Ministry Life

Family Grieving

How to help those who have lost a loved one to suicide
Everyone can relate to difficult circumstances, especially during these economically tough days when people are losing jobs, homes and retirement savings. Divorce is on the rise, as are addictions to alcohol, drugs, gambling and sex. For millions, the emotional stress has become almost too much to bear. Yet among those suffering exists a group that actually believes the crisis is too overwhelming. Unable to cope and devoid of hope, they believe there is only one solution: suicide.
How should pastors respond to those who are suicidal or those who have lost a family member to suicide? Are you equipped with the therapeutic and supportive resources to aide parishioners who are grief-stricken? Part of your role as a pastor is to bridge the gap between emotional despair and spiritual freedom, yet that is rarely an easy task. When it comes to counseling suicidal individuals or grieving families, the work is taxing. Yet even if you lack certification or training in professional counseling, here are some key elements you can apply in helping people recover from the effects of suicide.

1. Use a team approach. You’re not a doctor, and you don’t play one on TV. Use a strength-based approach by tapping into the expertise of professional and trained individuals in the field of counseling or social work. Seek their guidance and incorporate their suggestions in the efforts to aide a grieving family. Ask them about external supports or resources that are best suited to meet the needs of the family. Some families may not be comfortable revealing their feelings to their church family, so respect their right to privacy in seeking outside support.
2. Show empathy. It’s critical that those grieving feel your sincere sensitivity, warmth and understanding. Regardless of the circumstances, refrain from making statements such as, “Didn’t he know it’s selfish to commit suicide?” or “How could she be so dumb?” There’s simply no room for this type of insensitivity. Those left behind are already confused, shocked and dazed. Help them understand that suicidal people generally want to end their suffering and pain, seek to alleviate their unendurable psychological pain, and relinquish their self-perceived reliance on others. Your compassion can help bring a sense of understanding and acceptance.
3. Be there to listen. Silence is golden, and there isn’t a better time to apply this principle than in the crucial days following such a tragic loss. Give the family space and time to work with a professional counselor and sort through the psychological and spiritual impact of their loss. In some cases, they may feel a sense of scrutiny and stigmatization. To the best of your ability, serve as a buffer from harmful remarks. Your presence as an effective listener will be pivotal throughout the entire ordeal.  
4. Ask questions. Don’t assume; ask candid and open questions. It’s easy to beat around the bush in a situation like this, but don’t let that happen. Not only will you assist the family in dealing with core issues, the questions you ask will help you ascertain vital information and give you insight into how you might prevent suicide’s devastating impact in the future.
5. Become familiar with suicide risk. You can learn about suicidal signs by attending a seminar or a suicide prevention conference. Many symptoms are easily overlooked, so take the initiative to learn more by researching online or talking to a social worker. There are also suicide hot lines available in virtually every community. Provide contact information for these in the bulletin at your church.

Devon A. Blackwood counsels at Johns Hopkins and Hope Health Systems and is president and CEO of B.W. Affiliates. He is the author of Planted By Water and is writing his third book, My Season.

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Next-Generation Worship

d-MinLife-WorshipHow to attract—and empower—a new generation of worshippers

 


Most music has a shelf life. While there are many songs both sacred and secular that span the generations, a vast majority fades into distant memory with the years.

The same can be said of worship music. We all remember and cherish the songs that we sang in our churches when our lives were first changed by the power of God. Those songs stay with us, embedded in the story of our relationship with Jesus. But on a regular basis, new, dynamic worship songs and albums sweep through the body of Christ and again transform lives. These songs are the beauty of God’s creation responding to its Creator.

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Building for the Future

d-MinLife-PersonalFinanceWhy personal finance must be set upon a strong foundation 

The more the economy continues to bump along, without much evidence of rebounding, the more anxious people become about the future. We don’t like uncertainty, especially financial uncertainty. Have you noticed how many people are ready for economic change? Nearly all of us! And regardless of how we’ve weathered this recessionary storm, we all have a need for a solid financial foundation.

Poor employment numbers, diminished value on investments, lost equity in real estate—these and more have pushed many of us out of our comfort zone during the last several years. This has instilled some with an urgency to find new ways of doing things and has led to some good changes. Many, though, are still looking for direction, hope and a positive outlook about the future.

