the shape of leadership

Talking About Tragedy

When, where, and how to discuss painful events during a service

Michael Evans on February 9, 2024

A house explosion during the summer of 2023 claimed the lives of six people, including a child, in Plum, Pennsylvania, a Pittsburgh suburb not far from our church.

The blast and large fire that followed destroyed three homes and damaged at least a dozen more.

A neighbor’s doorbell camera captured a video of the explosion. The clip circulated widely online as the story made national headlines.

Our community was shocked and grief-stricken. Many of our congregants live near the neighborhood. As officials struggled to determine the cause of the blast, some people were understandably on edge.

It was a stark reminder the world is not as it should be. Furthermore, it was something I knew I needed to address with the entire congregation.

There are tragedies in the news every day. But some hit so close to home we can’t ignore them. During such times, recognizing when, where, and how to talk about them is important.



We can’t discuss every news event during services. Knowing when to acknowledge an incident from the pulpit starts with staying informed.

It is hard to minister effectively if we live in a disconnected church bubble. To love our people well, it helps to know what is happening in their world. Further, we need to have a sense of how it is affecting them.

Social media can be a useful tool for gauging reactions. In the days following the explosion, this tragic event was the talk of the town and church. People were posting about it online, asking for prayer, and expressing sadness, concern, and fear.

When I see such reactions from significant numbers of congregants, it’s time to consider a public response.

Of course, I want to remain sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading. As in all ministry matters, seeking God’s wisdom regarding when to speak and when to stay silent is crucial.



Once I decide to address an event from the platform, I need to determine where such a discussion fits best in the church service. Again, this calls for discernment and Spirit guidance.

The best place might be at the start of the service, just before the message. It could be a point within the sermon or perhaps during the conclusion and call for response. Taking a moment to address the crowd between worship songs is another possibility.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but with prayer and intentionality, a well-timed discussion can help make space for lament, comfort, prayer and healing.

In responding to the house explosion, I decided the best time to address it was just after worship. My talk followed a song with lyrics declaring the restorative power of heaven breaking into the world.



Finally, we must weigh carefully how to talk about a tragedy. As people are processing difficult emotions, pastors have a responsibility to comfort and lead them.

Consider the following five steps as you craft your response.

1. Acknowledge the tragedy. Until someone finally addresses it, an event like the one our community experienced can become an elephant in the room. Acknowledging it happened is the first step toward healing.

With every tragic event, there is opportunity to
renew joy in
God’s promises.

When an event deeply affects the congregation, people need to know their church leaders care. Recognizing and verbalizing what others are feeling helps build relevance and credibility with them.

2. Display understanding. When people feel understood, they are more likely to open up about their emotions.

One way to demonstrate understanding is to validate what people are going through by calling things what they are. If an event is an injustice, call it unjust. If it is sickening, evil, or confusing, say so.

After the house explosion, some people were struggling to reconcile the sudden loss of life with God’s goodness. Articulating their questions became an opportunity for talking about the already, not yet reality of God’s kingdom.

3. Share the good news. People need to understand God is neither responsible for nor indifferent toward sin and its effects on creation. Lovingly guide them into the truth that the world is broken and God is fixing it through Christ’s redemptive work.

During trying times, people often turn away from God when they should run toward Him. Gently remind congregants the ultimate source of tragedy is not God, but Satan. Then point them to the One who is making all things new.

I explained that the devastating effects of sin reach into all areas of life in a fallen world, including moments of tragedy like the one we witnessed. Yet God offers us help for today and hope for eternity.

This helped people recognize God is the solution, not the problem.

4. Comfort with hope. Restoring hope brings relief. We must continually remind people God will return and rid the world of sin, suffering, evil and death. Christians need to hear this is how the story ends.

With every tragic event, there is opportunity to renew joy in God’s promises. There is real hope in knowing the Lord will one day right every wrong and dry every tear.

Until those promises are fulfilled, we should keep in view the words of 2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

God allows sin to remain in the world only because He is waiting for sinful people to turn to Him and receive the gift of salvation. Understanding this provides theological perspective in the midst of tragedy.

5. Pray. Finally, we turn to the One who can ultimately help those who are navigating tragedy.

Prayer should model acknowledgement of the situation, honest expression of feelings, understanding of sin and brokenness in the world, hope in the biblical promises of ultimate renewal, and trust in God’s goodness, patience, and sovereignty. From there, we can request comfort, relief, help and healing.

While praying following the tragedy in our community, we interceded for those who had lost loved ones and sought the Lord’s grace for everyone affected.

We should never think of prayer as incidental to the other words we speak. After all, nothing is more important than seeking God. While talking about troubling events, taking time to pray together as the body of Christ is always appropriate.

One thing is certain in ministry: Tragedies will occur. The question is, how will we respond as church leaders? When the congregation is reeling from heartbreaking news, there is a lot at stake — perhaps even someone’s faith.

Those of us who preach God’s Word must be prepared to talk about how it applies to events shaping — and shaking — our communities.

When tragedy strikes, people need to hear once again about the God who never leaves nor forsakes them. May we faithfully and tenderly guide them toward His grace, comfort and truth.


This article appears in the Winter 2024 issue of Influence magazine.

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