How the Church can minister to the widowed.
Theme verse: James 1:27a
“Religion that God our father accepts as pure and faultless is to look after orphans and widows in their distress…”
TABLE OF CONTENT
- Struggles widows go through
- How to establish widow’s ministry
- Adopt the ministry
- Identify an overseer
- Special assignments
- Keeping records
- Widows questionnaire
- Training the servant leader
- Identify practical ways the church can do to help
- Understanding the needs of the widow
- What is grief?
- What constitutes grief?
- What to remember when dealing with a grieving widow
- Precautions to take with the ministry
- Promise keeping
- Respect and patience
- Beliefs and stereotypes
- Ministry inconsistencies
As a body of Christ, we need to recognize our God’s given mandate to take care of the widows and orphans. It’s a God’s given call to minister to their needs and the church should first recognize this and step up in obedience to the scripture.
Read James 1:27 again and ask yourself or your church what they are doing in response to that scripture. Does it mean anything to your church? Does it encourage you to keep on doing what you have been concerning the ministry or does it challenge you to ask yourself what you need to do to step up to the challenge? The bible describes this ministry as pure and true religion
God provided a very special place in His heart for the widowed both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament (Deut 24:19-2; 14:19-2; 27:19, 1st Tim 5:1-14, Joshua 1:27 etc.)
Therefore, this ministry can only be realized when the servanthood of the church with its members discover the joy of serving widows in their distress. Many widows and Widowers have been left to struggle and suffer in silence. This is an intentional ministry intended to help widows whose need exceeds their ability to meet them. 60% of them experience serious health issues in that first year. One third of them meet the criteria for clinical depression in the first month after their spouse’s death, and half of these remain clinically depressed a year later. Most experience financial decline.
Some of the struggles which the widowed go through include;
- Financial crisis
- Dangers of being taken advantage of, abused or mistreated.
- Lack of house maintenance
- Rejection from the in-laws
- Social injustices e.g. Land and property crises
- Left to take care of the children alone without help of the relatives
- Physical ill health, stress, and even chronic depression
- Facing cultural remarriage issues.
HOW TO ESTABLISH THE MINISTRY
- ADOPT THE MINISTRY.
The first step to do is to acknowledge the need to have the ministry in place and let the church leaders and members to agree to have and own the ministry.
- IDENTIFY AN OVERSEER
The pastor or compassion leader can be the overseer. The overseer will be responsible for constructing a workable structure and mobilizing the church members to support the initiative
- SPECIAL ASSIGNMENTS
Identify how you will conduct regular assignments like visitation, sending them encouraging messages and bible verses, organizing support group meetings, connecting them to available government or community economic empowerment programs etc. Survey the widows needs and address them as expressed in the survey. Find out if there are widows or widowers who left the church after being bereaved and how they can be ministered to.
- KEEPING RECORDS
Keep a record of each widow or widower, their full information, their most pressing needs. This is because the all the widow or widowers have different needs depending on their situation. Carry out an assessment of each person independently using questionnaires or any other means of interview. Here is a brief example of how an assessment questionnaire can look like.
Questionnaire for Widows
Home phone____________ Cell phone ____________email_______________________
Years of being widow ______________Age______________
Number of children _____________
Names and ages of children: ____________________________________________
Do you attend this church? (put the name of your church) _________
What is your greatest need?_________________________________________________
What is your greatest fear?__________________________________________________
How can we help you?_________________________________________________
Would you be interested in events for widows? Rank preference, 1–low, 5– high.
________ homebound Bible study
________ Widows and women fellowship
________ empowerment programs
(you can add other events)
Names and addresses of other widows who might benefit from this ministry.
What topics would you like for us to include in our support group?
- TRAINING THE SERVANT LEADER.
The leader in charge should be trained on how to conduct widow’s ministry. It’s good to also bench-mark with other successful widow ministries and learn from them. There are organizations such as COME TOGETHER WIDOWS AND ORPHANS (cometogewoo.org) which does various trainings and empowerments which can be tapped into by the ministry.
- IDENTIFY PRACTICAL WAYS THE CHURCH CAN DO TO HELP.
The local church council can help identify the best ways for the church to run the ministry and how to sustain it. It’s important to stick to what the church can do and avoid promising beyond their scope of reach. Watch out for over dependence too and encourage development of self-sustaining programs.
Some of the ways in which we can minister to widows and widowers in our church family:
- Call the members regularly.
