the shape of leadership

When Crises Come to Ministry Families

Facing life’s storms — and keeping the faith

Kristi Northup on May 30, 2017

In October 2011, we launched Saints Community Church. Around that time, my husband, Wayne, had a case of bronchitis that wouldn’t go away.


That began a downward spiral in his immune system that lasted four years — pneumonia, abscesses, surgeries, infections, IVs, hospitalizations. Many months he spent more time in the hospital or in bed than he did up and about. This prolonged crisis was so hard on our family that I’m not sure how we survived.


Crisis comes to everyone. It comes to fearful people, weak people, heroes and scoundrels alike. When people rely on you, as a spiritual leader, to be the strong one, how do you keep putting one foot in front of the other?


There are threads of grace that bind us together and give us the strength to face each day.

I’ve discussed this with a number of ministers who have faced acute crises. My sister Elizabeth had an intensely difficult pregnancy, followed by two strokes, in the early years of their church plant. My dear friend Laurie Hoyt’s husband, Gary, became a quadriplegic after a car crash 17 years ago. They are still pastoring in Bellevue, Nebraska. Other families have had premature babies, walked the road of Alzheimer’s and even faced the devastating suicide of a child.


Each situation is unique; there is not a one-size-fits-all answer. Yet there are threads of grace that bind us together and give us the strength to face each day. To a great extent, it is a mystery. As much as I want to give practical thoughts, the more I have unpacked this topic, the closer I am drawn to the mysterious comfort of faith as the genuine source of power that sees us through.


The Web of Prayer

When you are in crisis, you often don’t even know how to pray. This is when the prayers of others matter so much. When all I could say was “Jesus, help,” I knew that people all over the country and the world were warring in the Spirit for us.


Having a network of people to whom we could reach out brought the miraculous power of Christ into our situation. When you are in crisis, you must borrow spiritual strength from other giants of the faith who can surround you in prayer. 


The Body of Christ

The Church offers the greatest mobilization of volunteers of any organization in our society. When my sister had a stroke, another church paid to have her house cleaned for several months.


When Wayne had surgery and I couldn’t get off work, others took vacation time to spend the night in the hospital. What we received from our congregation and other friends was overwhelming.


As we learned to release responsibilities, people rose to the occasion. It sharpened their leadership because they began to shoulder the load.


The outpouring of support demonstrates the words of Christ: “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35, NLT).


Close Friends

While the support of our congregation sustained us, it was troublesome for people to wonder constantly whether their pastor was going to survive. We decided that he would preach on Sunday mornings whenever possible. We don’t post on Facebook every time he comes down with a cold — or any other sickness, for that matter. We’ve been very open about our challenges, while at the same time trying to balance it with the church’s need for stability.


This is where close friends have been a lifeline. I absolutely would not have survived without a small circle of women with whom I was able to share freely the daily reality I was living.  Their friendships have kept me laughing when I thought I might lose my sanity. 


The Fellowship of His Suffering

Even with so many people reaching out, the burden of loneliness can be great. It is in those moments that we must grab hold of Jesus, because He is the only One who truly understands. One night when Wayne was very sick, he cried out to the Lord and said, “Why have You allowed this?”


The Lord replied, “You’ve only known part of Me. You’ve known Me in the power of My resurrection, but you haven’t known Me in the fellowship of My suffering.”


Wayne is a different person for having walked this road of suffering with the Savior. His transformation from powerful evangelist to compassionate pastor was forged in the crucible of suffering.


Take a Breather If You Can’t Take a Break

I must admit that sometimes the well-meaning statements about how we need to rest ring hollow for long-term caregivers.


“Me time” is just not always a reality when someone is the go-to person for a loved one’s physical needs. (Every mother of a newborn baby knows this is true!) But stealing a few moments here and there can make a difference. For years, I got a venti latte at Starbucks every single day. It was my moment of luxury. I also always took a Sunday afternoon nap.


Sometimes Laurie drives a different route to work with the windows rolled down. She writes in a gratefulness journal to help maintain her perspective.


What Can I Do?

Perhaps you see a friend in ministry going through a difficult time, and you’re wondering how you can help. My sister offered these words: “Do something generous. Do something thoughtful.”


Send an encouraging card. Prepare a meal. Do a load of laundry. It may seem small, but each act of kindness means the world to a ministry family in crisis.


Wherever you are, whatever you’re going through, Jesus is with you. Let the words of our Lord sink in to your heart as you face the challenges of today: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

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