Life’s one constant is change. People and organizations change. People experience change from birth until death. Change means we have lost something. The more emotionally attached we are to something, the more that loss leads to grief. Changes happen at our churches too. When people experience change at their church, their sentimental, emotional and historical attachments to the way things were can create deep anxiety and profound grief. How can we help each other cope with change? Please read more.
The dictionary defines grief as “intense sorrow, especially caused by someone’s death.” Death is only one of a long list of events in life that can cause grief. Here is another definition of grief: “Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.”
The more important things are to us, the more we want to hold onto them. Psychological studies identify over 40 life events that likely cause grief. When we experience any change in life, it is usually associated with a sense of loss. Loss can lead to grief and grief can become all consuming. The following is a partial list of grief-producing events.
- Death of a spouse or close family member
- Personal injury or illness
- Dismissal from work or trouble with a boss
- Change in health of family member
- Change in financial state
- Change in church activities
Today, let’s examine the last item. We become emotionally attached to our churches. We get baptized, married and have funerals there. We worship and confess our sins there. We build strong Christian friendships there. We sing, laugh and cry there. Most importantly, we grow closer to Jesus there. We also develop familiar routines and customs that, when changed, frequently lead to grief and a feeling of being lost.
Any change at a church can cause stress. A change in the youth or music ministry can cause groaning in the congregation. The elimination of a ministry can cause hurt feelings. The closing of a church school can seem devastating. But nothing seems to impact a church as much as a change in pastors.
When a new pastor arrives, the church community is awash with all kinds of emotions. New pastors often bring change. The mass and/or worship service itself may not change, but the tenor and tone of the service may change. The songs may change. The personal, policies and procedures may change.
Even when people prefer the new changes, they frequently still experience a loss for the way things were. When people like things as they were, they experience an even deeper sense of loss. This loss turns to grief and it must be understood and handled as grief.
There are 5 commonly recognized stages of grief.
- Denial & Isolation
Although there are similarities associated with grief, the intensity and duration of someone’s grief is as varied as the number of grieving people. Each person must process grief in their own way.
When attempting to console someone who is grieving the death of a close family member, the right words often fail us. This is also true when trying to console someone experiencing grief caused by any event, including changes at church. No one should ever be denied or forced to repress the grieving process. Each person must walk their own journey through the 5 stages.
As caring Christians, we need to be there for our fellow brothers and sisters who are struggling to adjust to changes at church. We must support them and be present to them. We need to know the 5 stages of grief so that we can recognize what stage others are going through.
Offering platitudes and worn out clichés like “You will get through this,” or “It will all be okay” or “Just say a prayer and God will get you through it,” often feel like salt in a wound and make things worse. Usually, the best thing to do is to be present, be quiet and listen.
Here are a few verses from a song NOT RIGHT NOW by Jason Gray.
They wanna tell me that it’ll be okay
But that’s not what I need right now
Not while my house is burning down
Don’t tell me when I’m grieving
That this happened for a reason
You don’t even have to speak
Just sit with me in the ashes here
And together we can pray for peace
I know someday
I know somehow
I’ll be okay
But not right now
Changes in our churches are inevitable. So whether it’s now, or sometime in the future, if someone is grieving from the changes at their church or grieving for any other reason, it is our chance to be the arms and hands of Christ. We should simply listen, comfort and care. In the end, for the person who is grieving, IT’S NOT ABOUT GETTING OVER IT, IT’S A MATTER OF GETTING ON WITH LIFE. It takes time!
Most Heavenly Father, please instill in me a sense of calm. Help me to accept change. Help me to trust more, and worry less. Guide me to the stage of acceptance, and help me to be present to help others along the way. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
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