My heart went out to the families and friends in a neighboring community this past weekend which was dealing with the loss of three teenagers in a tragic car accident. The crash is still under investigation and all the details are not known. However, the devastation for the family and friends of this small community is going to be felt for years to come.
As I thought about this small town crisis, my heart broke for the man of God within our denomination that would minister to these families. At least of one the children killed was a member of his church, and the others were friends of the teenager so he may even have known them as well. He will be called upon to provide emotional support, pastoral care, and answers to all the theological questions of the families in a time of crisis, mainly “WHY”
The pastor will be challenged to work with family members at different points in the stages of grief, and keep it all straight in his mind. Family will go through the stages ranging from denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. He will not only deal with these emotions and stages of grief with the immediate family (mom, dad, sisters, and brothers) but he will also face the emotions of the grandparents, aunt, uncles, and dozens of other relationships.
As a pastor, associate pastor, and counselor I have never had to address the issues this pastor is facing. The funerals that I have been called on to do were of older men and women that had lived a full life, and the end was messaged in time, know that it was coming.
As a pastor, anytime we address an unplanned death it is hard: car wreck, complication from surgery, suicide, and shooting. These are all hard and for us as pastors/ministers, to think that we are above the emotional struggles that our members face is crazy.
However, over the years in my role as an associate pastor and counselor I have worked with several pastors that have faced similar challenges. As I talked with them and encouraged them I shared six foundational points that I believe are essentials for “Pastoral Self Care in a time of crisis”
1. As a pastor we must not be afraid to cry over the loss of a member of our church or a dear friend that has died; we are human and need to address our own emotions.
2. As a pastor we must be willing to take care of our own personal physical needs, including getting enough rest, eating healthy, and getting some exercise (getting up and moving around). On a personal note several years ago, I did a funeral about three hours from home for a family member and missed this part of the Self-care. We drove in late that night, got very little sleep, did not eat breakfast, and went through the whole day with no rest. On the trip home that afternoon (real late) I was in the back seat with a migraine, and sick to my stomach from not eating.
3. As a pastor we have to be willing to talk with a minister friend or counselor about our own personal emotions and feeling, especially in situation like this one where you know that individual and the family that you are dealing with.
4. As a pastor we need to find time to continue in our personal prayer and devotional time. This is essential in keeping us grounded in the word of God, and addressing our own spiritual relationship with Christ.
5. As a pastor we need to spend time with our own family throughout the process. This is not only for you, but for them as well. This is even more important if for example in this case (and I don’t know this for sure) the pastor has a teenage son/daughter that knew the kids that died, they may have questions that they need there pastor/father to answer as well.
6. Lastly, as a pastor, (and sadly this is something that as pastors we are really bad about because it takes planning for the future.) every pastor should have a group of pastors/ministers that he meets with at least monthly, if not weekly to provide support and encouragement, in the great blessing a that God provides; and wise counseling, a shoulder to cry on, and prayers that you will need as you address the challenges of death or crisis in your church.