place to dispense pastoral care, in fact it is the primary place to dispense pastoral care. There is this tendency to segregate pastoral care, and pulpit ministry into two separate areas of the pastoral call. The standard sentiment seems to be that the pulpit is for preaching the gospel, and the visitation or counseling session is for pastoral care.
There are probably a myriad of reasons this dichotomy of preaching/pastoral care has arisen, but I believe the number one reason is that we have come to believe that the Sunday sermon is the primary evangelistic tool of the church. Most pastors seem to buy into this; the fundamentalist pastor builds his message around saving the lost soul that ventured into a pew, the Church growth guy builds his message around some principles for a better life complete with some cute stories and a joke or two to get them to come back next week, and the missional pastor spends his pulpit time inviting people to participate in social justice or the great commission with his congregation. In all three of the aforementioned examples the sermon is used with the intent of getting the uninvolved, unchurched, or unsaved into the flock. What is the problem with this? The problem is that the very covenant community, which happens to be involved, churched, and saved, is never the intended audience of their pastor. The sheep get neglected in favor of 'potential' sheep. Now the clever pastors believe they have found a way around this, and that way is small/home/cell group ministry. The idea is that the pastor cannot preach in such a manner that his faithful will grow, because for them to grow the depth of his sermon would be too much for the 'unchurched'. So to address the problem the pastor recommends that his faithful sheep go to the small groups to grow and to be cared for. Sounds great right? Wrong!
I am not anti small group by any means, but I am sick of hearing the "that's wear the real growth happens" line brought out by pastors who have neglected feeding the sheep on Sundays. In most cases the leaders of small groups who are called to 'facilitate' discussion, and have no theological training and have not been selected by a process that evaluates their qualifications as pastors. Yes I said their qualifications as pastors! If we are going to make the small group the primary place where people are pastored, should not their leaders meet the biblical criterion of a pastor? Do you see the problem? The sheep are left to whoever is willing to volunteer their home to lead, while potential sheep not yet of the flock get lead by the pastor, the one who has a calling on his life to lead the sheep! It's all backwards. Pastors, we are to care for the flock, so that the flock can go healthily into the world with the Gospel to the lost, unchurched, dechurched, or whatever current cliche you drag out when referring to people without Christ.
I do believe in doing visitations as a pastor, especially to the sick. Yet what is it that you bring to them? The good news of Christ, who lived, suffered, died, and rose FOR THEM. That is what pastoral care is all about, bringing the Law and Gospel into the various dark, difficult places where people are. While visitation is for the individual, Sunday morning is a visitation so to speak for the covenant community, and that is how it should be treated. We should enter the pulpit with care of the congregation of our Lord as our first concern! Our goal should be to bring Law and Gospel to the sheep for their health and edification, leaving them emboldened by grace to go into the world. I will leave the lost to the small groups... but the pulpit ministry is for the sheep.
That was a bit rantish, but think about it.