A recent widow writes in response to contemporary church culture with respect to coffee bars, sermon series, and couches. “When church leaders sit around and discuss how they can reach people, I don’t think they have the widow in mind. I don’t think they have the cancer patient in mind. I don’t think they have the children who are growing up without a parent in mind. I am not paying attention to the church décor when I walk through the doors. I don’t want to smell fresh brewed coffee in the lobby. I don’t want to see a trendy pastor on the platform. I don’t care about the graphics or the props on the platform. I am hurting in a way that is almost indescribable.”
And I get that, totally massively get that…
The thing is, dealing with such grief is far outside the domain of the church. I mean I totally get the expectation of such that maybe the church should be there, after all it does funerals, and pastors can and do provide wise council in times of grief. In addition, when one consider Galatians 6:2 in isolation… bear one another burdens seems an entirely reasonable expectation for the church with respect to grief matters, that is until said verse is read in context.
Bottom line, grief ministry is beyond the scope of practice for most churches. Sure, they will have a trained pastor with a few units of clinical pastoral education. Maybe a few might have a Stephen ministry… but the average person in the pew is not equipped for such, and this is where one often runs into a jam really fast.
there are hundreds of things believers can say to a grieving person, and nearly every one of them, short of a few, is ill advised, Such includes badly chosen prayer verbiage… more than a few times, I thought, are you really going there??? Its really easy to get frustrated by such when it happens over and over and over… and yes, knowing that said folks have the best of intent helps mitigate some of the harm, it is still is a very sucky place to be in when you sort of wish you could rain down fire instead.
Personally, I leaned on friends of all faiths, and found lone rangering in the church environment to be the most helpful. I worshiped corporately, but outside of coming in late and leaving early, I kept my distance. I’ve heard similar stories from other widowers. Jesus is the answer… but his followers, not so much.
That being said, grieving is an individual thing… for some, they really need the close and upfront support of a community of faith… but then they will have to figure out other ways to deal with the counterproductive approaches of church folks. I don’t know how one would go about this. The other side of the coin, is that maybe the church needs to do a better job of equipping its members to approach widows and widowers, but it seems the only way to truly learn it is trial by fire, and that’s not so great either.
And while the coffee bar, dimmed lights, sermon series, or even a trendy couch on a stage likely won’t bring folks to Jesus, the probability of them going counterproductive is exceedingly low. I wish I had a better answer.