The Coming Grief

May 27, 2020

It’s coming. As a pastor, will you be ready for it? We all sit on the shore looking out at a coming wave of grief. The reality is, that wave is already here, but it is being experienced individually and in smaller family groups. I am referring to a wave of grief that will be expressed as we all join back together in the physical church. Again, as a pastor, are you and your leadership ready for that grief?

Let’s begin with a definition and a truth.

Grief: Keen mental, emotional, or physical suffering caused by affliction or loss.

Truth: Everyone has experienced, and will experience grief, because of the recent pandemic.

To put this together, we have all lost something during this time. The degree to which we experience the grief of that loss is largely dependent on the nature of the loss. For some families and communities the grief will be significant because the loss is significant. I think about hot spots like New York, where tens of thousands have died. But that is not the only grief-causing loss that will be experienced. People have lost jobs, they have lost a sense of freedom, they have lost time and connection with loved ones and friends. So, the question remains, will you and your church be ready to minister to the wave of grief that is coming? Allow me to make a few suggestions that might help you prepare.

Recognize and Respond to your Own Grief

As a pastor and leader, you are not immune to the grief that comes from loss. So many of us have experienced many of the same losses as our people, chief among them, the separation we feel from our flocks. Before you will be able to lead your people through loss and grief, you must deal with your own loss and grief. Self care is incredibly important in order for you be prepared for what is coming. You can only lead people as far as you have gone. Acknowledge what you have lost, identify how it has caused grief, and seek a path of healing. If you need help navigating your own grief, reach out for help from another pastor or counselor.

Identify your Role in the Grief Process of Others

We are many things in the life of the church: CEO, service and sermon planner, leadership development specialist, but our most prominent biblical role is that of a shepherd. Here are some things to think through as you identify your role in the grief process of your sheep:

1. Presence is Priority Number One

Your physical presence with people will be key to bringing hope and reassurance to grieving people. Just knowing you are there and available will communicate a sense of well being during difficult times. You could meet in smaller groups with your people and ask them to tell their stories from this pandemic. Share your story and be honest about your experience. Be present in the lobby, not just the pulpit.

2. Empathy over Theology

Theology is wonderful, and it is important in understanding why tragic things happen, but theology is seldom helpful in the midst of grief. When people are grieving, we should try to speak to their hearts not just their heads. Allow your words to express that you appreciate and resonate with what they are feeling. It is God’s job to “fix” or heal the grief, it is our job to shepherd people toward the fixer and healer.

3. Give Permission to Grieve

People need to know that grieving is okay when they have encountered a loss. We grieve over a loss because we love. When someone dies, we grieve because we loved them. In the same way, we grieve over the loss of not having been able to be physically present with our loved ones. We grieve over the loss of a job because we love our families and want to protect and provide for them. Give permission to grieve by giving permission to love. There are a myriad of expressions of grief – anger, laughter, bargaining, hopelessness – allow all of those to exist in each unique experience with grief.

4. Don’t Minimize the Grief

One of the things we are going to be tempted to do when we all get back into the physical church is celebrate, and we should! Celebration should not be used to minimize the trauma and grief that has occurred. Part of the reason we should celebrate is that we have endured and now have the chance to heal. Consider those ideas as you plan your celebrations. How will your physical environment acknowledge both the joy and the grief? What songs and service elements will you add or remove to create a balance? What will you preach? Will your sermon acknowledge the joy and the pain?


The wave is here, and the wave is coming. Will the church be ready to lead communities through grief to a new place of hope and trust? To be ready, we must be proactive and intentional. We, as pastors and leaders, have a great opportunity before us. An opportunity to meet our communities at the time of their greatest need and lead them to the God of all healing.

Ken has been at for more than 20 years, over 15 as lead pastor, during that time the church has grown from 75 to over 600 in average weekly attendance and continued to focus on Kingdom multiplication.  OCCC has a strong history of church planting In Oregon, having helped to plant, http://willamette.cc and several other churches, primarily through Stadia partner,  Most recently Ken and OCCC have partnered with Stadia in support of Jamey Mills and, a new church plant that launched BCV and has now been meeting publicly online longer than they met in person BCV.   Since the pandemic started, Ken has led OCCC to strengthen their commitment to church planting and Northside Albany; their commitment to multiplication is evident and we are grateful for their Kingdom partnership!

Ken Swatman

Lead Pastor, Oregon City Christian Church