Add this to the list of what we didn’t learn in seminary…
What do I do when I and/or my people have been devastated by a natural disaster?
As a retired military chaplain and pastor who was stationed and pastored in Biloxi, Mississippi before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina, I humbly offer some of my thoughts and lessons learned from my experiences. My hope is that I can spare you, my fellow pastors and ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, some of the heartache and self-induced trauma that I bore trying to shepherd my flock through the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. While I want to share so much with you, I don’t want to overwhelm you more. I share these brief thoughts and include my contact info at the end so that you can contact me if you’d like to hear more or would like me to share in your ministerial associations or other group.
1) Effective Pastors are not first responders.
Where possible, leave the rescuing to the professionals. Your first responsibility is to your flock. Their needs will grow as the days and weeks go by. If you give all you have in rescuing, you won’t have anything to give in the recovery.
2) Recovery ministry is a marathon, not a sprint.
Recovering from and helping others recover from devastation is not best measured in hours or days. It is measured in weeks and months. Pace yourself as you deal with the immediate needs of providing food, water, and shelter. You will also need your abilities to help deal with fracturing marriages and families and the financial toll of recovery that will go on for months. And those needs can’t be met by handing bottles of water or containers of food. They take longer.
3) Take care of yourself, so that you can take care of others.
If you have nothing, you can give nothing. Remember, you need food, water, and sleep, too. If you don’t make time and effort to take care of your needs, you WILL run dry and break.
4) Know the difference between your non-negotiable doctrines and the negotiable ones.
Cooperate with other ministries and organizations without conceding the truth of your non-negotiable doctrines. Together we can help more people. Remember John 13:35 is about all true Christians, not just your denomination.
5) Keep the biggest things biggest.
Don’t forget your personal relationship with Christ as you share with others about Him. Spend time with Him. Cast your cares on Him, like you tell others to do. As you look at the levels of destruction and need, don’t forget that God has dealt with bigger things than this, and He can take care of this, too.
6) Focus on what only you can do and delegate what can be done by others.
Your wife and family still need you, and maybe more now than before. Only you can be the husband to your wife and father to your kids. Rely on the leadership you have already trained in your church. Trust them with the things that you don’t have to do yourself. Be honest with yourself about what those things are.
7) Deal with your guilt early.
There is a difference between conviction and guilt. Conviction comes from the Holy Spirit of God, for the purpose of bringing repentance and reconciliation with God. Conviction comes from our enemy, for the purpose of bringing condemnation and despair. If you are convicted for doing or not doing something that God told you to do or not do, repent, reconcile with Him, and move on. If you feel guilty for not doing this or that during the storm, deal with it now. It will not get better if it is ignored.
8) Don’t compare your burden with others’ burdens.
God alone can make an accurate comparison of the burdens of people. It is fruitless to dwell on a comparison of your burden with others’ burdens. “I shouldn’t feel this way because I didn’t lose as much as ___.” “What is he whining about, he didn’t lose near as much as me.” You DO have it better than some and worse than others. Bear your burden with the grace God gives you.
9) Ask for help when you need it.
Listen to the words you’ve told countless others before. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. It is a recognition of reality, demonstrates a desire not to stay where you are, and a willingness to take action to help move you toward healing and wholeness.
10) The job of Creator, Sustainer, and Savior of the Universe was taken long before you and I were born.
It is not all up to you! You do not need to try to carry the weight of the whole world, or even the world where you live and pastor. God is perfectly able to continue to do that. Let Him!
If any of these struck you hard, start your change now. Your people need you!
If you need a safe place to just decompress and unpack anything that the disaster exposed, I and CMMF are here for you! You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, (936)703-5029, or through SKYPE. Whether through in-person or video counseling, coaching, or talking over a cup of coffee, we want to help you so you can help those God has called you to. Remember, you are far from alone!