Grief Ministry 101
To be a church that is effective at ministering to people who are grieving you do not have to be a large congregation with numerous people on staff. A small church can implement several principles that will allow them to be aware of the needs of others and be prepared for crises that arise in the life of individuals. Here are a few principles which will help any congregation be more effective at grief ministry.
Be Sensitive to the Needs of Others – Everybody grieves differently. People will respond to crises differently. What may be a crisis to one person, may not be to another. The grief process will be different for every individual and you cannot predict how one might respond. The best thing we can do is be alert to the needs of the griever and be ready to respond when they need us. We should always say something to a person dealing with grief. They need to know we care, but we should refrain from giving advice unless it is absolutely necessary (If a person asks for advice we should oblige with caution. We may also need to intervene or offer advice if a person is a danger to themselves or others.)
Begin a Class on Grief – Smaller churches do not have all the resources of larger ones. They may not be able to offer a grief support group, but they can add a class on grief to their adult Bible class rotation. This class should focus on those who are dealing with grief, as well as, equip those who will experience grief in the future (which is all of us). There is plenty of material for more than one quarter and each teacher will need to craft the material to the specific needs of the class. Here are a few ideas for classes: The problem of suffering, Scriptures on grief, Lament psalms & prayers, etc. It may be helpful to keep the class small and incorporate some things you would normally do in a grief support group.
Ask Women to Minister Before a Crises Arises – Most Churches of Christ do not have women on staff to minister to a woman in need. A preacher or elder may be comfortable ministering to a grieving woman, but the woman may not be comfortable with that situation. If a woman does ask for another woman to counsel with we usually have to scramble around until we find someone. Churches should strive to ask faithful women in advance if they wouldn’t mind being called on if a ministry situation ever arises. This way the congregation would know who to call and the person they were calling would not be caught off guard.
Educate Members – When a person experiences grief many people choose between saying the wrong thing or saying nothing at all. Grievers would like us to say something. They want us to acknowledge their grief even if we don’t have the right words. It’s sometimes difficult to know what to say, but it doesn’t have to be that way. With just a little bit of education we can teach people how to be compassionate. By just spending one or two class periods addressing the needs of grievers we can radically change how our congregation ministers to these individuals.
Continue to Minister in the Months and Years After a Crisis – We are good at ministering to individuals in the days and weeks following a crisis, but then we often move on to other needs and projects within our congregation. A person who has lost a loved wants them to be remembered. If we never mention their name again they may get the impression we have forgot about their loved one. Ministering in the months and years following a tragedy can be as simple as mentioning a name or recalling a favorite story or memory. It may seem insignificant to you, but it could mean the world to a person living with loss.