- Christopher Wesley
On Monday I had to say goodbye to a very special person. A former student of mine was laid to rest and it was one of the most painful experiences I’ve ever had. It doesn’t matter how long you do ministry losing a student hurts.When someone young dies it’s not just the family who feels it, but the entire community. While you don’t want to think about these situations it’s important to be prepared. As a youth minister you need to make sure than when someone young dies that you:
LEAN INTO THE SITUATIONWhether it’s a former student or current student you need to lean in and embrace the situation. That means reaching out to the family and their friends. Communicate with your team how they can be present and put together a plan of action. Don’t assume that other people will lead the way. Make sure you do your best to engage
LISTEN AND BE PRESENTIn a time of crisis your presence can be more powerful than your words. Your presence assures the grieving family that they are not alone. Allowing them to lament and share gives them a safe place to express emotion.
REACH OUT AND PARTNER UPWhile you want to lean in make sure you have support. The amount and range of emotions will be a lot to handle. Lean on other youth ministers, and look for experts in your community (i.e. grief counselors) that you can go to for wisdom.
DO A SELF CHECK-INNo matter how close you were to that student make sure you are receiving support. That doesn’t mean you need to seek therapy, but surround yourself with men and women who can love on you. Have people check-in with you to make sure that the situation doesn’t consume you.
LEAD OTHERS TO GODWhen a young person dies the church you work at will be flooded. It’s the perfect opportunity to bring people back to Christ and the best way to do that is by reminding them of the blessings and not the consequences. Talk about God’s love, mercy and grace. Remind people that God is not punishing them by taking away someone they love. Show them that God wants to walk with them in this season of life.
FOLLOW UP A LITTLE LATERThe days leading up to a funeral are sometimes easier than the ones that follow. Be sure to check-in with loved ones a few days, weeks and even months after their loss. It will be moments like birthdays and milestones (i.e. high school graduation) that will be challenging to handle. To follow up send them a card, give them a phone call and let them know that you are thinking of them. Be sure to take the initiative and do not assume that they will reach out to you first. Saying goodbye to anyone is difficult. It’s a season filled with many different emotions and feelings. If we can remind people to love one another as God has loved us then we will prevail.
Question: How have you handled death in your church community?