- Send encouraging notes/ verses
- Visit a member at least once a month.
- Pray for them with our homebound groups.
- Pray that these men and women understand the value they still hold in the congregation.
- Pray that they understand how treasured their lives are in God’s eyes and let them know they are valued also by the people around them.
- Remind them to join the homebound group near their residence.
- Pray that people will be moved to reach out to those members in meaningful ways.
- Organize for them economic empowerment projects and help them assess government or non-governmental aids to the vulnerable.
- Be their voice against social/ family injustices.
UNDERSTANDING THE NEEDS OF THE WIDOW.
As a servant it is our responsibility to walk the grieving journey with our members. It should be a desire of every church leader to desire to be equipped for this vital ministry. The better way a servant understands widows grieving process the more effective he will be as a servant.
What is Grief?
“Grief is a normal emotion. It involves the feeling of a person. It is a tearing kind of emotion because it shuts off the person from fulfillment of hope, dreams and aspirations.” “It refers to the process of experiencing the psychological (through one’s feelings, thoughts, attitudes), social (through one’s behavior with others) and physical (through one’s health and physical symptoms) reaction to one’s perception or loss.
The loose of a spouse affects every aspects of a person’s life. Apart from losing a spouse there are other secondary losses as well such as financial income, security, peace of mind etc.
What constitutes grief?
Pastors should know that grief moves through stages which takes even up-to two years for someone to adjust well. There will always be episodes of grief as a widow reflects on her loss. The pastor would do well to listen patiently and tenderly, not to discourage crying, use the right words and be present to demonstrate love and concern. This will facilitate healing of her wounded heart. These is what constitute grief…
- Avoidance – shock, denial, disbelief, confrontation etc.
- Strong emotions- weeping and tears
- Depression- extreme stress levels with feelings of loneliness
- Fear of life and future
- Quilt- possibly blaming self for the death of the spouse
- Anger- blaming others for spouse death
- Apathy- live not worth living again/ feeling no one understands them
- Adjustment- learning to accept the loss and reentry of her life
What to remember when dealing with a grieving widow
- Be ready to listen without responding
- Check on the widow regularly by taking the initiative to stay in touch
- Beware of the power of scripture during visitation (it is the major source of comfort and hope)
- Beware of those who have slipped from mourning to bitterness or self-pity
Precautions to take with the ministry
Being a ‘Good Samaritan’ comes with its own challenges and can be overwhelming sometimes. A servant responsible for this ministry should be aware that there are risks taken from assisting another person. Use of good judgement and wisdom is essential when executing this ministry. Below are some caution which can be taken into consideration;
If you make any promise to a widow, be sure to fulfil it and incase an emergency arises which will hinder you from fulfilling it, inform the widow early. Promise keeping builds trust and brings glory to God.
There will be instances where the widow can lean on the servant leader more than necessary for example the widow calling the pastor/ leader everyday concerning every circumstance. The leader must be firm concerning what they can do and what they cannot do otherwise overdependency can lead to frustration and burn out.
Every widow has different needs try to bring balance. Some may have material needs others may not while some may require more attention while others may already have a good and caring family.
Maintaining confidentiality is key to this ministry. This will help build trust. If they know their leader keeps secrets, they will always confide in him/her.
Respect and Patience
Always treat widows with uttermost respect and dignity. Give them the right to voice their opinion even if you don’t agree with their line of thought. The main focus of the ministry is to love and care for them and not to change them.
Beliefs and Stereotypes
Beliefs are claims of what is true that is accepted widely as true while stereotypes are categorization of people based on certain beliefs about them. A leader should strive to understand every widow without stereotyping on them. We should understand that they share equal opportunities in church and society, and they are still productive.
Many ministries in church start well but complacency and inconsistency begin to affect its performance. The ministry can be frustrating sometimes, and the goal should be well defined as a command from God to keep doing it.
Mercy Kosonei, Bachelor of Arts Psychology and currently pursuing Masters of Art in Biblical studies with a passion to embrace psychosocial-spiritual model of wholeness in the church.
Teterud, W. (1992). Church Work with Bereaved Widows. Western Conservative Seminary.
Sadler, R. (1997). A Strategy for Ministry to Widows in the Local Church. Lynchburg, Virginia.
Bachmann, C. (1964). Ministering to the Grief Sufferer. Philadepia: Fortress press.