Being There: The Ministry Of Presence

“The most important ministry you can offer a family in the midst of difficulties is your presence.”  Perhaps one of the most helpful lessons that I learned while a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Spoken from decades of pastoral experience, Dr. Bill Cubine, retired Professor and Seminary Chaplain at Southern, taught his students that the “ministry of presence” would be valuable and indispensable, especially during times of grief and tragedy. 

I have been reminded once again of the importance of the ministry of presence with the sudden and unexpected death earlier this week of a beloved member of the church I am privileged to pastor.  During the course of my fourteen years in pastoral ministry, I have walked with hundreds of families through various trials and tribulations including divorce, financial turmoil, problems with wayward children, terminal illnesses, and the death of family members.  And while my experience helps make it easier to minister in these situations, it is never easy.

As pastors, and sometimes as laypeople, we want to fix all the problems and provide all the answers to the WHY questions that inevitably arise in times of crisis.  As a young pastor, I would try to come up with neat and tidy theological answers to some of life’s most challenging problems, only to realize that my answers, at least at the time, were neither encouraging nor comforting to the family.  It was usually at that point that I would remember Dr. Cubine’s words and simply begin to minister to a hurting family by my presence, even if I didn’t say two words apart from a prayer.

How can you, as a pastor or a friend, comfort someone in the midst of difficult circumstances?  Understand that you don’t have to understand it all.  You will not have all the answers to why someone is going through a particular trial.  Don’t try to answer questions that only God knows the answers to.  After all, Job never did get any “satisfactory” answers to why he endured all that he did, even though his “friends” tried to help him understand why bad things were happening to him.  At the end of the day, Job realized that God is God and he was not.

Then, just be there for the person or family in crisis.  Stop by and let them know you are praying for them.  Bring food by (this is not just a Baptist doctrine) or offer to run to the grocery store for them.  Use cards, letters, phone calls, text messages, Facebook, and other means of communication to stay in touch with folks as they journey down difficult and painful roads.  And, even after they have “come through” their crisis, remember to reach out to them in meaningful and practical ways.

I have learned a lot during the course of my pastoral ministry.  God has allowed me to minister to families during trying times in the past and He will continue to give me opportunities to minister to families in crisis in the future.   Whether or not we call ourselves “pastor,” each of us will have those opportunities, maybe even this week.  Make the most of it by ministering through your presence.  Thanks, Dr. Cubine.

6 comments for “Being There: The Ministry Of Presence

  1. Bennett Willis
    August 12, 2010 at 10:19 AM

    My wife died six years ago. Out of that experience, I have some thoughts.

    I was never comfortable trying to figure out what to say but now I know that nothing works just fine–and a lot better than some things like “it was a blessing” or similar.
    Be there.
    Look for something useful to do.
    Be there as long as there is something to do.
    Say “What can I do now?” rather than “If there is anything you need me to do…”
    Being there is something useful sometimes.
    If you are bringing food, consider something for breakfast. That meal tends to be neglected.
    Don’t forget the person over the next few months. Include them when you can. I knew that wives maintained the social program but I did not know how much that meant.
    Recognize that the usual social reciprocity may not be functioning for the person.

    I was the caregiver for my wife (at home) for about 6 weeks before she died. There were enough technical things to work with that I did not want to leave the house often. When anyone volunteered to do shopping for me, I always took the person up on the offer. I had some gift cards for the stores I used and would send them with the list. Sometimes the person would use the cards and sometimes not but shopping help was great.

    And when you have a problem, do your best to let people help you. It is good for all concerned. I eventually kept a list of things that I could use help on and if someone “volunteered,” I’d check the list.

    • August 12, 2010 at 10:59 AM

      Bennett,

      Thank you so much for sharing. Out of your own personal experience, you have given us ways that you were helped during your time of need and how we can help others during their time of need. It’s sometimes the “little” things that we can do to help out that are the most meaningful. God, who is the God of all comfort, has given us the privilege and blessing to be of comfort to others. I truly appreciate your insight and your taking the time to share with others. Thanks for stopping by again. Have a blessed day in the Lord!

      Howell

  2. Marty
    August 12, 2010 at 10:52 AM

    Bennett,

    That was awesome advice. I think the most important thing we can do for each other is simply show them someone actually cares.

    Howell,

    I’d like to add, before I get started here, telling people you’re praying for them, or that you will pray for them, is all well and good. But how often is that a lie? How often do we forget to pray for people? I have been convicted on this lately and have found it means even more to people when you ask them if you can pray for them right then and there. I have never known a person to tell me not to pray for them. It takes a really hardened heart to say that.

    Being there is probably the greatest gift a person suffering can hope for from others. We are blessed to have a Celebrate Recovery ministry based at our church and one of the members had a major heart attack a couple weeks ago. His wife was completely indifferent to Christianity as a whole, borderline unfriendly. This was her husband’s fourth heart attack in as many years and they had attended another church across town. She stopped going after the third attack, as not one single member of that church (and it is a really big one) came over, called, helped, made meals, or made any attempt to show them the love of Christ they claimed they clung to. It wasn’t until her husband started attending CR at our church on Mondays and Fridays that she started to notice anything. When he had his fourth attack, this time involving open heart surgery, she was blown away when members of our church and the CR program started calling, bringing over meals, offering to watch kids, doing chores, and helping out with the shopping and the like. She was at church on the following Sunday. And has been ever since.

    I said all this, not to toot our horn, or to say, “Look how holy our church is.” I’m merely making the point when we show people we care, they respond.

    Heather and I were extremely grateful for the encumbering hospitality at Bethel and we pray God continually blesses them as they reach out to the community.

    Christ’s love is powerful. Easily the most powerful thing in the universe. And it’s simple to give.

    • August 12, 2010 at 11:03 AM

      Marty,

      Thanks for the comments. Even as a pastor, I am not immune to telling someone that I will pray for them and then, in the busyness of the day, letting it slip my mind. I find if I don’t write things down these days that I’m prone to forget. Dr. Cubine, whom I quoted in this post, was also fond of saying that “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” That is so true as your story points out. We often do to little to help people, but I don’t think we can ever do too much. Hope ya’ll are doing well. God bless,

      Howell

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