Among your fellow church members there are several who know sorrow. They are found among your friends and acquaintances. Maybe you know sorrow yourself.
Ministry to the sorrowing is a worthy part of an elder's calling. But you may well think of it as a difficult task. Perhaps that's why you postponed it, or were sparse in providing it. You may feel just not capable to do this kind of ministry. But you can.
Here are some thoughts you may consider.
Don’t postpone making the visit. How? Make an appointment! Then you (have to) make the visit. Don't be solution-oriented. Avoid giving advice. Avoid thinking that grieving can be “solved.” Sickness can be treated, grieving cannot. It becomes part of the sorrowing person. The empty place cannot be filled. Absence remains real. In this visit you walk a little way with the sorrowing. You ask how he/she is doing. It is usually proper to refer to the person-departed. And you may tactfully inquire how that person is being remembered, what he/she was like. And do a lot of listening. If you have known the person-departed, you may affirm what the grieving person tells you. It is so important that grieving people tell their story. You have ministered well if you listened well.
Don't refer to other situations of grieving you may have known. Don't refer to some of your own possible experiences of grieving. There simply are not two situations alike, no two people grieve alike. Focus in this visit to this grieving person, facing this instance of bereavement. You will respect this person's own unique way of grieving. Don't even hint at weaving some correction into what you observe. By sharing the details of how it all happened and how it hurts, the bereaved person gains some new strength, some courage to go on.
Be patient. Don't try to measure the “success” of your visit. Having listened to the story is its own success. It is not your duty to lighten the burden of sorrow.
You yourself will be the richer for this visit. Your congregation living with the reality of sorrow in its ranks will more readily depend on the Lord. You represent the congregation in making this visit.
And remember, the Apostle Peter told the young Christians that in their suffering they might know themselves connected with the suffering of Christ. (I Peter 4:11-19)
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