How do you plan for tragedy? You can’t really.

You can only prepare for tragedy to a certain extent. Even the experts, like FEMA, whom specialize in responding to our nation’s catastrophes are heavily criticized because they are not doing something right. Remember the mass destruction of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy? No doubt you also remember the scorn directed at FEMA in the aftermath. No one can truly fully prepare for tragedies or catastrophic events. I’ve been a safety professional for over 10 years in the automotive industry, which made me the designated planner for contingency planning, so I can tell you that rarely do scenarios develop as we imagine they might. That always leaves a huge opening for something else to go terribly wrong.

When it comes to maintaining sensitivity in a tragedy it is like walking through a field of landmines. One thing you do may be perceived as the right thing to most, but some may take offense to it, while others are prone to think it is not enough. You just never know how decisions will be perceived. That is why it is best to always defer to your leader.

In 2012, my women’s ministry team planned for our second women’s conference. NOTHING could have prepared me for the tragedy we would incur the week of the event.

As I was writing last week’s Women’s Ministry Wednesday Tip, I was surprised when I could not find any photos of that conference to share of our “Living Room Series” settings for speaker Kelly Minter. But then it came back to me; that conference turned out to be a somewhat solemn event.

On the Wednesday night preceding our Saturday conference, Steve, the pastor to whom I reported was also our pastor of education and administration, taught his last men’s class before succumbing to a massive heart attack. One minute he was teaching God’s Word, the next minute he was in God’s presence.

We packed the hallways and waiting areas of the hospital waiting for his daughter to arrive to meet her mom. We were in shock and grief-stricken. As bad as I hated to I had to ask the question – should we cancel the women’s conference?

Among all the seriously important things going on in that moment, it was my responsibility as Director of Women’s Ministry to ask our lead pastor for immediate direction. I was completely prepared to cancel, and believe me, it would have been a relief. But my pastor said to carry on. We had women coming from everywhere and he knew that Steve would not want us to cancel. He was right.

I am thankful I have a pastor who graciously allowed me to ask that difficult question. Some may have thought it insensitive and it a no-brainer to cancel. In tragedies it is sometimes so hard to know the right thing to do.

So, I stiffened my upper lip and went back to working on the conference, and with God’s grace we made it through it even though I have no pictures to show for it. We could tell that the mood was a little dampened at the event, but we did it in excellence just the same. Steve would have been proud.


Eric Geiger, a Vice President at LifeWay Christian Resources and author of Simple Church states these three “important thoughts that will serve leaders well in the midst of trials and tragedies that impact a church:

1. Teach well: In the midst of pain, it is time to crush the unbiblical clichés that causes people to view all trials as judgment or tell themselves that God never allows us to encounter more than we can handle. God often allows us to be overwhelmed with way more than we can handle so we will depend more on Him. We live in a messed up and fallen world, yet God sometimes uses painful moments to purify us.

2. Lead well: When there is uncertainty in the church because of a tragedy, the people need to be assured that they will be “led well and fed well.” The people will be led well not because of the skill of the leaders but because God is continually watching over His people. He is always caring for His flock, and He has already provided everything we need.

3. Love well: One tragedy seems to expose other tragedies. The other tragedies are probably already there, but a big tragedy that grabs the congregation’s attention and simultaneously softens the leaders’ hearts to be more aware and sensitive to the existing pain in the lives of others.”

I hope and pray your congregation never has to go through an untimely death of one of your pastors, but if you do, please keep these three things in mind as you move forward in women’s ministry, as they are just as applicable.

If you should have a pending event as we did, you should consult with your pastor (or interim leader) and let him make the final decision. You will want to have a completely submissive attitude no matter how committed you are to the project in question.

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:21 NIV

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Award-winning Author Gina Duke is a wife, mom and Director of Women’s Ministry at her local church. With a B.S. in Organizational Leadership, she is able to bring a clear word for authentic Christian living. Through her book, “Organizing Your Prayer Closet: A New and Life-Changing Way to Pray” (Abingdon Press), she imparts 1 Peter 4:7 with the gift of structured prayer journaling. If you would like to schedule Gina to speak on prayer or host a prayer journaling workshop, click here for more information. You may also follow her on Twitter and Instagram @TheGinaDuke.

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  1. What words of wisdom! I feel as though everywhere I turn, there is someone going through a crisis and I am often questioning my response. I will use this wise outline the next time when comforting the brokenhearted. I am a new follower and it was a pleasure to find you through the Holley Gerth link-up. I would be honored if you would share your heart with the Saturday Soiree Blog Party at http://faithalongtheway.com.

  2. So much truth written here. I’ve found the “loving well” has to come before any teaching well or leading well can be done. Maybe it’s because for me the “loving others” is harder than the teaching or the leading. That makes me sound like a cold-hearted person, but, for me it’s very true. It’s so much easier for me to touch anothers life by teaching than it is to just love them. There’s a time when the lines between the two cross, but I find myself needing to focus more on actually loving than just skimming the top, so to speak.

    Oh, my. This makes me sound like a horrible person. I think I have surprised myself with this revelation. Hence the reason I’m leaving it.

    Thank you, Gina. I needed this.

    1. Kaylene, I totally relate. It is much easier for me to teach and lead than love, too. May God’s love work through both of us! ~gina

  3. Oh my heart just breaks about what happened to your beloved Pastor! I am so amazed that you were able to carry on and lead such an excellent conference after such a horrible tragedy.

    These tips are wonderful- inspiring really.

    Thank you for sharing them, they speak such truth!

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