5 Ways Church Members Can Help Grieving Church Members
Christian scripture instructs Christ believers in this way in the matter of supporting others as they experience grief through loss or some other crisis: “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill[a] the law of Christ.”—Gal. 6:2, (NRSV)
In the immediate moments after the loss of a loved one, church members desire to be helpful to those in the throws of their most difficult moments. This tool is to help you help member(s) of your church who experience grief due to the death of a loved one, illness, or some other medical and/or family loss. Your biggest help to a fellow member in this stage is for you to remember that your grief or empathy can never be the focus; those who are family must remain the focus. While the heart of the member in this state is good, the action(s) make all the difference! Here are some best steps to be a blessing to persons experiencing grief in your local church context:
1. Don’t run in; pray through:
The biggest failure of churches and its’ members is that they overwhelm person(s) in active grief with things that cause them work, energy, and emotional ownership of the persons trying to empathize and serve them. These factors cause the person(s) in grief feelings of guilt, duty, and at times emotional weight that keeps them from processing their own grief. In the immediate hours after an incident, we help our church members most by:
- Giving those who grieve space to grieve (little direct communication)
- PRAYING for them by name and with others.
- DO NOT inquire “what happened”, etc., these question can be too painful.
- Refuse and quell rumors from other persons quickly.
- Go to scriptures for strength and direction to pray.
- Remember, the member who has died and/or is ill, etc. has accepted Jesus Christ as personal savior and has eternal salvation already assured (Romans 10:9).
2. A few hours after the moment of incident, offer the grieving member the following question: “what do you need RIGHT NOW?”
- Only do what they ask for, no more.
- Don’t share what they say with others; encourage others to ask themselves.
- Ask every couple of days, rather than daily. Give them space.
- Ask over months; not only days.
3. Encourage grieving member to seek trained, professional support.
REMEMBER, you are not the counselor/trained expert; you are the church member. Let the experts work with them to deal with grief, as grief is a complex emotional and at times psychological condition.
4. Do not give the grieving member anything that will cause them the burden of any work/tasks.
The line between being helpful and hurting is thin, and requires calm, thoughtful, and clear understanding of both the role of a fellow church member’s witness in the life of the grieving, and their own need for grief and balance. Central to these steps is the realization that while you or I may be grieving for the person who has died or has fallen to some other difficulty, the first peeople we must focus on is the spouse and/or family members who are directly affected by the challenge. Our grief must be handled distinctly from the family’s grief. Not distinguishing these levels of grief often increases the difficulties of the grief for spouse and/or family in ways unintended, but is detrimental to healing.
5. Make a plan to write notes and cards of encouragement to the grieving member over the next year, and mail them.
The first 30 days are often the easiest in the process of grief for persons due to the level of support people receive. It is the weeks, months, years after that complicate the grief and expand feelings of loss and pain. Notes of celebration and cards of encouragement are healing in ways that cannot be described. Cards to recall the best of the one who has expired, words to share your willingness to them, and other helpful thoughts of scripture and support are healing in huge ways. Often, handwritten words are cherished like few other items.