In pastoral ministry, it often feels like our days are filled with crisis after crisis. Indeed, part of shepherding the flock of God is caring for the hurting and the broken as they face the crises of their lives. While entering into the crisis is part of the role of a pastor, crises often dominate the attention and time of those involved. This often results in one of two responses by pastors: (1) drop other necessary duties in deference to the crisis, or (2) avoid crises altogether by refusing to enter into the problem.
Neither of these options fulfills the biblical mandate of compassionate shepherding. This post provides the pastor with a model that may be helpful in counseling church members during times of crisis. The model includes three components: acknowledge the crisis, assess the need, and assist the member.
There are typically two reasons a pastor is brought into a crisis. He is either invited in because the member has lost hope and doesn’t know what to do, or the member’s situation has been revealed to the pastor in some way (sometimes unintentionally) and he must address it. Either way, it is a humbling privilege and responsibility to walk with a church member through what is often a defining moment in the member’s life. Whether the crisis is one caused by the member’s own sin, the sin of another, or some other result of the Fall (i.e., natural disaster, health crisis, etc.), the pastor has the opportunity to enter into the world of the member.
It is in these moments that the pastor is able to love the way Christ loves. This is the time for true incarnational love. The way to do this is to acknowledge the circumstances of the member. Crises bring fear, pain, hurt, hopelessness, loneliness, and a host of other emotions and thoughts. The loving pastor will enter into the circumstance and acknowledge the crisis.
Acknowledgment requires listening to the member. One of the primary goals a pastor should have when counseling members is to truly listen to their story. To truly acknowledge the crisis, the pastor cannot just listen for the facts of the story, he must listen to the way the member is interpreting what is happening. This will give him the information he needs to move to the second component.
Once the pastor has entered into the crisis and truly listened to the member’s story, he can assess the need(s). Sometimes the crisis is not truly a crisis, it is just the irrational thinking of the member. Every pastor has members that can turn the smallest of situations into a crisis that they believe demands the pastor’s time and attention. There are other times when the member is in genuine crisis and the pastor must actively work to employ a team of helpers from within the church body and help from other professions. The point is the pastor must acknowledge the crisis and genuinely listen to the member’s story in order to make an accurate assessment. Proverbs 18:13 states, “The one who gives an answer before he listens — this is foolishness and disgrace for him.” (CSB)
It is not only the privilege of the pastor to enter into the crises of our members — it is a great responsibility. As an under-shepherd, the pastor has the responsibility of assessing the situation.
Here are a few assessment questions that may be helpful:
What is the nature of the crisis? Is it primarily physical? Spiritual? Mental/emotional?; Is it primarily personal, or is it inherently connected with some other group (i.e., family, neighbors, co-workers, etc.)?
Does the crisis require some kind of physical intervention (i.e., calling the authorities for suicide intervention, finding a safe place for an abused wife, etc.)?
Are there criminal/legal issues that must be addressed (i.e., abuse, custody, etc.)?
What are the spiritual issues involved (i.e., sin that must be confronted, forgiveness that needs to be offered, faith that needs to be instilled)?
What kind of timetable does the crisis require? Typically, a crisis requires immediate attention, but some aspects of the intervention do not necessarily require immediate action.
Once you have acknowledged the crisis and assessed the need, it is time to act. Although it hasn’t been mentioned yet, the first and most effective resource you have as a pastor is prayer. The entire process should be bathed in prayer. Pray as you prepare to meet with the member, pray during your meeting (both privately and with the member), pray as you assess, and pray as you assist. Pastor, the most important thing you can do for your member in crisis is intercede for them before the God of the universe (“devote yourselves to prayer” Colossians 4:2, CSB).
Along with prayer, remind the person(s) in crisis of the character of God (He is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent; He is altogether good; He is love). I often remind counselees that their current crisis did not take God by surprise. He is intimately involved in the crisis and is working in the midst of it for their good and His glory (Rom 8:28).
Next, bring the resources of the church into the crisis. The body of Christ is meant to minister and serve one another. Work from your assessment to determine what resources you can point the member to and make the connections whenever possible. For example, for a member experiencing a financial crisis, either go with them to introduce them or have the person charged with financial help reach out to them personally. Reassure the member often that the church is a family, and they are not alone. We are meant to depend on each other.
Finally, persist in the care of the member in crisis. Set a date to meet again or a calendar reminder to contact the member and ask about progress. Often when the initial shock of the crisis has passed, it is easy to forget and neglect the follow-up. However, follow-up care is vital to continued health and continued ministry. In fact, our follow-up is not really complete until the member is not only through the crisis, but also ministering to others (see 2 Corinthians 1:3-11).
This model and the descriptions of each component is by no means comprehensive, but hopefully, it offers a starting point so that you will be confident to enter into the crises of your members as skillful shepherds. What other helps would you add?