Loss is hard. Although everyone handles grief differently, I’m convinced that nobody handles it easily.
One of the ways that Christ comforts His children is through His body –the church. Romans 12:15 reminds us to “weep with those who weep.” After all, that’s what Jesus did. When His friend Lazarus died, He wept with Mary and Martha over their loss (John 11:35).
So when Jesus gives us, His ambassadors on earth, an opportunity to represent Him through comforting those experiencing loss; we must not take it lightly. That’s why I think it is vital that every church think through their own “care plan” now.
Pastors, loss is coming to your church –probably sooner than later. Have you taken the time to make sure your people will represent Christ in the best way possible? Or will you just hope and assume that things will work out?
If you are like most pastors, you probably have people in your church that have always taken care of the hurting. These people have served as unofficial “grief coordinators” for years without any formal structure or plan initiated by church leadership. You may be tempted to think, “I don’t need to worry about this because they always take care of those things.”
But what happens if the lady who normally coordinates food for grieving families is on vacation? What if the deacon who normally visits the grieving is in the hospital?
I want to encourage you to take some initiative here. You are the pastor –its your responsibility to make sure that the church has a plan. This doesn’t mean you have to do all the work, but instead, you need to make sure a proper plan is in place to make sure all the work gets accomplished.
So here are a few suggestions to be proactive with your church’s grief care:
1) Share your heart. Make sure everyone in the church understands what you want to accomplish in grief care and why it is important. Give them biblical reasons.
2) Recognize those who already serve. Identify everyone who already takes the initiative to serve those suffering from loss. Ask around to make sure you have a list of everyone (you don’t want to miss somebody). Then, have some sort of appreciation event (banquet, small meeting with thank you cards, recognition in front of the church body, etc.) to communicate your appreciation of their work and your desire to understand the process that normally takes place. Never suggest a new process until you’ve taken the time to understand the old process.
Ask those who have served in the past to help you identify possible weaknesses in the existing plan. Ask them how someone could potentially fall through the cracks. Then, encourage them to help brainstorm ideas to strengthen the process.
3) Don’t try to take over this ministry. Don’t steal this ministry from your people. Instead, be sure to empower the congregation to take ownership of caring for the grieving. This doesn’t mean you neglect the hurting. Instead, it means you “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12) and enjoy ministering together.
4) Communicate with the grieving person’s support system. Don’t act as if your church is the only source of care the person will receive. Most of your members have friends and family who will support them in their loss as well. Be proactive in communicating and working together with others to provide care. It’s a great opportunity to show that the church is a ‘team player’ concerned more about people’s needs than protecting their ‘own turf.’ Who knows, it might turn into a great opportunity to share the gospel.
5) Offer to communicate on behalf of the grieving. Ask them if they would like for the church to utilize announcements, bulletins, social media, etc. to communicate things like 1) hours they can receive visitors, 2) where they can send food/memorials, 3) ways they can pray for the grieving.
6) Put their loss on the calendar. Someone within the church needs to keep up with a “loss calendar.” This is a powerful tool that enables you to follow up with calls and cards 3 months, 6 months, and on yearly anniversaries of loss. One of the most difficult realities for grieving people is the realization that others are forgetting their loss. A timely note in the mail or call on the telephone can bring incredible joy.
7) Go disposable. Maybe it’s just because I’m a guy, but when I experienced loss, the last thing I wanted to do was wash dishes and return them to people. Stacks of orphaned dishes are demoralizing. Ask your people to take dishes in disposable storage containers. And, if your church has a supply of napkins and plasticware, consider having a volunteer who sends a packet of these supplies to the house of the grieving family.
8) Remind your people to look for more needs than food. Yards need to be mowed, trash needs to be taken out, and floors need to be cleaned. During the holidays, a little “decorating help” can be a huge blessing.