5 Ways Pastors Can Prepare Their Churches for Suffering
Pastors, it’s inevitable that members of your congregation will suffer. D.A. Carson has famously said, “All you have to do is live long enough, and you will suffer.” As you seek to shepherd your congregation, don’t wait until suffering comes. Don’t start preparing people for death in the ICU.
There are several things we can do as pastors to prepare our churches for suffering right now. Below I’ve listed five.
1. Pastors, keep preaching expositionally.
Expositional preaching makes sure the point of the passage is the point of the sermon. It also normally includes walking different books of the Bible passage by passage. By doing this, the pastor ensures a biblical diet for their members—a buffet of teaching from the historical books, poetic books, prophetic books, the Gospels, the epistles, and apocalyptic material.
By regularly rotating your preaching calendar, you will by necessity hit on all areas of the Christian life, including suffering. Furthermore, by preaching expositionally you’re more likely to share with the congregation what God has to say about suffering rather than tips from your own limited experience.
2. Pastors, don’t forget to preach the Old Testament.
Don’t forget about how much Old Testament books have to teach us about trials. As you preach through Genesis, 1 and 2 Kings, Jeremiah, and Job you will highlight for your people believers who trusted God amid suffering.
The heroes from Scripture aren’t the heroes of comic-book movies we watch today. David once said he would regularly flood his bed with tears. Job curses his own birth and thinks he and the world would have been better off if he had died. Elijah wanted to die when Ahab and Jezebel were coming after him. Under the back-breaking burden of leadership, Moses asked God to take his life. Jeremiah has been called the weeping prophet for his lack of fruit.
These men are the heroes of the Bible—and each one suffered. So pastors, hold these Scriptures out for your congregation regularly.
3. Pastors, make the church a safe place to open up about pain.
As it’s often been said, the church is not a museum of saints but a hospital for the hurting. Our members need to know this. They need to know they won’t be ostracized for their weakness, but that suffering is a sadly “normal” part of this fallen world. They need to know they won’t be immediately asked of being in unrepentant sin when they admit they’re feeling mental or emotional pain.
One of the best ways to make the church a safe place for the hurting is for pastors to be open about their own suffering. Clearly, the spotlight in the sermon and the worship service needs to be on Jesus. But when appropriate, pastors should feel free to share their own struggles. It might be sharing in an evening service or asking for prayer from the congregation at appropriate times. The goal is to not make it abnormal or awkward for church members to bring up their own struggles before the body.
4. Pastors, talk about heaven a lot.
Our congregations need to know that their best life is not now. They need to know that Jesus is going to return and make all wrongs right. So pastors, point your people regularly to Revelation 21 and 22 where Jesus will wipe every tear from our eyes and death will be no more—neither will mourning or crying. On this day, eternal joy will visit us and never leave.
Teaching on heaven may not automatically console a suffering person. But it’s much easier to have this rich doctrine in your heart before trials come, rather than to try to inject it in the midst of intense suffering.
5. Pastors, build a culture of care—starting now.
Ephesians 4:7 tells us that Christ gives each believer the gifts and abilities to serve and care for others. In other words, caring for the hurting is not the sole job of the elders, but of the whole congregation.
With this in mind, it might be wise to encourage certain members who are gifted at this to inspire and lead other members in helping the hurting. Perhaps this will encourage a culture of care to emerge. Perhaps it will begin to be normal for one member to help another member. At our church we have a deaconess of member care who has built a team of church members who together look out for needs in the congregation. If you can get a culture of care started today, you’ll be ready when suffering and tragedy come.
* * * * *
Editor’s note: This article has been adapted from Dave’s new book Kiss the Wave: Embracing God in Your Trials.