Being in ministry means that you have been in the room—ER, family room, or church—where loved ones grieve tragedy. I have never met the guy in that room who feels the urge to speak right away. We want to be there as pastors to hug, hold, and weep with our people just as Christ did with Mary and Martha when Lazarus died (John 11:35).
However, if you are in the room long enough, something needs to be said. Eventually, the grieving want to hear something, if only a few words, from their leaders. So especially young pastors need to learn what to say when the right time comes along. How do we glorify Jesus and comfort the brokenhearted? If you do not know the answer to this question, you are not alone, but let me warn you that day is coming for you if it has not already.
I will never forget 2012 when both my dad and also my sister were going through cancer. My dad went to be with Jesus in August, and my sister is doing well today in 2013. What my family needed most from our pastors was silent presence and respect. But there was a time where we needed to hear words of love and encouragement along with something from God. The people who helped me the most patiently waited through the silence to speak God’s Word to us in due time.
Here are three things that need to be said at the right moment:
1. “I want you to know the church is here for you and your family.”
Yes, this promise seems obvious as an outsider, but it is what the hurting need to hear and see from their church family. If it is all you say in the time of tragedy, hurting people need to know they have someone to call for help. It is amazing how many details and duties come along with tragedy, such as informing people and providing food for family coming in town. Hurting people need to know that they have somewhere to go with all the extra things that come with hurting.
2. “Can I pray for you?”
It is true that grieving people do not want a sermon, but I have never seen anyone turn down prayer. You are leading them to the place where they really need to go and where they will need to stay in the days to come. Do not be shy about this offer. It is so easy to lose your bearings in time of suffering. We all need help bringing God to the center of our experience.
3. “God’s Word says . . . “
This seems difficult to say for many reasons. You as the pastor may feel overwhelmed by their direct experience of pain, which you do not share. So you think it is awkward to speak up at the right time, but that is not what they are thinking. In my experience, the suffering are desperately looking for solid ground to stand on. Give it to them. You don’t have to open a Bible, but speak a short passage of God’s truth for them to hang on for that day. Trust me, they will.