September 16, 2019

Weekly Reflection – Ministry in Times of Illness and Loss

Weekly Reflection – Ministry in Times of Illness and Loss

Ministry to others who are suffering illness, loss, or crisis is often an uncomfortable experience. We will change the subject or even just walk away rather than engage the one who is suffering on the level of their pain. Too often we say things that are more hurtful than helpful; like, “I know just how you feel.” to someone whose close relative just committed suicide. Or when a couple walks into the church building and explains that they come from a divorced situation. “Will be welcome here?” they ask. And the church leader they are speaking to simply turns around and walks away, not knowing how to deal with their matter. Have you ever found yourself in such a situation?

So, what is the secret to effective ministry to those who are sick or in crisis? A Chaplain friend of mine says, “The secret to effective pastoral care is engaged listening.” Yes, just listening, listening without judging, resisting the urge to share my “counter-story.” A listening that invites the other to “unload” their feelings. There is a place for quoting scripture or sharing personal experiences. But most situations require engaged listening and rapport building before the other will be willing to listen to our “Bible speak.”

Often a minister will call on someone, and the conversation will be cordial but more on the level of “chit chat.” You tell me a story. I tell you a story. Etc. But the conversation has no depth. How can we move from such a social visit to one that is more spiritual? It may be as simple of asking, “Where is God to you in all of this?” Or, “Do you have a church home?” Or, “Has your spiritual life been affected by your loss?”

Here are a few alternative ways we might use to respond during a visit more effectively. They were developed by long-time chaplain Dr. Virgil Fry of Lifeline Chaplaincy. (

Instead of: “You’ve got a long, hard road ahead of you.”
Try: “No matter what happens, I want you to know you’re not alone.”

Instead of: “My uncle had the same thing, and he died.”
Try: “What’s going on with you today?”

Instead of: “God knows you can handle this illness, or He wouldn’t have let you get it.”
Try: “In times like this, do you find your faith makes a difference?”

Instead of: “Don’t take it personally, but I just don’t like being around sick people.”
Try: “Being with you is more important than my fear of hospitals.”

Instead of “Wouldn’t it be better if your (husband/wife) stayed at work rather than spend
so much time with you?”
Try: “Serious illness affects the family too, doesn’t it?”

Instead of: “Don’t worry about your job or the house. Everybody’s covering for you.
Try: “The work is getting done, but you know no one can take your place.”

Instead of: “Don’t talk about dying. You’re going to outlive all of us.”
Try: “Even though it is difficult, I’m willing to talk when you are.”

Instead of: “I’m sure God has a reason for this.”
Try: “There’s a lot in life we don’t understand, isn’t there?”

Instead of: “If there’s anything I can do, let me know.”
Try: “I am praying for you. I would also like to ____ (name specific appropriate act).
What time is best for you?”

Look for opportunities this coming week to connect with someone who is hurting. Then think about how you interact with them. Try to think ahead of how you might interact. You might like the results!

Blessings and peace,

Chaplain Allen


Read more reflections, In His Name