How to thrive as a ministry family when tragedy strikes

July 31, 2017

My church body recently walked (and is continuing to walk) through one of the greatest tragedies I’ve ever witnessed. Our community is suffering, mourning and asking difficult questions.

Initially, it was one of the most exhausting weeks my husband and I have ever experienced in ministry. In many ways, we felt unqualified for the task before us. Yet, my husband, a pastor, visited faithfully with grieving family members, counseled church members—some in office and some by phone—led our church staff through their grief, and preached a funeral, all in a span of five days.  

For those who serve in ministry, tragedies cannot be avoided. Although a devastating event may not be personally affecting, it strikes at your heart and mind, and in the overflow, it strikes your home. When others have experienced a personal loss, the sufferings within a minister’s home may be overlooked during a time of crisis, and rightly so. However, that does not diminish the difficulty of the days you are experiencing.

As we weather this current storm, we are clinging to these life-giving truths in order to minister well and take care of our own bodies and souls. I pray this provides you encouragement in whatever you may be facing.

1. This is a spiritual battle. Begin by remembering Ephesians 6. Every tragedy involves people, and at times, it’s easy to see a person as an enemy. Avoid this temptation. The truths found in Ephesians 6 allow us to remove antagonists and protagonists from the narrative, and rightly focus our eyes on and prayers against the devil’s schemes.

Every tragedy involves people, and at times, it’s easy to see a person as an enemy. Avoid this temptation.

Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand (Eph. 6:11-13).

2. Soak in the gospel. My husband and I have read and re-read Romans 8 together. Its reminders of what Christ has done for us, that the Spirit is alive in us, and of how the Spirit and Christ intercede for us offer such sustaining grace.

No matter what we may face, “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38).

And this too, is what we have to offer others in their grief. As C.S. Lewis wrote in his introduction to The Problem with Pain, “When pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.”

3. Create temporary boundaries. When your church body is in the middle of a crisis, many people are affected. Everyone and everything feels urgent. However, there are simply logistical and physical limits to your ability to respond to all the requests for counsel, while still maintaining your own rest and emotional energy.

It is likely that you will need to set boundaries with some people for a period of time in order to be able to minister well to those who are truly affected. Tragedies will reveal those who are ill-equipped to handle trials. You will need wisdom to discern those people and set boundaries.

4. Rest. My husband and I have done everything we can to rest well these days, cancelling some morning appointments and leaving housework undone. There have been some evenings when my husband turned off his phone for a few hours to spend time with our children. You will need physical strength to sustain your emotional strength.

"But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one" (2 Thess. 3:3).

5. Call in the troops. This might not be able to happen right away, but as soon as possible, I seek to create life-giving scenarios for me and my husband. I invite over friends who are easy and understanding. I sit at a friend’s kitchen table and let the kids play. I ask for our parents to come to town. Whatever you can do, take advantage of it. We are made for community and strengthened by community.

In the midst of experiencing such sadness, God has also provided people who have encouraged me and my husband in this work. We have seen how he was sustaining us through the prayers of others that we didn’t know were praying. We have seen our church body serve and love and encourage each other in ways that has blessed us as well. We can see that God is working in so many lives through this experience, redeeming what was meant for evil, and that he “will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Gen. 50:20; Phil. 1:6).

Jill Waggoner

Jill Waggoner serves the ERLC in the areas of public relations and marketing. A 2005 graduate of Union University, she and her family reside in Lebanon, Tenn., where her husband Brandt serves as lead pastor of Fairview Church. She and Brandt have three boys. Read More by this Author