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Making Kids Church Amazing

d-MinLife-ChildrenHow can your church become a child’s favorite place to go? 

A few months ago I conducted a water baptism interview in my office with a 10-year-old girl. We talked about all the reasons that Christians should be baptized, and I walked her through how and why we immerse kids and adults into the “big bath tub” and what it means.

The interview continued, and then she asked if she could share something with me. While in chapel at school a few days earlier, she said, a teacher asked the students where their favorite place was to go. One of the kids in the front of the room raised his hand and exclaimed, “Church!” Enthusiastically, the little girl in my office added, “Church is my favorite place too!”

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Ministering Freedom

d-MinLife-CounselingHow to help people surrender their deeper issues to Jesus

Jesus came to set captives free. Whenever He taught, healed the sick, and ministered to crowds and individuals, He viewed each person as someone who was trapped and needed to be free—not as someone who was lazy and needed to try harder. The emphasis Jesus put on freedom throughout His ministry indicates just how important freedom ministry is.

Freedom ministry is far more than a one-time event; it’s a year-round, ongoing discipleship process. It engages people at an ever-deepening level and equips them to live in freedom and, ultimately, to become instruments of freedom in the lives of others.

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Refueling Station

How is your church helping parents who are running on empty?

Almost all parents feel at times like a person who’s run out of gas—they’re going on empty. Desperately they look around to find “parent fuel” that fills them and gives them confidence in raising their kids.

Parents look to the church as the gas station for the parent fuel they need. But often even the best churches have little to offer. How can your church fuel parents so they can move down the road toward God’s parenting destination?


 

Begin by looking candidly at the parent fuel your church provides—or doesn’t provide. Ask the hard question: Why are your parents out of gas? Picture them on the side of the road staring at an empty tank. Could they have filled up at your gas station when they drove by?

Church leaders often complain about uncommitted parents dropping off their kids at church, yet they continue with the usual superficial fare: A yearly family sermon series. A meeting for parents to get them excited about upcoming activities. A pleading announcement for help in the children/youth ministry. A seminar on the evils of culture, music and the Internet.

What about your church? Does the pastor meet with and mentor younger generation leaders? Do youth pastors cycle through every year or two? Do younger generation volunteers relationally disciple kids? Does antagonism exist between parents and youth/children’s leaders? If your church is not yet a “full-service gas station,” answering these questions is the first step toward offering the fuel your parents need.

Next, envision a refueling place for parents. Imagine your church as that place—a ministry environment that equips parents to max out their influence with their kids.

Begin by acknowledging this fact: Parents are the No. 1 youth leaders in the world! Parents, beyond all others, have the most dramatic personal influence on their children. George Barna confirms this truth in his book Revolutionary Parenting, in which he reports that an AP-MTV Youth Happiness Poll found two-thirds of 1,280 teenagers surveyed listed parents as their greatest heroes, and 47 percent of teens say that their parents have the greatest influence on their spiritual development.

However, most parents lack the fuel to max out their influence. Barna goes on to say that parents are “desperate ... parenting by default, lacking self-confidence ... turning over their parenting responsibilities to others. This crisis is seriously undermining the potential of our next generation to become spiritual champions.”

Envision the solution to this dilemma by holding one hand over your head and one hand out from your side. Imagine every parent reaching with one hand to connect with God and reaching with the other hand to connect with their kids. Through parents, kids connect to God.

You can turn this vision into reality with:

• A process that focuses parents on pursuing their relationship with Jesus and on fulfilling God’s parenting purpose.

• A Spirit-led experience with other parents to pray over and discuss their kids’ issues.

• A set of relationship and discipleship-building tools that connects parents with their kids’ hearts. (For specific direction for fueling your parents, go to parentfuel.org.)

Imagine your church’s influence when the No. 1 youth leaders in the world fill up on fuel that leads their kids to follow Jesus!


Barry St. Clair is the founder and president of Reach Out Youth Solutions (reach-out.org) and creator of Parent Fuel resources (parentfuel.org).

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