Four Ways Pastors Can Better Help the Hurting in the Church
For the last ten years, I’ve suffered from a nerve disease that affects both of my arms. I have very little strength and am unable to drive, carry anything more than a couple of pounds, or even tie my shoes.
At the same time, God has given me the privilege of serving as a pastor. I’ve suffered greatly through both physical and emotional pain that has helped me sympathize with the hurting. And yet, even with this experience, I so often find myself failing in my pastoral ministry by not caring well for the hurting. Along the way, both in needing help myself and seeking to provide help for others, I am learning lessons about how pastors can better help the hurting in the church.
Here are four of those lessons.
1. Pastor, listen more than you speak.
This is especially difficult for us pastors because we’re used to preaching relatively long sermons, and we expect people to listen. So we sometimes forget when we’re in conversation and not at the pulpit.
This means we shouldn’t always try to be the “fix-it man,” offering up the Bible as a Band-Aid on someone’s problems. Instead, we should work hard to ask good questions; we should listen; we should try really hard to better understand. This is a ministry without words. It’s simply being there. After all, there are occasions when all you need to do is to just sit quietly with someone, and it’s during those times we need to resist the temptation to correct, blame, or interrogate a hurting person. Be a shoulder to cry on and a burden-bearer for the hurting.
2. Pastor, when you hear of a hurting person in your church, contact them immediately.
Of course you want to make sure the members in the church are caring for another, but if you hear of a need, it won’t take long to drop a quick email, text, or phone call. On one occasion, I terribly hurt a couple because I hadn’t called them after the passing of the wife’s mother. I called and profusely apologized, but the damage was done. I made it clear by my inaction that I didn’t care enough about them to make a simple phone call or send a simple text message. I underestimated how much they were hurting and lost an opportunity to love and care for my fellow members in their hour of need.
It’s helpful for elders to communicate with one another so all of them know which sheep are hurting and need care. More than that, it’s vital to have some practice in place to relay important information so members don’t fall through the cracks.
3. Pastor, pray regularly for the members of your church.
I’ve learned to keep my membership directory right next to me at my desk at home and in the office. These are the people who’ve committed to the church, who I’m committed to pastor and to care for. My directory serves as my prayer guide for the church and reminds me of the needs of the body. I’m able to take the text from my devotional time and pray for my fellow members.
One of our elders also instituted a practice where we as elders take a few pages of the directory and email all those members before our next elder meeting. The goal is to ask them if they have any specific requests we could collectively pray for at the next meeting. Then, at the meeting, each elder gives a brief summary and we simply pray.
Our staff also takes a couple of pages and prays on Mondays. Then we email those members letting them know we prayed for them. It’s also wise, when approached by members at our weekly gathering, to stop what I’m doing and pray for people’s needs right on the spot. Lastly, you might also consider calling members from time to time to check-in and see how they’re doing.
4. Pastor, faithfully preach the good news of the Gospel from God’s word every single week.
The greatest thing you can do for the hurting people in your congregation is to preach God’s Word. Only God’s Word can prepare church members for the inevitable suffering that will come to their lives and to the lives of those around them. There’s nothing more important people need to hear than the good news of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection from the dead.
The best way to herald this good news is by expository preaching—making the point of the text the point of the sermon as you walk through Scripture book-by-book and chapter-by-chapter. Point people to Christ, and let their weary souls be nurtured and find their rest in him.
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Editor’s note: For more on this topic, check out Dave Furman’s new book Being There.