A Free Will Baptist chaplain finds grace for the most difficult ministry...
The Greatest Ministry You Never Want to Do
by Chaplain (MAJ) David Trogdon
A dark blue sedan drives up, and two soldiers in dress uniform step out and ring the doorbell. They have devastating news. One of those two soldiers is always a chaplain, and it is the most difficult part of my ministry. In my 10 years as Army Chaplain, I have ministered during the deaths of more than 350 soldiers and family members, including the loss of more than 100 children.
I call this ministry, “The greatest ministry I hope I never have to do.” Yet honoring the dead is one of the key values of the chaplaincy, and this is the ministry that our Free Will Baptist Chaplains have been called to do. I have learned much about grief and trauma ministry during the last 10 years. Let me share some lessons I hope you find helpful when you are called to help someone survive the worst day of their life:
Rely on God’s Provision of Grace. It never gets easier. I never feel adequate or fully prepared to help a father whose son was killed in Afghanistan, a young couple who just learned their baby will not be coming home from the hospital to their newly decorated nursery, or the wife and five children of the soldier being laid to rest with full military honors. While I am never adequate or prepared, God always is. His presence is real, and His grace is always sufficient. My trust is not in my own abilities or skills, but in the God of all comfort who has called me to do His work, even when it is a work I hope I never have to do.
Realize the Value of a Ministry of Presence. Military chaplains often represent the presence of God on the battlefield, in the hospital, or even in the funeral home. Grieving families may remember little of what we say, but they always remember that you were with them during their pain. Pray with them and stay with them, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you have to say something. Nothing we say to a grieving spouse or parent will stop the hurting or make their grief totally disappear. I have heard well-meaning friends say very hurtful things because they thought they had to say something. Follow the lead of the Holy Spirit and the advice from God’s Word. Be “swift to hear and slow to speak” (James 1:19). Your presence may do far more for the hurting than anything you say.
Remember Your Purpose. Grief ministry is about those who have been left behind, not about judging the eternal destiny of the deceased. If I know the person was a Christian, I can speak of them being in the presence of Jesus. If I didn’t know them or have no indication of their faith in Christ, then I focus on God’s comfort that is available for the family. For children, I always try to reassure the parents that their child is in Heaven and safe in the arms of God. These parents can have hope through Christ that one day they will see their child again.
Don’t judge another person’s grief. Everyone grieves differently. There is no right way to grieve, but usually the more unexpected the loss, the greater the grief. Thus, the loss of a child can be far more devastating than the loss of a grandparent. Remember a miscarriage is also the death of a child, and the parents may grieve accordingly.
Finally, avoid misdirected anger at God. Cries of “why” may be expressions of pain, not an indication of loss of faith. If needed, you can gently correct any false ideas of God, Heaven, angels, or death in the days that follow.
Proclaim the Gospel. The greatest comfort we can provide to any grieving family is the hope of eternal life in Christ. When given the opportunity to pray, I always pray the gospel, and when leading a memorial service or funeral, I always preach the gospel. Many people who would never attend a chapel service on Sunday will come to a memorial or funeral service, and they need to be confronted with life’s ultimate reality, their own death, and the good news of eternal life in Christ.
Prepare them for the Future. Too many times, a grieving family can be forgotten after the funeral. The following weeks can be extremely difficult. Much of the support seems to vanish as extended family and friends leave and go back to their normal lives. Also, for years to come, the anniversary of the death, birthdays, holidays, and other special days may unexpectedly bring the pain and grief crashing back into their lives. Try to prepare the family for difficult times ahead and offer continual support so they can continue to heal. If possible, partner them with a committed Christian who has survived a similar loss and who can help them to survive as well.
God has given me an awesome privilege to serve Him and soldiers and their families every day as a Free Will Baptist Army Chaplain. This privilege extends even to those times when I am called to do the greatest ministry I hope I never have to do.
I thank God for calling me and using me, by His grace, to help someone survive the worst day of their life and hopefully find the comfort only Christ can give. I hope that He will continue to do so in the future. Maybe you, too, will be thankful when He calls you and uses you to do the greatest ministry you hope you will never have to do.
Pro Deo et Patria—For God and Country!
About the Writer: Chaplain Major David Trogdon is stationed in Ft. Rucker, Alabama. He has been a chaplain since 2000. For more information about the chaplain ministry, visit www.homemissions.net.