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Being a Leader During a Season of Grieving

Guest Post by Jeremy Smith

This past Friday, I received the unfortunate news that my grandmother, one of my biggest heroes and Christian role models, passed away. I can truly say she was one of my best friends for all 26 years of my life and I will miss her intensely for many years to come. The pain of her death is real and the grief I feel is overwhelming.

The other realization that came about in the last few days is that I have to lead a volunteer training the youth ministry I serve with this weekend. How could I be a leader to these people, putting on a face when my soul was weeping, and getting through the training? If I do that I am being fake to myself and to God, but not addressing the training fully is a disservice to my volunteers and the students they are called to serve. Through this time of sorrow and leading, I have come to three points that are important to keep in mind.

Accept Grief For What It Is
People who minister to others tend to not allow others to serve them. I do not know if it is pride, trying to be strong for others, or just the inability to let others into our lives when we hurt, but we bottle it up until we can deal with it at a later time when it is “more convenient.” But to accept this as truth can eat away at our souls. Even Jesus needed time to mourn for Lazarus after he passed away, why do we think we should be the exception? If we do not allow ourselves to fully grieve, we can start to hide away parts of ourselves from loved ones and eventually try to hide it from God. That wound can then fester and turn into something bigger and more destructive than what it first started out as.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words
The youth ministry world is constantly talking about how they want to have authentic community with their leaders, to draw closer together with those that they serve along side. One beautifully painful way of doing so is to be upfront and honest with them. Open your heart to them, ask for them to pray for you, shed some tears together, and allow them to carry some of your burden. This allows you to be vulnerable to your volunteers and at the same time, gives them the permission to bring their heart to the group no matter how wounded it might be.

Respect Their Time, Do Not Dwell In The Pain
I had come to train my volunteers and that is what needed to happen, eventually. Some of these people might be paying babysitters, others skipping out of family plans so that they can get the training to fulfill a calling to serve the youth at your church. Honor them and their time by not dwelling on the situation longer than is necessary. Be real, open your heart, and then get to business. This moment of mourning does not have to be the only time to be real with your volunteers about your heart and so you can reconnect with them over the following months individually at Starbucks or breakfast at McDonalds. In so honoring their time, you can strengthen the relationships that have already been established.

Jeremy Smith is a 26-year old youth pastor at the Air Force Academy chapel, working for Club Beyond, and attending Denver Seminary for his Master”s of Arts in Counseling Ministries. He has been involved in Youth for Christ for eight years – check out his blog at Seventy8Productions.