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Get ready to work hard: When crisis comes to the church – Part 4

Part 4 of a 5-part series. I will post one part each day this week.

people are hurtingRather than several wounded members, you are now ministering to an entire congregation of the hurting. You will need to be on your game. Here are several helpful things you can do:

Sharpen your listening skills. According to those who have been through church leadership crises, all kinds of “stuff” will surface throughout the congregation. Your pastoral counseling skills will be put to the test during this time. Get ready. Be prepared every day to listen intently to hurting people.

Old wounds that have nothing to do with the crisis at hand will surface. New hurts have a way of reminding us of old wounds. People may come to you to talk about situations from childhood, the newspaper, previous churches, families of origin, bad marriages, and many other old hurts that resurface as people grieve. A financial offense might bring someone to the place of again struggling with the time their childhood pastor had an affair and was forced to leave. The pastor not fighting to defend herself, might bring up memories of a member’s mother who allowed his father to walk all over her.

There is an elephant in the room, and he is hiding in every worship service, every meeting, every dinner, every time two or more are gathered. Pain of which you were previously unaware will begin to be expressed. Listen intently to the pain. Some connections will make sense. Some will not. It doesn’t matter. All the pain is real – no matter how recent or how old. Listen and help the person sharing work through it with you.

Give others room to grieve – As you know from every funeral you have ever been part of, people grieve differently. They move at different paces. Give them room to work their process. It is tempting to try to “help” them move from bargaining to anger, but you know it will only frustrate the other. Listen a lot. Talk little. Don’t share your feelings, even when asked. They are probably not ready to hear where you are. Don’t be disingenuous or patronizing. Simply steer the conversation back to the feelings of the other.

At some point you are going to be done, or at least think you are. “Enough!” you will want to shout down the halls of the education wing, during worship, or in the midst of a meeting. Despite the strong pull in that direction, but you cannot proceed that way.

Back in step one, before the rest of the congregation was even aware there was a problem, you became intentional about your process. You started dealing with your feelings of grief – the anger, frustration, sadness, guilt, etc., weeks before the rest. You are long past denial, even maybe through anger, and moving on to healing, but the congregation is behind you. You will be facing people in all stages of grief – sadness, anger (often misdirected toward you or someone else),  bargaining, frustration, and more. Don’t try to speed their process along. Slow down. Come alongside them. You are still needed.

Have awkward conversations – Working through the crisis, you will become comfortable feeling uncomfortable. There will be plenty of awkward conversations, and if you are like me, you will want to avoid each of them. From the conversation with the staff member when you are wondering about their behavior, to the conversation with the committee where you advocate for disclosure, to the chat in the office with the one who is so very hurt that we are “doing this to our pastor,” to the one who shares with you a story of another time they were betrayed. Suck it up, take a deep breath, and go. Trust the guidance of the spirit to help you through this.

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