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Remembering 9/11: What Pastors Should and Shouldn’t Do

september 11

9/11 is a this-generation defining moment. My guess is that you can easily go back to that morning and remember exactly what you were doing when the Twin Towers fell. Sadly, this terrible event—much like the assassination of JFK years ago—has marked our generation.

For me, the day began by feeding Cheerios to our then two year old while watching the morning news. Between the first and second planes, I drove to church. The T.V. was on, and people were gathered together in one of our main gathering rooms. Our staff was there, along with many people from the community. Watching. Wondering. The second plane hit. It was jaw dropping. Then came the news—we were under attack.

Since then, we’ve heard a myriad of explanations and reasons for 9/11 from well-meaning church leaders. Some have chosen to focus on judgment, others grace, and still others have been decidedly ambivalent about the terrible events surrounding that day.

This Sunday, you have a decision to make—will you address 9/11?

I think there is great freedom in how we deal with events like this in the church, but I’d like to share some basic guidelines to help you think critically about observing the 9/11 anniversary. Please share what you have planned or offer your feedback on the list to help other church leaders plan wisely this weekend.

Here’s a list of what I think you should and shouldn’t do to remember 9/11 in your worship gathering.

First, what you shouldn’t do:

Ignore it

I know, it’s tempting to pass over events like this for some of you. It can be tough to work it into a service—and it can be difficult to know how to deal with it in a way that is biblical and Christ-centered. However, it’s too big of an event to gloss over. Your people are waiting for guidance and direction from you, their leader, about how to respond to this event in a way that brings hope. It’s simple: Don’t ignore it.

Use a video without personal reflection

There are many good videos out there about the anniversary of 9/11—these are great tools to help you engage your community. However, don’t use a video as a crutch to do the teaching and reflection that you’re responsible for as a church leader. If you use a video, please provide some commentary at the beginning or the end to help clarify the purpose of the video and how you think your people should respond biblically to the anniversary of 9/11. Short videos are great tools but often poor teachers. Use a video to break into the topic, but don’t let it do all the work.

Honor community servants without a clear purpose

9/11 is a great reminder that we need to honor those who serve our communities and often put their lives at risk to do so. It’s great to lift up community servants, but make sure you have it planned out and provide a solid biblical context to the event. Remember, this is church, not the Elks Lodge—don’t be afraid to frame the segment with the gospel. Also, don’t just give them a pin or plaque; pray for them…and make sure it’s well organized.

Glorify or demonize America

Be careful not to get caught up in the over-glorifying of America by making the memorial more about our country than about the hope we have in Christ. This is often a subtle attitude, but when it’s communicated, it’s a theological mess. My suggestion—if you plan to use anything by Lee Greenwood, scratch it from the schedule. At the same time, be cautious about making America out to be the cesspool of sin that deserved the attacks we received—this isn’t biblical either, and it’s not healthy to frame your memorial in either extreme. We’ll talk more about this in the next section.

Focus on end times without giving hope for today

There’s an easy out that many of us as church leaders can go to with events like this—we can simply pull out the trump card and focus completely on the imminent return of Christ. For sure, the return of Christ is a great encouragement—but your people are also looking for answers that will guide them, from Scripture, in how to respond to tragedy, loss, and evil today. Simply focusing on the end times will help encourage, but it won’t necessarily equip your people to respond to this event and others like it in the present time.