Last month, tragedy struck Townville, SC as a 14-year old walked up to the Townville Elementary School and opened fire on a playground full of children. A random bullet struck a 6-year-old student, Jacob Hall, hitting an artery in his leg and causing massive blood loss. He died three days later.
Tragedy is something all of us face as pastors. It might not be as dramatic as the passing of Jacob Hall but tragedy will happen in your church so knowing how to handle it ahead of time can help. Here are three things I recommend when someone in your church faces a tragedy.
Pray Before Meeting
Before you meet with the family, bathe your conversation in prayer. Ask your Father to prepare your heart for what you are going to face when you meet them. Ask Him to give you "the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding" (Phil. 4:7).
Understand You Don't Understand
Something we must remember is that we don't need to have all the answers. Many times, when we meet with families, we are tempted to say, "I know how you feel" but nobody knows how another person feels because feelings are personal (Proverbs 14:10). You can't know how they feel but you can empathize with their loss. Another thing we are tempted to do is to explain why the tragedy happened but we need to understand we don't understand. This side of heaven, we don't know why people face tragedies in life and to try to explain the unexplainable is not helpful, to either them or you.
Listen and Love
Your primary responsibility when you meet with people after a tragedy is to listen and love. Being available to them is the most important thing because it helps them deal with the hurt. And, while you are listening, love them. Don't judge or question their response to tragedy, even if they lash out at God. Just love on them.
Tragedy will happen. But how you handle tragedy can help your people through it.