Ministering in the Aftermath of a Terrible Crisis

Keith Crosby 

"Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep."  Romans 12:15

We hesitate to write too much on this topic because things seem too fresh in our community.   Over the years, as a pastor, we have helped parishioners through the deaths of loved ones, children, and even murders. We’ve never before helped people through a hateful terrorist attack of the likes we suffered here in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. This is new ground for many of us.

We are slated to meet with at least three families who were victims of the terrorist attack. We’ve spoken with two victims already who have lost spouses and friends. What do you tell them? What does one say? As always, the Word of God has something to say about every inch of thread that makes up the fabric of our existence. Maybe you are reading this and facing a similar meeting or discussion. We believe the wisdom and instruction found here in God's Word applies to all who grieve and all who would help them. Let’s take a closer look at what the Word of God says. There are principles here anyone can apply in order to minister in this situation (and others).

Verse 15 tells us if anything that we are not called to be eloquent or profound. ‘Rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep’ requires presence not profundity.  You don’t have to be profound. You do have to be present. You don’t have to be a special-trained ‘grief counselor.’ You just have to be a believer. As believers we are called, whatever the situation, to be there for them. What might this look like? They may wish to share memories or recollections with you---and that might bring some comfort, or even a smile, to them. Rejoice with them. Listen. Just listen, you don’t have to say anything.

They may be nearly inconsolable. Verse 15 tells us to weep alongside them. Before Job’s friends blew it with him, they just sat with him and shared his grief. That’s part of weeping with those who weep. In the early days of a tragedy, people aren’t necessarily ready, willing, or able to receive instruction. Don’t give them much or any, at this point. Don’t tell them to snap out of it. Just seek to console them. Assure them of your concern and God’s love. Listen to them. Your presence is important.

Presence speaks to availability. Whether you rejoice with them over fond memories or weep with them over the pain of their permanent or temporary loss, you’ve got to be available to them and for them. This also means making yourself vulnerable. How? If you get too close or become too distant or timid they may lash out at you. This is wrong but under the circumstances it should not be unexpected. Naturally, being available may mean doing the laundry, arranging for meals, viewing the body with them. You get the picture.

Don’t think that you can subcontract this to others who are ‘professionals.’ Let me let you in on a secret. Psychologists, grief counselors, and even pastors are just as clueless as you because each person is a little bit different and two situations are seldom alike. God has equipped all of us to help others through our life experiences and most importantly by His Spirit working through His Word. You just have to be there for them. Remember, Christianity (and we are writing to Christians) is not a spectator sport. A big part of the Christian faith is ‘doing life together’ and that includes ‘doing death.’

Presence also speaks to being there for them over the coming year. This goes beyond days, weeks, and months. There will be holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and just dark days that they hit like a brick wall. Too often people melt away from those who grieve within weeks after a loss. We can't do that. Even an occasional phone call, email, text, or meeting for coffee will suffice. Our goal is to never let them believe that they have to face this alone. There are some things we cannot do for them. And then again there ARE somethings we can do for them AND with them.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep speaks to sympathy, empathy, and encouragement. We can all express our sympathy. Few can empathize as empathy comes from having experienced a similar tragedy. However, we can encourage. Encouragement entails wise words, softly delivered.

What do we say to them? How do we speak to them?

"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear."  Ephesians 4:29

Don't pollute the situation with foolish or impulsive speech (Ephesians 4:29a): Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths. Yes, these murderers were terrible people who have embraced a monstrous belief system. You don’t have to tell the victim that. Yes, they will burn in hell for what they did. It might make you feel better to say this but think of others. You are there for others. Proverbs tells us even a fool seems wise until he speaks. Don't pollute the situation with foolish or impulsive speech.

Say things that are constructive, positive, biblical, and, therefore, true (Ephesians 4:29b): but only such as is good for building up. Say things to build up not tear down. Tell them you love them and care for them. Remind them that God loves them. They may not feel that way. But we broke the world that God made. These evil acts are symptoms of that brokenness and sin. God sent His Son to save, redeem, and restore. Keep this in mind as you encourage them. Speak words that edify. Avoid any angry speech on your part. Speak gently. This is not the time for a theological lecture (although theology, sound biblical principles, should inform your speech).

Choose your words carefully (Ephesians 4:29c): but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion. Speak in a way that is fitting for the occasion. Before you open your mouth to say something, ask and answer two questions in your heart. First, ‘is now the time to say what I’m about to say?’ Do you really need to say this right now? Second, ‘is what I’m about to say going to bring pleasure to God?’ If God is your focus, then you will love your neighbor appropriately and properly as you choose your timely words carefully. These two questions posed to your soul may keep you from mixed or corrupt motives.

Speak to bless (Ephesians 4:29d): that it may give grace to those who hear Speak to give to them and others in earshot better than you may be receiving from them. You want to speak in a way that gives grace and blesses all who hear or overhear. This is about God and them---not you. People say we live in a surveillance culture where the government monitors our emails, phone calls, and texts. This is nothing new. As Christians we have always lived in a surveillance culture: people listen to us to see if we really believe what we profess to believe. You have been raised up for such a time as this. God has put you where you are in this place at this time to minister. Speak in a way that brings glory to God and good to others (and growth to you).

And be present. Again, just be there for them. Rejoice or weep with them as appropriate. This may be new ground for you. Yet, we are reminded that this is not new ground for God. Paul writes, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1Corinthians 10:13 ESV).” God is faithful. Our uncommon God will do uncommon things through common, inept people like us if we cooperate with Him and make ourselves available.

One more thing: get help to help them (and you). In Romans 12:15, the commands (i.e. rejoice and weep) are actually Koine Greek infinitives. The near context implies that Paul is writing to numbers of people (i.e. a church), as does the occasion and setting of the Epistle itself. Don't try to be a one person 'crisis team.'

Earlier we noted that Christianity is not a spectator sport. It is, however, (humanly speaking) very much a team sport. The body of Christ is made up of many people with many gifts. They can be present with you, in person or in spirit, as you are present with those who grieve so that you can, we can, as a body of believers “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

Pray for the people of the "Inland Empire" in the coming days and weeks and months (and years). Pray for us. We don't have all the answers but we know the One who does. The needs (our needs) are great indeed. Mercifully, the One True God is greater. That’s where the gospel comes in. Grace to you.

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