When Your World Caves In: Handling Crisis
Hundreds of ministers have admitted that when they get the phone call with the sobbing, furious, or panicked person on the other line, they do not know what to say. Too many times, all they can muster is “I’m sorry”, or “It will be alright”, or some sort of sermon or lecture.
After 16 years of ministry, counseling and congregational development, I have found that most church leaderships are overwhelmed when dealing with crises in their own congregations.
There are few times when a person is more vulnerable, open, receptive, and able to be molded than in a moment of crisis.
Most, if not all of the ministers I’ve encountered have genuine hearts for Jesus which long to heal the wounds of the hurting in their midst. However, as necessary as it is for a shepherd to have compassion for their flock, it is only the start. Good intention and strong desire is not enough when facing real emotional crisis.
Satan attacks the hurting, the lonely and the lost right under our noses. Like a stalking lion, he preys upon the spiritually and emotional weak and wounded. We can learn to recognize when the flock is under attack. And in many cases we can intervene even before the attack happens.
It seems we choke in the moment of truth, when the enemy’s attack is hard pressing, and our brothers and sisters are being devoured. We MUST do better. Lives are destroyed, and people abandon their faith in God when crisis is not dealt with. This critical time is paramount and is when we, as stewards of the church must stand in the gap to defend her.
Church members I have spoken with express that when they had a crisis, and they turned to a minister, they felt let down in some way by the response they received. One person said: “I called my preacher when my wife filed for divorce… all I got on the phone was: ‘I’m sorry, I will be praying for you’ – It felt sterile… When I needed my spiritual brother the most… He seemed too busy to bother.” This isn’t an isolated incident.
Ministers, Elderships, Deacons, and congregational leaders can be equipped to identify, define, and implement real time solutions to immediate emotional crisis. This task may seem overwhelming at first. But it can and has been done. It starts by identifying ourselves as the ones who respond in the moment of crisis.
Crisis response teams can be developed to build relationships with congregants, and respond in times of emergency.
The next step is to get equipped with some basic training. This should include how to and not react; how to actively listen without passing judgment; and how to develop an immediate action plan which ensures the person’s safety and takes steps to address their needs.
IDENTIFY OUR ROLE:
The first thing we must do is admit we are the front line soldiers in this spiritual war. When we answered the ministry call upon our lives, we enlisted ourselves as the go-to person in times of crisis. Like it or not, congregants still look to their church leaders for spiritual and emotional solutions. We represent God on an official basis (or at least professional) and people expect us to deliver so much so that they base their and their families lives on what we say and do. Take a deep breath, praise God for being useful, and gear up for spiritual battle.
The professional ministry staff and/or eldership can develop a team who responds within an hour of being notified of an emergency crisis. These teams may be lead by delegated members of the congregation who have a heart to intervene in times of crisis.
There are few times when a person is the more vulnerable, open, receptive, and moldable than in a moment of crisis. James 3:1 reminds us how serious it is to be a teacher of Jesus. Admitting we are ill-equipped is a big step. Now, what we must do is pray for wisdom and rehearse a few simple strategies.
Whether it’s implementing an Emergency Response Team, creating crisis protocols, or helping congregational leaders develop intervention skills, a church can’t go wrong by equipping themselves to aid those in emotional crisis.
The following model can provide every person wishing to better their understanding and ability to help those in an emotional emergency with a beginning guideline for handling crisis situations:
LISTEN TO DEFINE THE PROBLEM
Listening is one of our greatest tools. It allows us to clarify in concrete terms what is going on. When we actively listen, we can hear what the person really needs.
When I teach church leaders how to listen, we build these skills:
1. Listen without being judgmental.
2. Ask open-ended questions instead of close-ended questions. Close-ended questions usually begin with verbs like do, did, does, can, will and doesn’t. These kinds of questions usually elicit one word answers like “yup” and “nope.” Open-minded questions encourage people to respond with full statement and at deeper levels of meaning. Here are some examples:
“Please tell me…”
“How will that help you to…”
“Please tell me about…”
“Tell me specifically what happened…”
“What will you do about…”
Research indicates that when a person is upset their rationality decreases. Typically, the higher a person’s heart and respiration rate is, the lower their ability to think clearly will be. Therefore, it is vitally important to never argue with a person in this state. Allow them to vent, tell their story, and feel they are being heard. You can encourage them to take slow and deep breaths, relax their jaw and shoulders, reduce the pace of their speech, and continue expressing their hearts.
It is a must to ask if the person in crisis is safe. Ask if they are in danger of harming themselves, someone else, or if anyone else may potentially harm them. If they answer yes to any of these questions, get help immediately!
Never respond to a situation alone.
If the person is suicidal, you will need to follow an already developed emergency protocol. Let the lead minister know of the situation. You may need the assistance of police and a professional counseling center. Do not leave the person unattended while making the necessary calls. Solicit the help of others in the response team, ministry, or eldership to be with the person while you are making necessary plans.
Help the person look at options such as getting help at a counseling center, calling people in their support system, creating a structured bible study, and of course prayer. The key is letting the person know you genuinely care and are will to build an appropriate Christ centered relationship with them. Always seek consultation with the lead minister, etc and never make a personal visit alone.
Remember that the person involved in emotional crisis is not thinking clearly; encourage him or her to refrain from making any serious, irreversible decisions while he or she is in crisis. Talk about the positive alternatives that may establish hope for the future. If the person is suicidal or homicidal, help them see that they do not have to take the action now; it can be postponed.
Do not feel that you have to work out the persons long-standing problems for them. You are simply looking at immediate steps that they can take to help the situation.
Although you want to help, do not take full responsibility by trying to be the sole counsel. The purpose of the Emergency Response is to defeat the tools of the enemy’s attack and develop appropriate channels for this person to prosper in Jesus. Let the troubled person know you are concerned – so concerned that you are willing to arrange help beyond that which you can offer.
DEVELOP A PLAN:
Work with the person to firm up how they will take actions. Help them formulate a step-by-step plan for the alternatives described. Remember, that in extreme crises, people tend to not think straight and they may need help with basic tasks such as how to get to safety, a hospital, etc.
OBTAIN A COMMITMENT:
Obtain an agreement as to specific time, duration and number of activities required to carry out the plan. Make a specific time and place when you will call, visit, and give help again. This is also the time to establish boundaries, guidelines, and rules of engagement. Remember; never isolate yourself with a person in crisis. Always, report y our interactions, activities, conversations, and contacts to the proper channels.
General Do’s and Don’ts of Suicide/Crisis Intervention:
After you have made a referral, it is important for you to follow up on it in order to let the person know that you will continue to be interested and concerned about him or her. Follow-up will prevent any notions the person might have that “out of sight is out of mind.”