Not in Church! Thoughts about Sutherland Springs

A tragedy occurred at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, yesterday. Something that should never happen happened as a small group of Christians gathered together to worship. A man walked into the church during worship and shot and killed 26 people—ranging in age from 5 to 20—and wounded about 20 more. A common first reaction is to try to make sense out of this, but there is no explanation that will provide comfort or understanding, for evil is not rational or understandable. For many, the next two reactions revolve around fear and a desire to help.

Overcoming fear. I think it is vital for churches to use this tragedy as an opportunity to prayerfully consider what preparations they can make to prevent or minimize tragedy. Discussing the possibility of a tragedy occurring in your church and how to prevent or minimize it is important even though it may be difficult. Churches need to consider not only an active shooter, but also weather emergencies, fires, and responding to a violent person or one disrupting a church activity, among others. God is the Author of life, and each person is created in the image of God. We should do all we can to honor and preserve lives. One of the roles of a shepherd is to protect the sheep, and I believe that a pastor should lead his church in discussing and praying about such issues as he seeks to shepherd God’s people. Pastors should also minister Scripture that reminds people who God is, that He is worthy of our trust, and that He can help us overcome fear.

Some ways to help. The most important way we can help is to pray. This tragedy did not take God by surprise. There are many stories that will come from Sutherland Springs, most of which we will never know. God knows all the stories and knows and loves all the people impacted. He is the One who can bring true comfort and peace that surpasses understanding. Don’t forget to pray for the family members and friends who had loved ones taken away from them yesterday, for those who are injured, for the emergency service workers (police, fire, and EMS) who responded, and for others as God brings them to mind. Pray for opportunities to share the Gospel and look for ways to comfort those you know who are particularly troubled by yesterday’s shooting.

I had the opportunity to minister and provide counsel to many after the Wedgwood Baptist Church shooting that occurred in Fort Worth in 1999. After ministering through that tragedy, my colleague Dr. David Penley and I began the process of searching the Scriptures to see what we could learn about ministry in the midst of crisis. We developed what we call the Biblical Crisis Ministry Model. Some may have the opportunity to minister personally to those affected by today’s shooting or possibly another crisis. To assist in either ministering or preparing to minister in such a situation, I present a brief summary of this model.

Biblical Crisis Ministry Model

Foundation – Effective biblical ministry to those in or impacted by a crisis should be based on four foundational principles. The ministry must be:

  1. Biblical. That is, it must focus on glorifying and honoring God (1 Corinthians 10:31) and recognize that Scripture is sufficient for ministering to those in crisis as well as superior to the any of the world’s approaches. It recognizes and purposefully pursues the ultimate, eternal values of evangelism for the lost and discipleship for the saved, while being sensitive to people and context.
  2. Relational. Biblical crisis ministry focuses on relationships—both loving God and loving neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40). The relationship with those being ministered to is not a professional/client relationship, but rather a discipling relationship modeled after Jesus’ example.
  3. Comprehensive. The focus of a biblical response is ministering to the whole person. If a person in crisis needs food, clothing, or shelter, the appropriate response is to do everything possible to provide for them, in Jesus’ name.
  4. Practical. A biblical response is hands-on, challenging, sometimes messy, and does not hide behind supposedly helpful platitudes. It is not, “Take two Scriptures and call me in the morning.”

The Tools of Crisis Response – There are five activities of crisis ministry that build upon the above foundation. These are showing compassion, listening, serving, ministering Scripture, and praying. As you read the brief descriptions of each of these ministry activities, notice how the four foundational principles of ministry (biblical, relational, comprehensive, practical) can be woven throughout.

Showing Compassion – Jesus’ life provides our example for true compassion. He left heaven to walk among humans. He saw the people and recognized their need. He was moved with compassion and motivated by love. He took action to help.
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…. (John 1:14)

Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:36)

When He went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick. (Matthew 4:14)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)

Listening – God’s Word teaches us that it is wise to listen. Jesus’ example shows us that asking questions is part of effective listening. Listening requires time and a willingness to humbly refrain from interrupting with our own opinions or quick-fix answers. As we listen and ask questions, our goal is to move a person toward biblical hope.

While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. And He said to them, “What are these words you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?” And they stood still, looking sad. One of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to Him, “Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?” And He said to them, “What things?” (Luke 24:15-19a)

This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger. (James 1:19)

He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him. (Proverbs 18:13)

Serving – Jesus’ example as a servant reminds us that no task is too menial for us. As Christ washed the disciples’ feet, so too must we be willing to serve those to whom we minister. Our service cannot be limited to offering counsel but must be comprehensive, including practical service such as providing food, shelter, transportation, childcare, and the like.

You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. (John 13:13-14)

But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. (Luke 10:33-34)

Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (1 Peter 4:9-10)

Ministering Scripture – Ministering Scripture begins with Jesus’ example of confronting people with the Truth of God’s Word and the truth of their circumstances. Each situation is different and dictates our approach. Sometimes we must minister the direct commands of Scripture. Sometimes we minister Scripture by relating stories from the Bible. Still other times, we may share the comfort found in the pages of Scripture. Remember to point people to the hope found in Scripture.

Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would soon have dwelt in the abode of silence. If I should say, “My foot has slipped,” Your lovingkindness, O Lord, will hold me up. When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul. (Psalm 94:17-19)

And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in the Scriptures. (Luke 24:25-27)

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)

Prayer – Jesus’ life vividly portrays the importance of prayer in life and ministry. Prayer is vital before, during, and after ministry. Pray for those to whom you minister. Pray with people to whom you minister. Pray with and for those who minister alongside you. Solicit prayer support from others.

After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone. (Matthew 14:23)

Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission that he may sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you; that your faith may not fail…. (Luke 22:31-32a)

Brethren, pray for us. (1 Thessalonians 5:25)

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. (James 5:16)

Application of the Biblical Crisis Ministry Model

The BCMM does not prescribe formulas and packaged responses to crisis and disaster. Effectively using the model requires a deep understanding of God’s Word and how to apply it to life’s circumstances. It requires prayerful sensitivity to the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Learn to depend on God’s Word when you face crises of any magnitude.