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The Most Strategic Thing You Can Do before the Fall May Not Be What You Think:

It’s August. Which means your heart rate is rising. The adrenaline hits are on the way, and it won’t be long before you’re up to your nose in flyers, pizza and retreat planning. It’s a glorious time when summer gives way to the rush of fall.

Listen, I know you are a couple weeks away from having hundreds of students to invite, connect, disciple and send. It’s honestly much easier to write about those things than this thing. But at the risk of losing you and never being asked to blog again, I’d like to talk about something far less strategic—or maybe the most strategic thing of all—the college’s minister’s relationship to grief.

One of the unspoken hardships of collegiate ministry is dealing with loss. Year after year after year, you love people and lose people. Some people—praise God—are sent out on church plants. Some people—God have mercy—get baptized and leave the Lord the next week. Some bail after a hard conversation or get a new boyfriend or graduate or whatever. I’ve seen it happen, and so have you. We love and we lose.

The amount of loss you experience year after year is breathtaking. The amount of loss we all felt last year was breathtaking. Wishing it away or covering it with a new hot vision won’t make the hurt go away because as I’m learning, grief doesn’t get smaller; it gets bigger.

Here are a few things I’ve learned:


Grief requires slowing down

The nature of collegiate ministry and the nature of our hearts make us too busy to slow down and grieve the losses. The bus is moving fast. Who has time to look back?

If you want to be an emotionally healthy leader, you must slow down and look back.  You have so much energy bound up in the hurt of those past relationships, you’ll be running on fumes in no time. Many of you already are.

So, I know you’re busy and you have to plan for the big retreat coming up, but I submit to you, if you don’t make “slowing down to feel” a part of your spiritual disciplines, you won’t last in collegiate ministry. The burden is too heavy, and these losses are taking a toll on our bodies and spirits.


Gratitude is a river that flows through grief

What if the most strategic thing you did before Fall Kickoff was to get alone with the Lord and process some of the loss of last year? We couldn’t be on campus, our students are all over the place, and no matter how you frame it, March of 2020-August 2021 has been rough. But you need to remember it. You need to process it.

Honest question: Have you grieved over the losses of last year?

Play along with me right now, mid-blog: Take a moment to think about a person you’ve recently lost. Think of someone who hurt you, or you hurt, but you don’t talk to them anymore. Think of someone no longer in your life who you wished you would have done more for. Think of a leader in your ministry who is now deconstructing their faith. Say their name. Picture their face. Hear their laugh. Remember them. Feel it. Sit in it. Let the emotion rise up into your eyes.

Start to pray for them. Slowly give it to the Lord. Cast that burden on God and watch him make all things new. Watch him over time turn the grief to gratitude.


You cannot heal what you have not processed

Take it from me, grief is no easy thing. I’m still in the trenches of processing my own loss.

After 14 years in Pullman, WA, serving with the greatest people and pastors I’ve ever known, I resigned from my position at Resonate Church. Getting into the specifics wouldn’t be worth your time. There are no juicy details or hidden sin, just a story of growing apart.

Our family transitioned to San Antonio to join a church plant in Texas. As I type this, our boxes are not fully unpacked, physically or emotionally.

During the month-long move, my wife and I watched WandaVision on Disney Plus. It’s the story of two Avengers—Wanda and Vision—getting married and raising a family in an idealized suburban neighborhood. But everything is not as it seems. In a sixth-sense type way, Vision and pieces of the reality they live in aren’t real.

As things unravel and Wanda feels the gravity of what’s happening—or not happening for that matter—Vision looks at her and says, “What is grief if not love persevering?”

That line is so beautiful. And it resonates so deeply, but we all know the sadness we feel is really love.

In Wanda’s case, it was easier to create and control an alternate universe than it was for her to process grief. In our case it’s much the same. We’re constructing ministry worlds filled with landmines because we can’t process sadness.

The truth is—you love the people you lost. You wish it could have been different. You had hopes that weren’t fulfilled, and now you live with hurt that isn’t healed. Your love is persevering. Your grief is a testimony of your love. Process it. Be healed.


Preach the gospel to your grief and go to counseling

The Good News is—and I don’t say this lightly—our Savior is a man of sorrows, familiar with grief. Jesus told us in this world we would have trouble, He told us to cast our burden on him, and the New Testament is filled with promises of suffering. These truths are not the exception; they are the rule.

Some of the suffering is our own doing, some was done unto us. We should not be too prideful to make peace where we can, and we should not be too foolish to think peace will come without work. Preach to yourself, spend time processing the pain with Jesus and get help. That’s the path to healing. Don’t skip the sorrow. Go through it. It is the way.

Action Steps:

  1. Write out three names of people who you still carry hurt from. Make time in the next two weeks to pray specifically and grieve honestly to the Lord about these losses.
  2. Share those names with a friend and express how you processed that loss with the Lord.
  3. Schedule two to three counseling sessions for the fall to talk about your loss with a professional.

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