Discipleship in the Midst of Tragedy

I have heard it said that you are either fresh out of a storm, in the middle of a storm or headed toward a storm. So what does discipleship mean in that context?

Recently, our nation has been rocked by three major storms. The first was the storm called Charlottesville. The winds of racism and the undercurrents of hate created a climate that underscored our need to continue to dialogue about race and our highest values as a nation.

Charlottesville was a storm that raised the consciousness of a nation. It gave us an opportunity to reaffirm and to re-examine who we are as believers in Christ. And it is a chance to think more clearly about our role as leaders in the church, the prophetic role of the church to affirm the worth and the dignity of all of God’s children.

In late August, my hometown of Houston and a lot of south Texas were deeply affected by another storm called Hurricane Harvey, which was described as perhaps the greatest natural disaster in the history of that state.

In the aftermath of this storm, we saw a different kind response than what we saw from the first storm in Charlottesville. We saw the best of humanity on display as neighbors joined together to help each other – a helping spirit crossing all boundaries that sometimes keep us divided.

In the aftermath of this storm, we saw a different kind response than what we saw from the first storm in Charlottesville. We saw the best of humanity on display as neighbors joined together to help each other – a helping spirit crossing all boundaries that sometimes keep us divided.

And then there was Hurricane Irma. While dealing with the aftermath of Irma, we witnessed what happens when we remember our common identity first and foremost as children created in the image of God.

I want to take a moment to encourage leaders who are on the front lines ministering to those who have been negatively impacted by these storms. I also want to celebrate the power of our connectional ministry. At moments like these I am most proud to be called a United Methodist. I have seen leaders from across the country who are mobilized to be the hands and the feet of Jesus in those areas affected by the storms.

What can we do as leaders called to make disciples of Jesus Christ in the moments of tragedy?

What can we do as leaders called to make disciples of Jesus Christ in the moments of tragedy?

At Discipleship Ministries, we have lots of resources on our website that can help you minister, particularly in moments like these, and I invite you to go there at www.UMCdiscipleship.org.

I also want to remind you of three very simple things we can do to help people grow deeper and focus on discipleship during these moments.

Focusing on God

First, we can help people focus their attention on God.

Tragedies have a way of hitting the brakes and slowing us down. That’s not a bad thing because sometimes we are so busy we don’t hear God.

We live in a world that is always on the go, but traumatic events have a way of refocusing our attention. They help us focus on the things that really matter in life – things that really count.

As leaders, this is an opportunity for us to lift those things up. The most important priority in life, even in the midst of tragedy, is that we are still called to focus on God, the creator.

In Lamentations, Jeremiah reminds us of God’s faithfulness and by focusing on God, we can keep a grip on hope. Our quiet time with God, our daily devotional with God, is a fundamental spiritual discipline. In times like these storms, we can encourage people to practice that spiritual discipline. As they do, they grow deeper in their relationship with Christ.

Asking the tough questions

Second, we can encourage people to ask the tough questions.

I have seen a lot of posts on social media from people asking questions about these storms.

Sometimes as leaders we want to provide easy answers – to jump too quickly to the joy and the promise of the resurrection. But the reality is that people have Good Friday questions.

I think one of the greatest, most gut-wrenching, heart-pounding questions that humans have asked since we first burst onto the planet is this: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

If there is a God, who is all-loving and all-powerful, then how can these types of tragedies happen? How can God allow such random acts of pain and suffering?

These are real questions, and they are also real moments to encourage deep discipleship. There is nothing wrong with asking questions. We have to encourage and allow people the space to wrestle with these deep questions.

My parents used to say there are some things we won’t ever understand, but we will understand it better by and by.

In the meantime, this is an opportunity to allow people the space to wrestle with those deep questions of life. This also may be an opportune time to finally start that small group to focus on the questions that many people are wrestling with.

Looking to #SeeAllThePeople

Finally, the third thing we can do to help people grow deeper and focus on discipleship is to See All The People.

The first thing I wanted to do after Hurricane Harvey was rush to Houston to help.

The first thing I wanted to do after Hurricane Harvey was rush to Houston to help. (We plan to take a team from Discipleship Ministries to do just that.)

There is a lot of work to do to help these communities and our churches recover, and in some instances, rebuild.

But I am also reminded that we will encounter hurting people who need more than just physical help. They will be yearning to be heard, for people to hear their stories and encourage their spirits. They need people just to sit with them to hear the experience of their pain.

This is the essence of See All The People. It is about building relationships, developing relationships, hearing stories. Those are the seeds of deep discipleship.

So friends, even though our hearts are breaking because of these circumstances, we have to be a non-anxious presence in the midst of chaos and anxiety. We must remind people there is something that does not change. It is the truth about who God is.

Paul said it like this in Romans 8:38-39: “I am convinced that nothing in all of creation can separate us from the love of God. Not life, not death, not angels, not demons, not our fears for today or our worries about tomorrow. Not even the powers of hell can separate us from the love of God.”

I expect restoration. I expect God to restore our communities, but I want to remind you that recovery and restoration take time. People do not get over tragedy instantly. It takes time to heal. It takes patience. It takes trust.

But I believe with everything in me that there is no tragedy in life that we cannot recover from. I believe that this is the power of being connected in the body of Christ. I believe if we trust Jesus, he will give us the strength and the power and the energy and the love and the grace to handle it and to minister well in moments like these.

May God bless you on the mission field.