By Maina Mwaura
I was a zealous 24-year-old heading off to my first full-time position as a middle school minister in Atlanta, Georgia. I was ready to take on the world—to be a part of a great church, work alongside its staff, and care for its members.
To add to the excitement, it was all happening during the Christmas season—my favorite time of the year.
Before I stepped foot into the church campus for my first day on the job, I got a call from my future supervisor. The instant he said “Hello,” I knew something seemed wrong by the tone of his voice.
“Maina, we have a terrible situation.”
One of the church’s staff members, who I’d met on a couple of occasions during prior visits to the church, had been accused of molesting three children. By the end of the investigation, it was found he had victimized 23 children.
Not only did these horrific acts alter the lives of these children; they resulted in a shift in the way I would approach ministry going forward, particularly in seasons of deep pain and difficulty.
That early season of my ministry was nearly 20 years ago, but these five truths I learned through that difficult time in the life of that church are now part of my ministry DNA.
Note: The following truths provide general tips for responding to ministry crises. In situations that involve criminal acts, the most necessary and God-honoring response is to immediately contact police and the proper authorities.
I know this sounds pretty simple. However, it’s something we may often forget as we quickly shift toward managing crises.
As I’d talked with my seminary professor about the tragedy that affected these 23 children, one of the first things he did was lead me into a time of prayer.
Looking back, I’m confident that prayer is what guided me through this trial and enabled me to care for the hurting and scared kids in the church.
In times of ministry crises, we must remember that prayer is the greatest tool we have to confront any battle we or those we lead face.
2. Be Present.
Counselors will tell you that amid moments of crisis that the first thing we tend to do is remove ourselves from a situation as to not assume any personal responsibility or harm.
One of the greatest principles I learned through this season of ministry was to simply be present. On my first Wednesday night with the students at this church, I pulled into the parking lot where five local TV station crews had positioned themselves.
As I parked my car and walked toward the front entrance, the Lord laid on my heart that the best thing I could to for the students was to show up. There were no words I could offer as “the new guy.”
But I needed to be there—present amid the students and adults—to offer myself to them and provide all of us the time to share.
3. Seek Wise Counsel.
“Without guidance, a people fall, but with many counselors there is deliverance.”—Proverbs 11:14, CSB
When I reflect on the first days of my time on staff at this church, there were specific people who helped me through this time of trial.
The insight, knowledge, and wisdom I received from leaders and close friends allowed me to overcome this time of doubt and fear. Not only did I benefit from their counsel, I was also able to transfer their wisdom to people hurting as a result of the crisis.
Another key lesson I learned about wisdom during this particular season is to use discretion in conversations about a crisis. Know whom you can trust with your hardest questions. Over sharing during any season of trial can regrettably fuel a fire of adversity.
4. Grieve Appropriately.
In times of crisis, where loss is a part of the situation, we must allow space and time for you and others to grieve.
While this particular crisis didn’t involve physical deaths, the predator robbed 23 children of their innocence and dignity. This was a horrible loss for the people who cared for them—their friends and families.
No amount of preaching was going to fix what took over this church community. They needed to grieve, and hopefully find some healing. Time was necessary for people to sit and cry—and I simply listened to their stories and grieved with them.
5. Practice God’s Presence.
As I mentioned earlier, Christmas is my favorite time of the year. But that particular Christmas was hard. But I learned in a new way, amid the crisis, that God was with me, by my side, never leaving me—or those precious kids—alone.
MAINA MWAURA is a freelance journalist and minister who lives in the Atlanta area with his wife, Tiffiney, and daughter Zyan.