5 TIPS FOR CHURCH LEADERS TO HELP FAMILIES IN CRISIS
One of the first contacts a family makes when faced with a crisis is often to a pastor or ministry leader. Even if you lack experience in this area or are new to your current ministry context, many people look to you as a source of hope and wisdom during times of loss and despair. What a humbling opportunity you and I share during these moments.
- When that next call comes or visit is needed, how might you respond?
- Are there protocols or systems in place at your church that help provide a framework for this aspect of your ministry?
- What examples (good or bad) have you observed from other pastors or leaders while ministering to families in need?
Thinking through these questions can help you prepare for such an opportunity. But you will undoubtedly learn most via personal experience. As you continue to show up, care for, and walk with individuals in crisis, you will develop your own methods of shepherding those whom God has entrusted to you. As one who has served in ministry for twenty years, I want to offer you five key lessons I’ve learned in my experiences. Whether your next ministry opportunity finds you besides someone’s hospital bed, in a family living room, or in the hallways of a funeral home or church building, these 5 tips could help you, as a church leader, help families in crisis- their moment of greatest need.
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1. Remember the power of presence.
As a pastor or church leader, we are often known for what we say, for always being able to give an answer or provide direction. Yet, when meeting with families that are grieving, their most immediate need isn’t always hearing from you. They just need to sit with you.
To listen is to love.
This is one of the greatest ways to show you care. Once you’ve been seen, people are more open to hearing from you. This is because your mere presence demonstrates a message that says, “I’m here… I care for you… I’m sorry… You’re not alone.”
Therefore, you can resist the temptation to know all the answers or fill the silence with words. Jesus exhorted His disciples, “…do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time, you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matthew 10:19b-20, NIV) For immediate context here, Jesus is telling His disciples how to respond when arrested and brought before the courts. But I believe the same principle applies to you and me when seeking ways to minister in moments of great pain or need. Listen to the Holy Spirit. Trust God’s voice before rushing to use yours. Your presence alone carries a greater impact than you’ll ever understand.
2. Discover the facts.
There can be lots of noise and activity around grief, tragedy, and loss. Do your best to learn what’s happening in order to understand your mission and how best to serve those most affected by the situation.
Years ago, I was on the sidelines of a high school football game when the principal came over to inform me that one of their students had just died in a car accident en route to the game. The moments that followed were full of speculation as to what happened and who was involved. But the principal and school resource officers continued to provide me with the facts, as well as updates concerning the procedures put in place each day to minister to the students and families directly impacted. This kept me informed regarding not only what took place but how I could best serve the school and the community that was affected by this tragedy.
You’ve likely been in similar situations where speculation, hearsay, and hypothetical scenarios add even more drama to what has happened. People often find it difficult to resist the urge to publicize or communicate everything they read or hear. This is why Paul reminded the believers in Ephesus, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” (Ephesians 4:25, NIV)
In those moments, be sure to determine the person or persons who can provide facts about what has happened. This will enable you to learn what info is most vital to serving others in a way that is most needed.
3. Embrace the role of peacemaker.
There are many roles you will play when ministering to households in crisis. But one immediate service could be that of a peacemaker in situations where there is added tension amongst grieving families or individuals.
Perhaps family dynamics are tense or toxic. Maybe the details surrounding the crisis are so troubling that the hearts and minds of all those directly impacted are particularly sensitive. Whatever the circumstance, remember this: you can’t fix everything or take the pain away. But serving as an intermediary amidst volatile relationships or situations can prevent clashes that only further the pain of the situation.
In His sermon on the mount, Jesus proclaimed: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9, NIV) Seek guidance from the Prince of Peace, especially when the crisis and chaos seem overwhelming. God is there. He is working. And He wants to use you to be His hands and feet to lead others to find rest, hope, and peace in Him.
4. Consider the needs of the entire household.
No one grieves on an island. Regardless of the circumstance, when one member of a family hurts, the entire household hurts together. Remember, your ministry is to the family unit, not just individuals. You may have communicated primarily with one family member, but how is the rest of the family doing? 1 Corinthians 12:25-26 reminds us, “so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (NIV)
Who else needs ministering in a way that’s different from others? If you’ve only spoken to the parents, be sure to ask, “How are your children doing?” Is there someone you to enlist for help? (Family member, professional, community member, etc.)? As a pastor or ministry leader, these are the moments when you get a front-row seat to witness how the body of Christ serves one another. Look for ways other believers can minister alongside you. This could come in the form of providing meals, childcare, or assistance with daily logistics. By encouraging all members of the household, you enable an entire family to grieve, rest, and heal together.
5. Show and share the Good News of Jesus.
Because of the gospel, death is not the end. As you sit with those who mourn and share with those in anguish, your objective is simple: always point people to Jesus. In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul reminds believers why we have hope even when faced with death…
“13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (NIV)
This is the Good News. Even if you don’t know the spiritual condition of the one who recently passed, you can always point people to Jesus. When faced with crisis or loss, the human heart is in its most sensitive condition. Like a withering plant that’s in desperate need of water and sunlight, be sure to pour the Truth of God’s Word into the heart and life of those needing to hear it most. Through it all, the message we pray that people remember is this: In Christ, our hope is secure.
One last thing…
Along with these 5 tips to help families in crisis, please remember as a church leader: do well to take care of your own soul. Ministering to those grieving or in crisis can take a toll on your heart, mind, soul, and body. Be sure to seek refreshment from the Lord and your own family. You cannot neglect either of these and continue to serve others well. Just as emergency crews and personnel take time to recover and rejuvenate, pastors and ministry leaders need to maintain their own well-being in order to continue to serve others in the future.
I encourage you to check out some of our resources on how to CARE FOR THE SOUL. You’ll be glad you did.
Nick Mobley has served in student ministry for 20 years and currently serves as Family Pastor at Northside Baptist in middle TN. His passion is helping families show and share their faith from house to house. He and his wife Courtney have 3 children, Samuel, Sophia, & Asa. They love ice cream, the outdoors, and think that Dauphin Island, Alabama, is one of the coolest places to spend a vacation.
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