I hung up the phone and couldn’t believe what I had heard. Crisis had just struck one of our families in the church. Their child was in a horrific accident and it looked really bad. Rushing to the emergency room, I wondered to myself, “What can I do to help besides pray?”
Thinking this way is common for many young ministers. They may have never been around a crisis situation and in that situation, often the family is looking to them to give guidance. Every situation is unique and every family is different but there are a couple of areas you can focus on to help you minister effectively.
1) Make the Family your Priority
- Focusing on the family is your first priority in a tragic situation. Spend time just being with them at the hospital. This part is hard for the person who wants to serve all the time. There is a time to serve and you will be serving the family, but your first priority is to be with them.
- Sitting with the family in silence can be hard but often our presence is better than our words. Saying something just to fill space is not necessary during times of tragedy. Do not feel like you have to have all the answers or have to automatically try to make people feel better. Your main focus is to be with them as they are trying to begin processing the reality of the situation.
2) Advocate for the Family
- Arriving at a hospital right after a tragedy is hard for anyone especially someone who is there for a loved one. Many questions are asked and the family can be overwhelmed with details. Stepping in to help represent the family is the perfect role for the minister.
- Be an advocate for them when the red tape gets a little crazy. You can also make sure they are not getting worn out telling the story over and over. Sometimes that helps people deal with the situation, but for others they need someone to be the “spokesperson” for the family and we can do that to help them.
3) Protect the Family
- Tragedy brings out all kinds of emotions and some of the people who show up at the hospital to be with the family may not be the most helpful to the family at the moment. Some people come and they want to be the “main” support to the family and the reality is they want the attention for themselves instead of really serving the family. Others can come to sit and “worry” with the family. The worriers can make matters worse and really bring everyone down
- You must protect the family from these people and that may mean asking them to not say certain things or let them know that they are appreciated, but aren’t needed at the moment. You will want to use as much wisdom and tact as possible, but your main focus is to protect the family from people who are hurting the situation more than helping it.
- When my wife was diagnosed with a brain tumor, we often had people come up to us and tell us stories about relatives or friends who had the same diagnosis. This was nice but many of them ended the story by telling us how fast they died! That is not what we needed at the moment. Many people out of their own insecurity can be more of a hinderance at the hospital than a help.
The emergency room was full of people when I arrived and the situation was very grim. After praying, my focus was on helping the family. I stayed with them even to the point where they had to make a very hard decision. I can still recall the details of that situation because I did more than pray for the family, I was there. Let’s be there for those who need us during the crisis times of their lives.