6 Tips to Help a Family in Crisis

As a Children’s Pastor I’ve gotten lots of calls from families over the years. Some have been stories of how God has been working in that family’s life. Lots have been questions about programs and the Bible. And others have been families who have just experienced a crisis and need help.

Crisis Management 101 was not one of the classes I took in college. In fact it’s pretty likely it wasn’t even in the catalogue. I wish it had been. I really could have used it. Instead, I had to learn what to do from the School of Hard Knocks.

Here are 6 things I’ve learned when helping a family in crisis:

1. Pray
The first and last thing you should do for a family in crisis is pray. But don’t just pray for them. Pray for yourself too. Pray that God gives you the right words at the right time. Pray that God will bring His peace to the situation. Pray for wisdom as you take these next steps with the family through rough waters.

2. Show up
Your presence is powerful. Showing up at the hospital or to a family’s home when a crisis hits is huge. Families need someone to be there for them, but they also need someone to be WITH them. Showing up shows you are invested in their success. It also shows they are more than just a weekend number to you and your church.

3. Come with words of encouragement
Be prepared to speak hope into what is going on. You don’t need to know the diagnosis to bring light into a family’s darkest hour. Bring a favorite passage of scripture that is applicable to their situation. Share a story from your life if it relates to what they’re going through. Let families know they will survive what is happening. When a crisis hits, hope is in short supply. Let them borrow some of your faith.

4. Know when to listen
There’s a time to talk and a time to listen. Know when to speak and when to be silent. Sometimes the best thing we can do for a family is just to be there and listen. Be more like Job’s friends in Chapter 2 and less like them in the rest of the book.

5. Offer help 
Sometimes families just need a few meals. That’s easy enough, especially with great resources like this. But depending on how serious the crisis is you may need to pass the baton to someone more experienced. That may be another pastor at your church. That may be a professional counselor. Listen for what the family needs. Be ready with a list of good counselors. Know your limitations and don’t be afraid to refer them.

6. Follow-up
People in crisis are used to lots of people showing up when tragedy first strikes. What many good intentioned people do is show up at the point of tension but, as time goes on, forget to follow-up. A season of crisis doesn’t end after a funeral. A lot of times the real pain kicks in months later. Follow-up with the family afterwards. Set an appointment on your calendar for 1, 2, 3, 4, and even 12 months later to see how everyone is doing. That may sound extreme, but it shows you care and are there for the long haul.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m no expert in shepherding. I know “Pastor” is written on my business card, but sometimes I feel less like Mr. Fantastic and more like Mr. Magoo when it comes to helping families navigate a crisis. Thankfully, God has a habit of showing up when I’m not enough. And He will for you too.

What tips would you add to this list?

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