Responding to someone’s grief when there has been a death makes many people uncomfortable. Not knowing what to say, and the fear of saying something wrong, keeps many people from responding at all.
The same is true when a minister is unjustly forced to resign, whether suddenly or at the end of a long public struggle. Many people within the church don’t know what to do. They loved their minister. They are sad and confused. One Sunday he was there; the next, he was gone.
If you, by chance, are the “person in the pew” whose minister was unjustly ousted and you feel helpless, there is one thing you can do. Let your minister and his/her family know of your love and support. Write notes. Make phone calls. Send emails. Be an encouragement multiple times and in multiple ways because in times of deep grief, trust me, we don’t hear very well.
Does the thought of doing this make you uncomfortable? If so, keep these two ideas in mind:
- Keep communication short and simple.
- If you wouldn’t say it to someone who has lost a loved one, don’t say it to the minister who has lost his/her ministry (e.g. Everything happens for a reason or I know how you feel).
If you’re unsure of what to say, here are some suggestions:
- I love you and I’m praying for you.
- I’m sorry for the pain you’re going through.
- I don’t know all of the details and I don’t need to know. But I know that how you were treated was wrong and it makes me angry. (My belief is that your anger is not a sin; NOT being angry at the way many ministers are unjustly terminated is the sin.)
- You mean a lot to me.
- I don’t know how you feel but I want to help.
- How are you?
- I want to take you to lunch this Thursday. (Be specific about the day and details. That’s far better than saying “Let’s do lunch sometime.”)
- I heard that you’re moving. What is your new address? I want to stay in touch.
Now here’s the hard part—keep up your support over the coming months. Let the minister and his/her family know they’re not forgotten. Grief is a long, painful process for terminated ministers and their families. You can help them heal by staying in touch and communicating your love and support. In the beginning, when emotions are raw, I suggest written communication. This allows those who are grieving to read and re-read your messages when the time is right for them. They may ignore your phone calls, fearing they will say the wrong thing or break down and sob. But they will read your written notes of encouragement. Unless you’re specifically asked to stop communicating, keep at it.
The only option is silence.
And silence, when you’re grieving, is not golden.